Exploring the Coastal City of Atami (Shizuoka, Japan)

After seeing the capybara zoo and the capybara illuminations of Izu, I decided to make my way to the coastal city of Atami and do some exploring around the beach and local area.  I chose to stay at this district during my backpacking trip through Shizuoka because it is centrally located and has a lot of nice seafood restaurants and floral parks you can visit.  My accommodation was at Megumi Guesthouse because it has an onsen and was only 3500 yen per night when I booked it.  Not bad at all!

Here are some of my favorite discoveries that I found during my two-day stay in Atami:

Idematsu Sun Beach

One of the best things about Atami is that the beach is only 5 minutes walking from the station!  When I woke up and went for my morning run, this was the very first place that I visited.  It was very serene and quiet, which is rare for a beach near the city.  Despite it being February, the temperature was extremely mild too.  It almost felt like a private beach to me.  In the summer, Atami holds a fireworks festival that many people attend.  I would like to come back during that time and see how the atmosphere changes!

BonBon Berry House & Maruya Terrace

If you love strawberries… well you’re absolutely going to love BonBon Berry!  This confectionery is full of fruits and desserts of high quality.  I first tried the original strawberry stick with manjuu and a small piece of strawberry cake.  It was so delicious, I came back the following day to try more~  I next ordered the strawberry shu cream that looks like a giant glazed strawberry but is actually a giant creampuff.  I traveled here in February, yet the strawberries were so fresh I felt like it was summer!

For lunch I decided to stop at Maruya Terrace near the central shopping street.  This restaurant will let you choose your favorite fish from the seafood store across the street and grill it for you on a seasoned sandwich.  I chose their famous mackerel sandwhich:

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This is one of the best fish sandwiches I have ever eaten!!

I couldn’t believe this sandwich was only 700 yen!  Seafood in Hokkaido and Kanazawa are much more expensive.  Atami is definitely one of the cheapest places to eat quality fish and I would like to try many kinds in the future!

Atami Ropeway & Kinomiya Shrine

Atami Ropeway definitely gives you access to one of the best views in the city!  For only 600 yen (roundtrip), you can take a cable car to the top of a mountain and see the city and surrounding seaside area.  As expected, the view was breathtaking~  I was happy that I brought my GoPro here.

Next I walked to the nearby Kinomiya Shrine because it’s one of the most famous in Atami.  I loved the green foilage and the leaves that were made into the shape of a heart:

If you’re looking for a hotspring, I recommend going to the nearby Nikkoutei Ooyu.  It is only around 1000 yen to go for the day and has a beautiful view of the surrounding nature.

Atami Plum Garden & Akao Herb and Rose Garden

Though February is usually not the prime season for flowers, I decided to check these gardens out anyway since I was in the area.  I was surprised to find beautiful buds when I first went running through the Atami Plum Garden.  According to the official website, this area has the fastest blooming plums in Japan:

This garden is divided into several areas; they have a Japanese garden, a Korean garden, an art museum, and dozens of plum trees that you can photograph pretty much year round.  I was surprised to find a miniature cave and waterfall here too.  This is much prettier than a lot of gardens that I’ve been to so I’m happy I came.  The entrance fee is only 300 yen.

Finally, I went to Akao Herb and Rose Garden, which actually is a garden up in the mountains!  From the bus stop, a free van will take you to the top (or you can choose to walk to the entrance).  When this garden is in full bloom, it truly looks like heaven.  Unfortunately I could not capture many flowers in bloom, but I got an awesome picture of me in my Orient T-Shirt on the swing.  I did manage to capture the photo below:

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February flowers of Akao Herb and Rose Garden.

What I liked about this garden is that there were hammocks and benches where you could relax and see the seaside.  In addition to the swing, they also had a trampoline!  There were many fragrances you could try for free as well.  This was one of the best views I have ever seen from a flower park, and I regret that I could not take more pictures of the roses.  All the more reason to come back here in the summer!

Entrance here is only 1000 yen.

Final Remarks

 

I love Atami because everything you need is either walking distance or just a short bus ride away: the ocean, mountain, hotsprings, restaurants, and beautiful gardens.  It’s very easy to relax and find inner peