Nagoya World Cosplay Summit Review and Top Gourmet Recommendations

Oasis21 in Nagoya, Japan — an iconic location of World Cosplay Summit with a courtyard and fountain.

Earlier this month I had the honor of attending the 20th anniversary of Nagoya’s World Cosplay Summit (WCS) held in Sakae. This event brings talented cosplayers from around the world to compete in stage and costume contests as well as appreciate anime culture. WCS is normally held the first Friday night of August – Sunday of the same week (making it 3 days total). It is a fantastic event for networking with photographers and like-minded cosplayers from around the globe, but you do not have to wear cosplay to attend. To be an official photographer or cosplayer and gain access to certain areas of the event, a small entrance fee is necessary. Please see the ticketing guide on the WCS website for more information. If you just want to stop by and look at the cosplayers without entering any of the special areas, then the event is free.

This year I brought Tifa from FF7R, Rei from Evangelion, and a bridal version of Saber that I hired a local photographer to shoot. One thing to remember is that this event is held during the hottest time of the year, so it is recommended to dress light while adhering to the dress code and drink lots of water. I went with a group of two other girls so it would be more fun than cosplaying alone. Here are some photos I took on my phone over the three days of the event. There was an orchestra playing “Cruel Angel’s Thesis” dressed in My Hero Academia uniforms which I thought was awesome!

The major difference between cosplay events in the US and Japan are that the US ones are usually held in convention centers with hotels and have more of a party vibe, while the ones in Japan are usually held in large public spaces and therefor have stricter rules. I found WCS to be great for networking with photographers and seeing famous cosplayers, but unfortunately the hotel rooms near the event space were pretty cramped and it was harder to make friends. I did gain a number of worthwhile followers on social media, though! US cosplay events definitely feel a bit less professional than world class events like this but both are fun in their own ways. My advice is to try both out and see which atmosphere fits you and your cosplay best. Though this event was fairly serious I did go drinking with my friends after and it was so much fun!

Gourmet Recommendations

As a lover of aesthetic food, I had quite a long list of places that I wanted to try in Nagoya! Here are the best ones that I’ve came across during this trip:

Taiyaki Ten

This small taiyaki and ice cream shop sells a “drinkable taiyaki” shake that tastes like cookie dough and is topped with a taiyaki shell. As you drink the shake, the taiyaki looks like he is drowning! I appreciated how original this idea was and also how friendly the shop owners were. Be sure to get some taiyaki to go because you’ll definitely need some energy if you go to WCS!

Address: 1-chome-1-29 Torisu Minami Ward Nagoya Aichi

Nagoya Champon Tokidori

I was craving seafood ramen on this trip and came across the perfect shop in Kanayama! What drew me the most was the freshness of the raw egg that you can order as a side. The shrimp, scallops, and vegetables had a wonderful flavor and the raw egg mixed in gave the noodles the perfect texture. This is the perfect food for summer because it is served cold. Though soba is usually one of the most popular summer foods, it has competition here!

Address: 〒454-0012 Aichi, Nagoya, Nakagawa Ward, Otobashi, 3 Chome−3−3 サンベアーマンション金山 103号

TERRA

Terra is an upscale Japanese French fusion cuisine restaurant near Oasis21 in Sakae. Our sponsor booked us a course here that consisted of seasoned fish, vegetables, and delicious desserts! I really enjoyed the texture of the gelato at the end of the course and the sparkling wine. I would definitely recommend this place for a date because it has an adorable atmosphere. Courses start at about 6000 yen per person and are quite filling.

Address: 〒461-0001 Aichi, Nagoya, Higashi Ward, Izumi, 2 Chome−13−6 シャトー泉II 1F

Ralph’s by Ralph Lauren

By Sunday morning we were exhausted from the heat and needed a pick-me-up, so we decided to go to the Ralph’s coffee shop right near Oasis21 for some breakfast. We ordered coffee and tried various tea blends with the Ralph cookie and also had some salmon and caprese toast. This shop is really cute and has a great atmosphere so I would recommend it as one of my top breakfast spots in Nagoya. Please visit it if you get the chance!

Address: 3 Chome-16 Nishiki, Naka Ward, Nagoya, Aichi 460-0003

Accommodation

Though I normally stay with friends whenever I go to Nagoya, this time my sponsor booked an accommodation close to the event so we could get changed in our hotel rooms. Please note that there are dressing rooms you can pay to use at WCS, but they get crowded so we preferred to get changed in privacy. The hotel that was selected for us was ACCESS by LOISIR HOTEL Nagoya which is just 2 blocks from the event and only 7800 yen per night. The good thing about this hotel was that everyone staying in it that weekend was participating in the event (we even saw staff members in the elevators). The bad thing about the hotel is that the rooms are quite small, but we were mostly at the event so it didn’t matter in the end. There are definitely better accommodations in Nagoya, but this is perfect for cosplayers who don’t want to walk a long way to the event. I was wearing a long dress as one of my costumes so I appreciated the convenience of this place.

Thank you for reading the final article of my recent series to WCS and Kansai! I plan on going to Naoshima later this month so the adventures will carry on at a decent pace. Please look forward to my next post as always!

Revisiting Kinkakuji and the Latest Aesthetic Gourmet Experiences in Kyoto

Kinkakuji, also known as the Golden Pavilion, shines beautifully in the scorching summer of Kyoto.

It’s been over three months since my last article, but I happy to announce that I have safely returned to Japan and am officially off my work hiatus now! Over the last few weeks I was preparing for the 20th Anniversary of Nagoya’s World Cosplay Summit (which I will cover in another article), but this latest article series will document my recent adventures in the Kansai region, starting with Kyoto.

Since Kyoto and Nagoya are relatively close by shinkansen, I decided to spend two nights at a business hotel in Shijo after the final day of the Summit and revisit some of my old favorite places. One temple that I haven’t seen in over 6 years is Kyoto’s Kinkakuji that was recently under construction, so I decided to visit it while hitting up some of the most delicious vegan and dessert shops in town.

This article will cover my top summer picks for Kyoto (2022). Please be aware that the heat is intense during August, so it is recommended to drink lots of water and limit your exposure to the sun.

Kinkakuji

Kinkakuji is one of Kyoto’s most famous temples due to its shining gold leaf architecture and the beautiful pond it overlooks. It used to be the former place of retirement for the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, but now serves as a symbolic landmark of Kyoto. Around the temple are various gardens with statues of prominent Buddhist figures and a pond that is said to never dry up. Kinkakuji holds a lot of history as well of lore, so if you have ever studied abroad or gone on a group trip to Kyoto, this place is probably at the top of your itinerary. I first visited this temple during my study abroad trip in 2013, then again on a trip in 2016. I am happy that 6 years later it is just as beautiful and well-preserved as I remember.

There are city buses that go to the entrance of Kinkakuji directly from Kyoto Station for a mere 230 yen, so it’s pretty easy to reach. You may also be interested in checking out Ginkakuji (also known as the Silver Pavilion) which is a short bus ride away, but in my humble opinion it’s not as pretty as the gold one!

Address: 1 Kinkakujicho, Kita Ward, Kyoto, 603-8361
Entrance Fee: 400 yen

If you are curious where I rented my yukata, please see my previous kimono and yukata rental article.

The Latest Aesthetic Gourmet Experiences in Kyoto

As a lover of aesthetic food, I had quite a long list of places that I wanted to try in Kyoto! Here are the best ones that I’ve came across during this trip:

Egyptian Noodles at Pelgag

Pelgag is a Japanese owned “spice restaurant” that serves delicious ethnic food and alcohol with organic ingredients. Their dishes are made with a lot of exotic herbs and spices that the owner discovered while traveling through Central and South America as well as Asia and Europe. Though there are many unique things on their menu (including vegetarian and vegan options), I was most interested in the Egyptian Noodles because I had never tried them before. The noodles had the texture of ramen and tasted similar to Pad Thai which made me feel nostalgic of my days in Thailand. I was happy to have such a delicious vegan meal during my first night here and also ordered a glass of organic white wine to go with it. If you like curry and spicy food then you will most definitely enjoy this restaurant!

Choco Mint Ball with Creamy Foam at Atelier de Godiva

From early summer to fall of this year, Atelier de Godiva located in the Daimaru shopping mall of Kyoto has a very special mint chocolate menu! This chocolate mint ball that I ordered is filled with mint cream that you can drink through a chocolate straw. Now that’s what I call aesthetic food! I like the concept of food and desserts being served in bowls that are fully edible because it helps eliminate plastic and paper waste in addition to being delicious. I am excited to see what other seasonal menus this store introduces, because you can only order this at the Kyoto location!

Peach Cloud Cakes at Kumonocha

One of the latest trending cafés in Kyoto is this tea and cake shop called Kumonocha in Higashiyama that serves cloud-shaped cakes with various drink pairings. You can choose to order a hot matcha latte with a cloud pattern or an iced one with a beautiful green gradation with the cake as a set, or purchase them individually. I was delighted to see they were selling both peach and matcha flavored cloud cakes when I arrived, so I decided to try to peach one! Both the cake and the tea suited each other very well, and I thought it was unique that they served them to you in a wooden basket. Be sure to check the outdoor area of the store if you have the chance because there was a beautiful lantern and windchime display when I visited.

Cloud Parfait at Piu

Because one cloud dessert clearly wasn’t enough for me, I decided to try a cloud parfait at a small cafe near Kinkakuji called Piu. This parfait was unique because it mainly consisted of ramune-flavored jelly instead of ice cream or yogurt, but with the granola at the bottom, it still undoubtedly tasted like a parfait. The macarons and the while chocolate on top was definitely a nice aesthetic touch and I loved eating whatever the clouds were made of. I would recommend this to people who like ramune-flavored desserts. In addition to sweets, Piu also serves pastas, pizzas, and cakes so I would check it out if you go to Kinkakuji like I did!

Vegan Hot Pot at Vegetarian Cafe Ren

Even though the weather was scorching hot, for some reason I still felt like eating hot pot during this trip just for something different. Finding places that serve hotpot sets that are 100% vegetarian is usually very difficult, but Cafe Ren near Kinkakuji has a delicious miniature set! I especially loved the mushrooms and the fried tofu that was included in this meal. The red bean rice also complimented the flavor. The portion size was perfect for me so I would recommend this place to my fellow vegetarians, but it’s probably better to come here during the winter!

Goma Noodles at Gomacro Salon

Because I was craving noodles on my last day in Kyoto, I decided to stop at Gomacro Salon and try their noodles basked in a sesame paste-based rich soup. What I like about this dish is you can balance out the level of spice by adding sesame oil and more goma paste with condiments at your table that you can choose for no additional cost. What is pictured is the summer dish with seasonal vegetables, but the menu changes every season. I would like to come back in the winter and choose their black goma soup as my base next time! In addition to noodles, there is curry, rice, and salad sets you can choose from. I really like how healthy and organic everything was here. The goma paste was also very filling!

Bonus: Porco Rosso & Sugitora

As I was waiting for the bus to Kyoto Station, I noticed a funny Italian restaurant called Porco Rosso, and I can definitely see the resemblance to the movie! Though it was closed during the time that I went, I would like to come back and try it again for the meme.

I also visited this adorable parfait place called Sugitora that has takeout tiger gelato! I tried the mango flavor because of course the matcha flavor was already sold out. It tasted so refreshing! I would like to make a reservation for one of their more elaborate parfaits in the future!

Accommodation

Every time I travel somewhere in Japan, I look at the best deals on Booking.com because I have a Genius discount. This time I stayed at a business hotel with a public bath called AB Hotel that was 5000 yen for 2 nights which was a killer deal. During previous Kyoto trips I used to stay closer to the Kamo River so I could go running there as a morning workout, but this time prices there were more expensive likely due to more people traveling this year. I decided to choose an accommodation that was about 1km away from the river and it turned out to be cheaper. This hotel was quiet and easy to relax in so I would recommend it, but also don’t be afraid to shop around!

Thank you for reading about my wonderful experience in Kyoto! I will never forget all of the delicious food that I tried this time. In my next article I will be talking about my top recommendations in Osaka, so please look forward to it!

Staying in a Lodge Surrounded by Wild Deer in Nara Park

A mob of wild deer come to greet me as I exit my lodge.

Continuing on from my expedition to two of Nara’s most aesthetic temples, I next decided to stay at a lodge named Deer Park Inn surrounded by wild deer in Nara Park. Nara Park is not only famous for its temples and lovely scenery, but also its friendly deer who beg visitors for rice crackers (called “shika senbei”). This is a great place to start your morning because there are a number of hiking spots and gardens to visit. You will also see many deer mobs grazing in the grass and waiting for humans to awake so they can feast on their delicious rice crackers. Deer are a sacred animal of Nara because they were once seen as messengers of the gods. For their high social status, these fellows never seem to get enough food! Fortunately you can buy crackers all over Nara for the mere price of 200 yen. Where I’m from in the United States, deer are extremely shy so having them approach me and behave like dogs was quite the experience:

Getting to Nara Park

From Nara Station, you can take the 62 bus to the Todaiji Bus Stop and arrive at the park in 10 mins for 220 yen. You can also take a short and inexpensive taxi ride here too. Nara Park is open 24 hours, but restaurants close early so it is advised you buy snacks from convenience stores if you want to eat at night.

Single rooms at the Deer Park in go for around 4000 yen but you can book a dormitory room with other people for a cheaper price. The advantage of staying in the park versus the city is that you can see the temples and gardens in the morning with fewer people. You can also feed deer from the balcony of your room! I had so much fun waking up and watching them from my window. It was a one of a kind experience that you can only get here in Nara!

Places I recommend checking out in Nara Park are:

  • Ukimudo (a bridge that leads to a gazebo in a pond)
  • Todaiji (a famous temple with a giant golden Buddha statue)
  • Kasuga Taisha (a bright shrine with a deer statue)
  • Kasuga Taisha Manyo Botanical Gardens
  • Mt. Kasuga Primeval Forest

Overall I spent about 3 hours in Nara Park before taking a short bus ride back to the main part of the city. All of the places I listed are very accessible and you can easily reach them on foot. Nara Park is free to enter, but some temples and gardens have a 300-700 yen entrance fee. I think the price is worth it because many of these places are historical landmarks that are surrounded by luscious nature. Plus you can interact with as many deer as you like if you carry their favorite food!

Running to Ukimudo

Since Ukimudo is surrounded by a beautiful pond and is in a forest with several sakura trees, this is where I decided to start my morning. Due to the lack of tourists, there have been reports of the deer acting more aggressive toward people for food, but if you open your hands and show them that you are not carrying any rice crackers, they will not attack you. When I went running this morning near Ukimudo, the grazing deer pretty much ignored me after giving me a few curious side glances since I wasn’t carrying any bags or food. However, when I returned with several rice crackers it was a different story! I was circled by groups of deer, and the more aggressive ones would bite at my skirt when I wasn’t feeding them. Fortunately it is easy to run away from them, and they will not trample or bite you. Just be prepared to be lightly head-butted at times and always protect your belongings!

Also, there are signs posted not to feed them any food other than the crackers because it can be harmful to them.

Todaiji and Kasuga Taisha

When I first studied abroad in Japan, I was completely awestruck by the giant golden Buddha statue that I saw at Todaiji Temple in Nara Park. Roughly 9 years later I had the opportunity to see this Buddha again during sakura season, and it took me back to the fond memories I had when I first visited Japan. The street that paves the path to Todaiji is lined with vendors, food stalls, and souvenir shops full of good luck charms and stuffed deer mascots so it’s quite enthralling when you first visit. Another thing I love is how the deer just make this part of the city their own—they have learned to live in harmony with humans and nature. Nara certainly wouldn’t be the same without their sacred messengers, and the people here have come to love them.

Kasuga Taisha is just a short walk from Todaiji. It’s not as impressive as the giant halls of Buddha but it’s worth checking out for the beautiful forest and gardens that surround it. The flowers naturally change year round which make it feel like a magical place. Be sure to lookout for sakura trees too, as they are scattered throughout these temple grounds.

Sakura Season is also Deer Mating Season

I didn’t realize this before, but sakura season in Nara is actually during the mating season of the deer. That explains why some of the bigger deer were trying to bite my skirt—it all makes sense now! In all seriousness, please be on the lookout for aggressive deer. There are many kind Japanese shop owners and also rangers in Nara Park that will help you if the deer come too close for comfort. One Japanese vendor helped me by clapping their hands firmly near the deer to catch their attention. This is a safe way to keep them from attacking you. For the most part, most deer are friendly and know that even when you run out of food, other visitors will eventually come to feed them more. They obviously won natural selection!

Top Food Recommendations

Like its surrounding cities Kyoto and Osaka, Nara is also full of delicious food! Stop by for deer macarons at OVER MACARON before heading to the park. They have a large selection of flavors including chocolate, strawberry cheesecake, and creme brulee. If you like Japanese desserts, you can also get strawberry daifuku with deer-shaped cookies in them Daibutsu Ichigo. This shop is also located near the entrance of the park and is impossible to miss because it always draws a crowd. For breakfast, I highly recommend Mizuya Chaya which is located inside of Nara Park. This is a teahouse that serves wonderful beverages, desserts. and breakfast sets. I ordered rice porridge that had a beautiful floral design in it, and it tasted amazing! My final recommendation is a vegan restaurant named KURURU located slightly outside of the park where I had creamy mushroom vegan pasta. Once again, I was blown away by the taste and it really filled me up! Whatever local eatery you visit here will surely satisfy you.

For those who are interested, I made a reel of my video footage here. My next article will be the final of this series, and will focus on a trippy aquarium I found in Nara City and some more highlights of Kyoto’s sakura season. Thank you to all who have kept up with my crazy journeys! I am excited to announce my next trip very soon!

Exploring Fukui: The Land of Dinosaurs and Castle in the Clouds (Part 2)

After spending a lovely day at the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum, I decided to wake up early on the next day and hike to Ono Castle in hopes of seeing it shrouded in clouds. Besides its prized dinosaurs, Fukui is most famous for its “castle in the sky”. Unfortunately the weather was not cold enough for the clouds to appear as this is a rare phenomenon, but I managed to take some amazing photos from the observatory and try some delicious local food. I have translated some tips from a Japanese blog of how to best see the clouds that many tourism websites have not mentioned, so please continue reading if you’re interested. Overall I’m happy that I spent the night in Ono because it has some of the best hiking spots!

Ono Castle

The city of Ono is nicknamed “little Kyoto” for its rich history and is home to Ono Castle, which appears shrouded in clouds under certain weather conditions. Samurai residences, temples, and traditional shops also line the streets giving this town a unique vibe. Of all the cities I researched in Fukui, this seemed the coolest so this is where I decided to stay the night. The castle is right in the heart of the city and you can see why Fukui takes so much pride in it:

Conditions for the clouds to appear:

  • The sea of ​​clouds appears in the early morning from mid-October to early April. It is most likely seen from dawn to 8am depending on the season but may appear earlier/later.
  • The fall season is when the clouds are most likely to appear around 6:00am – 6:30am due to the humidity. It is best to aim for a day when the temperature falls rapidly.
  • The sea of clouds is most viewable from the ruins of Inuyama Castle which take roughly 25 minutes to hike. Please note that snow may accumulate during the winter season making the mountain harder to climb.
  • If it rains the day before, the clouds are usually still visible but the mountain may be shrouded in mist making them harder to see.
  • The day the sea of clouds appear in Ono, they will not appear on the following day.
  • It is recommended to bring a camera with a lens of at least 70mm to capture the most detail though I only brought my GoPro and iPhone 12 Pro Max camera.
  • Please be weary of wild bears and monkeys in the forest. I saw several monkeys when I climbed but they did not approach me.
  • According to the managers at my hostel, the sea of clouds only appears around 10 times per year and is a rare phenomenon.

For the best hiking route, please see this Google Map link. All of this information was translated from Shirofan and is accurate from my understanding.

Although I wasn’t able to see the clouds, I am still extremely happy with the beautiful photos I took of the castle during the sunrise! I was also able to see it illuminated during my first night in Ono which was really special. I will forever remember my experience here because it was such a fun hike.

Coffee at “coffe&cake紫おん”

Before my flight back to Tokyo, I decided to stop at coffe&cake紫おん to kill time. Yes, this shop hilariously omitted an “e” from their name. Good old Ono. I decided to order the orange Halloween Tart and warm anko bean milk because I was famished from my hike to the castle. The cake had just the right amount of sweetness and really hit the spot. I also enjoyed the added texture from the pie crust. This was my first time having anko milk and it tasted amazing! It was sweet like anmitsu and very filling to me. All of the coffee shops I saw in Ono seemed to have a unique atmosphere, but I am happy that I chose this one for its seasonal sweets. I also grabbed a dinosaur cookie on my way out because why not?

Address: 12-2 Motomachi, Ono, Fukui 912-0081

Oshozu

Oshozu is a natural cold water spring found near Ono Castle. The water is so pure you can drink it directly from the spring. There are funnels that you can use to collect the water and it is structured similar to a shrine. Besides Yakushima, this was one of the few places I could drink water directly from the source. It really is amazing how pure the water is here, and you can tell that the town really takes pride in it.

Address: 5-4 Izumicho, Ono, Fukui 912-0086

Additionally, there are samurai residences, museums, and temples that you can visit around the town if you are keen. Please check the Ono Castle Tourism website for more information.

Accommodation

Since I only stayed here for one night, I decided to stay at a guest house near Ono Castle called Arashima. To my surprise I was the only one here and had a whole room to myself! Arashima is very modest but is centrally located which is important for those who plan on hiking around the area. I accidentally selected the wrong arrival time while booking online, but the staff were kind enough to wait for me and I was met with a warm welcome. They gave me a map and some pretty good bar recommendations, like イチナナバル where I had some nice local wine before I went to sleep. They also informed me that Ono Castle is illuminated at night until 21:00 this season which I never would have known! I was happy that I stayed here because I picked up a lot of good information on Ono from the locals.

My final meal was nishin soba at Fukui Station before I went back to the airport. There is a standing soba restaurant before the ticket gates that is sinfully cheap and has noodles that taste amazing. This bowl contained simmered herring and packed quite the powerful punch:

This will be my last Japan blog for a while as I am getting ready to visit my friends and family in America, but worry not because I will be writing and traveling a ton next year. In 2022 I plan on visiting the remaining 5 prefectures of Japan I have left on my list and whatever Asian countries are safe to visit. Thank you all for your support and thank you for reading. See you in the new year unless plans change!

Hiking to Mt. Aso’s Nakadake Crater

We finally made it, Totoro!

Roughly a year ago, Mt. Aso’s Nakadate Crater became safe enough to re-open for viewing after the earthquake in 2016 that destroyed the ropeway and made it inaccessible for years. I first visited Mt. Aso in 2017 during Golden Week, but unfortunately there was not a lot I could do besides visit the surrounding parks and zoos. However, after my vacation to Amami Island, I decided I would fly to Kyushu and visit Kagoshima, Kumamoto, and Fukuoka before flying back to Tokyo.

Each day at 8:30am the official Aso Crater website updates listing the restricted areas of the crater. On days where it rains and the fog is heavy, or when the volcanic gases reach a certain level of intensity, entry will be restricted. However if the weather cooperates, usually no zones are restricted and you can see one of the world’s largest calderas! At one time there was a lake in the crater, but unfortunately now it has dried up. Scientists predict it may reform in the future, however. If you look at old pictures, the color of the blue water looks similar to an onsen with an extremely high temperature.

Here is some footage that I caught on my GoPro of Mt. Aso’s Nakadate Crater:

Getting to Mt. Aso’s Nakadate Crater

From Kumamoto Station, the trip to Mt. Aso take about 2.5 hours by train and bus and costs around 3000-3500 yen one way. You can also rent a car and drive here because the area before the crater has a parking lot. Getting to the crater is a bit of the gamble because there is a slight chance that the gases could change and make some areas restricted as you’re traveling there, but I like to take calculated risks. I thought the trip was worth it because I got to see an extremely rare and beautiful area of Japan. I rode the Hohi Line to Aso Station and then stopped for vegetable udon on the station. It was a hearty and delicious meal.

From the station there are two buses that will take you up to the crater. On your way up you will pass many fields filled with roaming cows and see how beautifully green the mountain is. The first bus will stop at a gift shop where you can buy some interesting souvenirs. My favorite were the oppai sake cups and the Kumamon ice cream, but the rocks from the crater were pretty neat too. You can choose to walk to the crater from here which takes around 30 mins, or take another bus which is just a short 10-15 minute ride. Seeing the Kumamon-themed bus was definitely a perk of using public transport.

On average, viewing the crater of Mt. Aso takes roughly 30-45 mins depending on how many photos you wish to take. There are 5 different zones that you can walk around and see it the crater emitting volcanic gases from. Entry into Zone A is always prohibited, but entering the other 4 zones (B1-D) will give you some amazing views. The experience was extraordinary and very memorable to me. I am happy that I made it all the way up here this time because I crossed another item off of my Japan bucket list!

Other Activities in Aso

Getting to Mt. Aso’s crater and back takes almost a full day, but there are other activities around the mountain that you can do if you’re interested. I took a bath at Aso Bochu Onsen while I was waiting for my train back to Kumamoto which felt amazing after all the distance I traveled to reach the crater. There is also Aso Cuddly Dominion for those who enjoy seeing bears. I visited during 2017 and unfortunately don’t have many good pictures but I had a fun time. I also passed by a horseback riding farm on my way up to the crater. If I would have had more time I would have definitely stopped by!

Thank you for reading about my expedition to Mt. Aso. The article series is officially halfway done! In my next article I will be talking about some activities that I did in Kagoshima. Please look forward to it!

Hiking through the Wonders of Kamikochi

Besides Yakushima, nothing else compares to the pure colors of this scenery!

Kamikochi, located in the mountains of Nagano with a clear river and perfect view of the Japanese Alps, is one of the most beautiful hiking destinations in Japan and this year I finally made it there! After spending a day seeing Narai and staying at a lodge in Nagano, I drove with my friends to the national park area and we started our trek just before 10am. You can hike the entirety of Kamikochi in about 6 hours and see the forest, bridge, and shrine by the river. The most beautiful part is seeing the reflection of the mountains in the crystal clear water. If you’re lucky you may even run into some monkeys on the way back like we did! Besides my trip to Yakushima, the island that inspired Princess Mononoke, no other view in Japan really compares. Against all forecasts we encountered perfect weather which truly was a miracle. I am writing this article in hopes that other people will make it out here too!

Kamikochi painted by an unknown artist on the day of my trip.

Getting to Kamikochi

You can get to Kamikochi by taking the shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagano Station and then taking a bus. I would recommend staying more than one day and seeing the monkey onsen in Nagano too. There are also multiple express buses that go from Shinjuku to Kamikochi but some have been suspended due to the pandemic. We decided to drive to the parking lot outside of Kamikochi and take a taxi because only chartered buses and taxis are allowed inside of the park. I would budget around 30,000 yen for this trip.

The official opening period is from April 17 – November 15 because in winter this area is usually covered with snow. The weather was absolutely perfect for hiking when we arrived in June, so I would recommend going then! All I brought with me is my dress, hiking jacket and shoes, my backpack, and some water so you really don’t need to bring that much. After walking about 3km you will reach the main area with the bridge where there are many shops and restaurants so you can buy food and water as needed. There are a number of hotels you can stay at inside of the park, but they are super expensive so I would just recommend spending the day here and finding a place closer to Nagano Station to stay.

Starting the Hike

Once getting off the bus, the hike through the forest officially starts and you can see the peaks of the Alps right from the beginning. The guideposts are pretty straightforward in showing where things are located. The path to the famous Kappa Bridge is the one I recommend following because you can see almost all of the main points of interest on the way. The distance to the bridge is around 3km and is on even ground so you can relax and go at your own pace. All of the hikers we passed by were friendly and I was happy to see that the park was so clean!

Exploring Kappa Bridge and Nearby Restaurants

After about an hour we reached the main area of Kamikochi where the famous Kappa Bridge is at. If you look at photos of Kamikochi, you will see this giant wooden suspension bridge featured quite a lot! The water is very clear and nice to dip your feet it. There are various restaurants, souvenir shops, and bathrooms around so you can walk around and relax. The best thing to do here is honestly just enjoy the view. The Alps look beautiful from all angles of the park and this is your chance to see them during the best season!

Kamikochi Food

One of the most famous foods of Kamikochi is soba, so I decided to try it at a restaurant on the right side of the bridge. It was a very hearty meal that contained a variety of fresh mushrooms so I enjoyed it. You can easily find ramen and curry around here too. I also tried a steamed bun full of vegetables since I’m vegetarian but they sell them with meat and other flavors as well. Basically everything I ate was great for hiking so you really can’t go wrong with what you eat in this area!

Myojin Pond and Shrine

After resting and walking around the bridge for an hour, we decided to go deeper into the forest and see Myojin Shrine. This is another 3km from the bridge area but it intersects with paths that go back to the entrance so it really isn’t that far away. The scenery makes it worth the extra miles. To our surprise, Myojin Shrine was not a building but a single torii on a dock by the lake with a donation box. Though we have traveled all over Japan, this was one of the most unique shrines that we had ever seen and we highly recommend it to other travelers!

Also, Myojin Pond is so clear you can see the reflection of the mountains in it. Here are two photos I captured during my hike:

Admission Fee: 300 yen

Hiking Back and Meeting the Monkey Pack

After seeing all of the major points of interest and feeling happy with our experience, we started to hike back through the forest when we heard a screeching sound and a monkey mom and her baby dropped from a nearby tree! It was quite the surprise but these monkeys were friendly and just passing by. Signs in parks always warn you not to make eye contact with monkeys because they take it as a form of aggression, but fortunately we did not get mugged by these guys. They probably chose the same trail as us because it was shaded and near their food source. Very keen!

Final Thoughts

Overall I was very satisfied with my trip to Kamikochi because I got to see entirety of it including the monkeys! The biggest challenge is the timing with the weather but fortunately we lucked out. I would recommend staying in Nagano for multiple days like we did so you can choose the best day for Kamikochi. No matter where you go you’ll surely appreciate the view of the mountains.

So far my top 3 hiking destinations in Japan are:

  1. Yakushima
  2. Kamikochi
  3. Mt. Fuji

Though I’ve already been to a lot of places, I hope to do more hiking like this in the future! Although, I am taking a break from hiking recently and am focusing on music events. I just went to a rave in Hinode this weekend and my next trip will be to Osaka for a tofubeats show. If I have time, I will finally make it to the Super Mario World exhibit in Universal Studios too! Please stayed tuned for more of my adventures!

Aesthetic Dining Experiences in Kyoto, Japan Vol. 2

Entering the alternate noodle dimension at Vegan Ramen UZU.

Whenever I travel to a new place, I like trying a combination of the local cuisine and the craziest places that I can find.  In Vol. 1 of my Aesthetic Dining Experiences series, I wrote about unique variations of Kyoto ramen, my top picks of vegan food, and matcha sweets (which includes green tea-flavored ice cream, parfaits, and more).  Fortunately I have discovered even more extradorinaiy restaurants and cafes since since I last published that article!

Here is a list I have compiled of the most unique dining experiences I have had in Kyoto recently, as well as my custom Totoro birthday cake from last year!

Patisserie Lulu

The most original dining experience I have ever had in Kyoto was hands down at Patisserie Lulu on my birthday in October last year. Since this was one of the rare months that Japan was in-between emergency states, domestic travel and alcohol was allowed so I brought my party to Kyoto and it was a smashing success. Patisserie Lulu is famous for its custom cakes with anime characters and I decided to request a pink Totoro rose theme since I love Ghibli and heaps of frosting. The cake turned out better than I could have ever imagined because it was light and fluffy but had a lot of icing. You can request these cakes using their online form and they will give you a price quote for your design. I had originally found them on Instagram and they had a lot of beautiful designs in their gallery.

Here is my cake featured on their official Instagram account:

The caption is hilarious because it says “A Totoro and rose [design] for a foreigner who came to Japan on her birthday.” As if I haven’t have lived here for over 5 years and flew to Japan during a pandemic just to order this cake. I absolutely love it and would easily give it 5 stars. It’s going to be hard to come up with a design that tops this for next year!

Address: 27-10 Uzumasa Goshonouchicho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-8157

Cafe attmos.

If you’re looking for super thicc pieces of toast with beautifully crafted toppings, then look no further. Cafe attmos. or “Big Bread Experience” as my friend calls it is a lovely cafe that specializes in large portions of dessert toast with fruit, ice cream, and cream. There is a menu with seasonal food and drinks and I decided to order the apple toast because the shavings were cut to resemble a rose. Believe it or not, this is what I had for breakfast on my birthday before the Totoro cake and I can’t recommend it enough. My friends ordered the other pieces on the menu so I could take photos of them which was very sweet. I look forward to seeing the future designs they come up with because this was the fanciest toast I have ever eaten in my life!

Address: 490 Shimoumacho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0873

Vegan Ramen UZU

One of my Kyoto friends on Twitter recommended me Vegan Ramen UZU because it is vegetarian friendly and the food does not contain as many preservatives as regular ramen does. Usually I prefer soba because it is the healthiest form of noodle and goes great paired with wasabi, but every so often I’ll get a craving for a bowl ramen. The dining experience here was truly like no other ramen restaurant because the lights were dimmed and swirling projections were displayed on the wall making it feel like we had entered another dimension. Being here was very relaxing and my vegan tomato ramen was delicious! I also ordered some vegan gyoza to split with my friend and was amazed by the quality. Kyoto actually has a lot of vegan options due to the amount of monks that are around here, but this is definitely the best vegan ramen in town. Yet another delicious birthday dinner for the books!

Address: 146 Umenokicho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-0905

Trentanove

Yet another amazing cafe recommendation I got in my Instagram algorithms was pasta stuffed into a melon. I kid you not, fruit pasta is actually becoming a popular trend in Japan. I loved the little pieces of melon and the flowers they used to decorate it. At first glance it looks like an ice cream dessert but as soon as you stick your fork into it you get noodles. If this isn’t aesthetic food, then I don’t know what is! If you want to try some of the most unique pasta in Japan, make a reservation at Trentanove so they can prepare this exquisite melon for you. The unlikely combinations of taste might take some getting used to but you can easily separate the pasta and the fruit so you can eat them separately. This is definitely a challenge for the brave but I enjoyed it.

Address: 602-0855 Kyoto, Kamigyo Ward, Kamiikesucho, 200

cafe cherish

For those of you that adore vintage cafes with mermaid themed drinks, cafe cherish is the perfect place for you! I enjoyed seeing all of the antiques in here including the fake bird in the bird cage and the sofa chair that looked like it had came from my grandma’s basement. It has an extremely western theme which is why it felt nostalgic for me. I ordered the strawberry milk with whipped cream and chocolate butterfly as well as the mermaid soda. In addition to drinks they also have waffles, salads, and small lunch items like risotto and pizza on the menu. The atmosphere is very unique so I am sure that you will “cherish” your time here!

Address: 4-6 Tojijicho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-0956

Usagi no Nedoko

Have you ever dreamed of eating Final Fantasy crystals? Well now you can. After you’ve killed chaos, hop on over to Usagi no Nedoko to get your Aetheryte fix. This is the most aesthetic parfait that I’ve ever eaten in my life and that’s really saying a lot. The crystals have a gummy texture but the flavor isn’t overly overpowering. They look almost like real crystals under the lights. Additionally the blueberries and ice cream they used were very light on the stomach which I appreciated because I had many other dining plans this day. Overall I give this place a 10/10 because they nailed the Final Fantasy aesthetic but aren’t even affiliated with Square Enix. They also sell crystal jewelry here so they are very authentic.

Address: 604-8432 Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, Nishinokyo Minamiharamachi, 37

Mushroom Stuffed Bread

On my way back to Tokyo last week I noticed an ordinary bread store right outside of the shinkansen gate. I don’t know what prompted me to go inside, but I guess I was just trying to kill time before the next train and see if they had anything that piqued my taste buds. All of the bread looked pretty standard to me until I noticed one that was shaped like a mushroom. It had little powdered circles on the top to make it look authentic so immediately I wanted to try it. After biting into it I was surprised to find there was some mushroom cream inside of the stem that tasted amazing! The taste reminded me of how truly delicious bread really is and I should go to bakeries more often.

Address: Kyoto Station (before the shinkansen gate)

I cannot remember the name of this bread shop but the next time I go to Kyoto I will take note of it.

Thank you for reading the the 2nd Volume of my Aesthetic Dining in Kyoto Series! If you have any suggestions, please feel to leave them in the comments. I always have my eye on new cafes and restaurants and am sure that there will be plenty more entries in the future~

A Flawless Day in Fukuoka

Sunset at Momichi Park in Fukuoka, Japan.

Given the nature of my project-based job plus the economic effects of the pandemic, this Golden Week I found myself with more free time than ever before. After returning to Tokyo from Okinawa and checking my work email, I learned that I had three extra days to kill before I returned to the office. Not wanting to waste this newfound vacation time, I looked at places on my travel destination list and decided that Fukuoka and Saga had the best weather so I spontaneously booked yet another plane ticket to Kyushu from Narita Airport for around 17000 yen. By this time most people had returned to Tokyo from their long holiday so tickets were slightly cheaper than they were the previous week.

I left at 8:45am and landed at FUK Airport (Fukuoka Airport’s brilliant abbreviation) at 10:50am. One of my friends texted me and told me they didn’t know anyone else who travels as much as me and it really is true. I am highly determined to make the most of my life here and explore lesser known regions of Japan so I can better understand the culture of this country. I also love the thrill of going somewhere new and trying delicious food on my journeys so I can recommend it to others. I am happy to say that this trip was another huge success! Fukuoka is a tropical city with beaches, temples, amazing hot pot, and plenty of memes. This was my sixth time going after over 2 years and fortunately there still was a lot to see!

Hedgehog Pastries for Breakfast

My first stop from the airport was a small bakery called Patisserie Pas De Deux which is uber famous for its adorable hedgehog-shaped pastries. They also make custom cakes and and cute cookies that resemble animals. The first morning that I went they were already sold out of their hedgehog pastries so the owner profusely apologized for me and asked if I wanted to reserve one the next day. I filled out a form and was able to try one the following morning as soon as the store opened. Inside of the pastry was custard cream that tasted way better than anything that you could buy in stores so it was definitely worth the wait. I also bought a hedgehog cookie because it was irresistibly cute. If you come here, be sure to arrive in the morning so you have first pick of the pastries!

Address: 2 Chome-1-38 Takamiya, Minami Ward, Fukuoka, 815-0083

FUK Coffee

The second stop on my itinerary was a local coffee shop that was geniusly named FUK Coffee. Not only is the name hilarious but the mango smoothie I had was above the average quality of smoothies that I had tried in Japan. I’ve been to Fukuoka around five times but this was the first time that I had ever seen it. But I had to admit the concept was truly original and unique. Look at these guys, capitalizing on memes! My friend who lives in Kyushu came here to meet me and ordered their latte. We were both giggling at the artistic latte art they used all day. Definitely come here for the laughs—it’s a great way to kill time and meet up with friends since it’s near Tenjin Station. This is also one of the few places in the world where you can say “FUK” and have it be non-offensive.

Address: 3 Chome-21-17 Haruyoshi, Chuo Ward, Fukuoka, 810-0003

Tochoji Temple

After our hilarious meme coffee, my friend drove me to a local temple called Tochoji in central Fukuoka. At first glance I already loved the contrast of the bright red pagoda against the city skyscrapers. Once entering the temple, you can go through a pitch black tunnel underneath large golden Buddha that will lead you to enlightenment. The journey is really fun because you lose all of your senses in the darkness, but you can hold on to the walls to guide yourself. As I emerged I was greeted with bright sunlight arising from the parting clouds, so I definitely felt the after effects! I would happily recommend this temple to all of my friends because even if you’re not religious, exploring it is quite the adventure.

Address: 2-4 Gokushomachi, Hakata Ward, Fukuoka, 812-0037

Atago Shrine

After finding enlightenment, we decided to go to Atago Shrine because it has a great view of the skyline of Fukuoka. The climb to the top only took around 5 mins but there was so much to see! We took pictures of the mountains and the ocean as well as the tall city buildings that really didn’t look so big from up here. Near the shrine is a tea house that serves delicious sweets. I ordered the deluxe mochi set with macha while my friend tried their giant dango. We both couldn’t believe how delicious it was! Outside of the tea house was a forested garden that had smooth green leaves. Once again I was blown away by the architecture of the city—it really did feel limitless!

The best thing about Fukuoka is that even without a car you can take local buses around to see all of these aesthetic shrines. Everything is extremely reachable and you can relax and enjoy your day without being strict with time.

Address: 2 Chome-7-1 Atago, Nishi Ward, Fukuoka, 819-0015

Lunch at Bistro Shirokuma

Continuing the theme of animal-shaped meals, we stopped at Bistro Shirokuma for lunch. Their most famous dish is their Shirokuma Pasta which features creamy Italian carbonara topped with fluffy bear-shaped foamy cheese. It was almost a cheese overload compared to my regular diet but fortunately wasn’t too heavy on the stomach. Since I wasn’t driving, I also ordered a high ball. This restaurant was cheaper compared to ones found in central Tokyo and I was definitely taking advantage of it!

Address: 810-0023 Fukuoka, Chuo Ward, Kego, 1 Chome−15−50 アークタウン 2F

Watching the Sunset at Momichi Seaside Park

After saying goodbye to my friend who lives a bit outside of the city, I decided to spend the remainder of my evening at Momichi Seaside Park. Similar to Aoshima in Miyazaki where I traveled to a year ago, this beach is one of the best places to watch the sunset on central Kyushu Island. When I arrived there were a number of people playing volleyball and drinking on the benches near the beach. I was happy to see that even amidst the pandemic that the island culture I loved so much here was still alive. While sipping on some sparkling sake I bought at Bic Camera, I watched the sky turn vivid colors and Fukuoka Tower light up. This was truly the life. I will never grow tired of watching the sunset on the beach in Asia!

Accommodation

In my previous trips to Fukuoka I always stayed with my friends in Hakata, but since they sold their house I decided to try a city hotel with an onsen so I could fully relax This time I stayed at Candeo Hotels Fukuoka Tenjin because it was central to the city and looked like it had amazing facilities. Every time I went to the onsen I had it completely to myself so I was lucky. This hotel is also close to the bars and night club district so the location is pretty amazing too. Rooms are around 4200 yen per night, but you can find way cheaper options around. Some hostels in Fukuoka are less than 1500 yen so I would recommend looking for what suits you best because there are a lot of places to choose from.

Thank you for reading the first article in my new Kyushu series! In my next article I will talk about exploring Saga from the hit anime series Zombieland Saga! Please stay tuned for more updates.

Scuba Diving and Exploring the Pumpkin Limestone Cave in Miyakojima

Halloween came early this year in Miyakojima.

After spending a pleasant first day on Miyakojima exploring local shrines, biking to Sunayama Beach, and stumbling across old ruins, it was time to get to the main event—scuba diving with turtles. And more importantly, trying out my underwater camera equipment that I bought for my GoPro Hero 7 last year. I had originally planned to scuba dive with turtles in Cebu last March but my trip to the Philippines got cancelled due to the pandemic. I still have the ticket and still plan on going after I get vaccinated, but I imagine it’s going to be quite a long time until I can safely enter. Luckily with its pristine coral beaches, Miyakojima is one of the best places to go scuba diving in Japan so I finally got the chance to go here!

This article will detail my scuba diving experience at Shigira Beach and Boraga Beach as recommended by my instructor.

Scuba Diving at Shigira Beach

Before coming to the island, I decided to reserve a tour package from Klook that included both scuba diving with turtles and exploring the pumpkin limestone cave. Though I brought some of my own scuba gear, I really wanted to go with a local who knew the island well so I could learn the most about it. The combined tour cost 13500 yen which is much more expensive than doing similar activities in Thailand of the Philippines, but for what I saw the price was worth it. My tour started at 9:30 at Shigira Beach which was just a 30 min taxi ride from my hotel. From there I met up with my instructor who took me to the best scuba spot based on the weather conditions. The tour was entirely in Japanese but fortunately easy for me to understand.

The major bummer is that no turtles appeared, however. It might have been due to the gale advisory that swept Japan just a day before, but you would think with the lack of tourists that more wildlife would be around! Looking on the bright side, I did get to see a bunch of clown fish up close. And I also learned how to swim and use the correct settings on my camera to take quality photos. The reefs were absolutely beautiful and once again I felt like I was in the Little Mermaid World of Kingdom Hearts. Though I was a bit disappointed I didn’t get to see the turtles here, I vow to meet them once I can safely travel to Cebu!

Exploring the Pumpkin Limestone Cave

While researching destinations I wanted to travel to in Miyakojima, the pumpkin limestone cave was #1 on my list. As soon as I saw the pictures of it online I knew I needed to see it with my own eyes. I mean where else in the world can you see something like this? After a short break my instructor kindly drove me to Boraga Beach where the cave was located. This is just roughly 15 mins from Shigira Beach where the turtles apparently reside. I was surprised to find that the water was extremely shallow and rocky so we were given special boots to wear as to not hurt our feet. The entrance to the cave is about a 15 min walk over rocks, but the gorgeous blue shades of the water made it fun. Once you reach the entrance of the cave, there is a gap of emerald water that you can swim through to go inside. How cool is that?

I was unaware this is actually a religious place, so we were asked to pray before entering. Though I am not religious, I am honored to have received the pumpkin god’s blessings. The inside of the cave is extremely dark so we were given flashlights so we could see where we were going. You can see the beautiful pumpkin shape as soon as you enter the cave and it looked almost ethereal from where I was swimming. My instructor guided me to a ledge where I could start climbing to the top. Though parts were a bit slippery, it was overall easy to reach the highest point where water was dripping down from stalactites. My instructor told me to sit down underneath them so the cool water droplets would hit my skin, and it really did feel relaxing! The inside of the cave was warm so the mini shower was much appreciated. There was also mud here that you could smear on your face for smooth skin. I saw mud masks in the souvenir shops before and was happy that I had the chance to experience the real thing. The mud here really does make your skin look smoother after you wash it off!

It took us roughly 20 mins to fully explore the cave, but my instructor stopped to give me some pretty interesting lectures. Here is a video of me jumping off the highest ledge of the pumpkin cave taken by my instructor. The gap was extremely narrow and a bit scary so you can hear me scream! But rest assured, this is a safe tour and I was wearing a life jacket and helmet so everything was fine. Even if you’re afraid of heights, this really isn’t that bad:

Nature & Soba

In between going to the two beaches, my instructor dropped me off at a delicious soba place called Maruyoshi Shokudo. Not only were the noodles cheap here, but the staff was amazing. They made me a custom fish and veggie bowl since I’m pescatarian and I topped it with some light curry powder to give it the perfect zest. Miyako soba is extremely famous and after eating here I can see exactly why it is true. I also explored some gardens nearby and discovered some beautiful butterflies and flora. Nature is also impressive here because everything gets a lot of sunlight. It was so fun to see all of the wildlife up close!

Chasing Sunsets

The tour ended around 3pm and my instructor drove me back to my hotel so I had just enough time to shower off, grab some food, and start chasing sunsets! The first and last two pictures were taken at morning and night at Painagama Beach near my resort. The middle picture was taken at Shigira Beach right before I left. As I grabbed some shochu from the convenience store across the road, I was surprised to see that a number of locals were gathered around playing instruments, drinking, and watching the sunset on a Tuesday night. But this is just Okinawan culture plain and simple. Though I am addicted to the city due to the endless opportunities it offers, island life is truly the life for me. I love being on the beach because I feel the happiest there.

This was my last night in Miyakojima and I think it was extremely well spent! I have one last article of my Okinawa series to publish, then I will be spontaneously traveling to Kyushu at the end of this week to finish Golden Week with a bang. Thank you all for reading and supporting my dream!

Aesthetic Food Finds in Hanoi

As an avid lover of all things that are aesthetic, searching for unique restaurants and trying the most colorful foods around the world is one of my life goals.  As far as Vietnam goes, I noticed most of the trendy bars and cafes were located in Hanoi.  Ho Chi Minh has a lot of upscale restaurants and fancy cuisine from around the world that I enjoyed trying, but Hanoi had the most photogenic food plus the famous “Obama Combo”.

Here are some of my favorite aesthetic restaurants that I discovered in Hanoi.  Please see my first Ho Chi Minh article for some food recommendations there too.

The Unicorn Pub

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The Butterfly Cocktail – One of the most aesthetic drinks I’ve ever had in my life.

“You have entered a different world… one filled with good times and specially-crafted artisan cocktails. Enjoy your journey through our exclusive, fun-filled menu found nowhere else on Earth!” -The Unicorn Pub

While walking down the narrow streets of Hanoi as a tourist, you’ll definitely draw a lot of attention from the locals.  Food vendors with carts will follow you down the road, shop owners will yell and beckon you into their stores full of everything from bootleg designer bags to handmade accessories… At first all of the attention is nice but it gets hard to relax after a while.  My favorite example is when I sat down at a restaurant with outdoor seating and a woman selling fried bananas tried to get me to buy them.  I politely showed her my receipt and explained that I had already ordered food and I didn’t want any, but she started putting the bananas in a bag and tried to sell them for me for a discount.  Even when I started to ignore here, she simply wouldn’t take no for an answer.  Eventually the food that I ordered arrived and she finally left when I started eating, but man…

I understand that these vendors need business, but being polite with how you approach someone is important.  Though I ate at some smaller food stalls to give them business, on my first night in Hanoi I decided to try an upscale bar called The Unicorn Pub to see what the atmosphere was like.  And let me tell you; it was completely worth it!

The Unicorn Pub has by far the best atmosphere and original cocktails that I discovered in Vietnam.  The bar owner is very kind and speaks great English.  She came out and introduced herself and her staff to me and asked what kind of liquor I liked.  I explained that I was an aesthetic food enthusiast (though I didn’t use that terminology exactly) and she already had a cocktail in mind for me.  The very first cocktail I had was the Butterfly Cocktail!  It was sweet and had a mix of fruity liquor and vodka with the adorable butterfly decoration on the rim of the glass.  Next I ordered the Pho Cocktail which is a spicy cocktail that is exclusive to this bar.  It takes a precise level of mixology to prepare this concoction, but the flavor is out of this world!  I have never seen a drink prepared with such care before.

This bar draws in a number of foreigners and locals so it has a good mix of people.  The guy sitting next to me was Vietnamese and was telling me all about Sapa village.  I unfortunately couldn’t fit it in on this itinerary, but I’d really like to travel there in the future.  He was sipping on some 38% alcohol which I couldn’t read the name of, so the bartender let me have a sip.  I can’t even remember the taste but mixing liquors sure is an adventure in itself.  Conversation flowed easy after that.  I ended my night with some kind of lemon cocktail and walked back 10 mins to my hostel.  I added all of the people at the bar on Facebook and I still keep in touch with them today.  Fortunately the corona virus hasn’t spread as much in Vietnam and this bar is still in business!  I’ll be sure to come back some day.

Egg Coffee at Cafe Giang

Egg Coffee is without a doubt one of the biggest food memes in Vietnam.  It was invented in the 1940s while there was a milk shortage.  The true recipe is unknown but it is said to contain egg, butter, and cheese along with a coffee base.  Giang Cafe is one of the best coffee shops to try egg coffee in Vietnam.  According to The Guardian, currently the son of the coffee’s inventor runs the shop.  Not knowing what to expect, I ordered a hot glass of the standard egg coffee.  It surprisingly didn’t taste like egg at all; it had a creamy coffee texture almost like a latte but much thicker.  Plus I bet it’s still healthier than most drinks at Starbucks!  I would recommend trying a cup while you are here because it’s quite satisfying.

The “Obama Combo” at Hương Liên Bún Chả Obama

Ah yes, another great meme.  My friend informed me that there was a famous bun cha (pork and noodle) restaurant that Obama once ate at while he visited Vietnam.  This had such an impact on their business that they added “Obama” to the name of their restaurant.  Is Hương Liên Bún Chả Obama worth the hype?  The ingredients in bun cha are undoubtedly delicious, but this restaurant is pretty standard in what it offers.  There unfortunately weren’t many vegetarian options here but I had fun checking this place out and ordered my noodles without pork.  The Obama Combo tasted good, but it was higher-priced than other places and I prefer eating pho.  If you go, be sure you walk up all the floors so you can see all the framed Obama photos.  It must have been the greatest moment of honor for this restaurant!

Aroi Dessert Cafe

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Beary Delicious!

Aroi Dessert Cafe is a cozy relaxing space that’s open 24 hours and serves the cutest desserts!  I came here to charge my portable wifi and try one of their famous bear cakes.  It was light, fluffy, and filled with chocolate.  Exactly what I needed after walking around the city all day.  In addition to cakes they have a large selection of coffee and fruity cocktails.  It’s really easy to kill time here between planning your next move so I would recommend it!  I recall the chairs being extremely comfy too.

Oh Manh!

Remember my story about the old lady who tried to sell me fried bananas?  I narrowly escaped her by ordering this sandwich and showing her my receipt.  Oh manh!  A Spicy Perspective describes manh as “one of the most vibrant and delicious sandwiches in the world” and I can agree.  Manh is usually filled with pork and fresh vegetables, but the stall I ate at in central Hanoi had a vegetarian option too!  The pickled vegetables in the grilled baguette topped with mayo and spices definitely made my day.

Thank you for reading yet another aesthetic food article for me!  I hope to take another trip to Vietnam when things start to calm down.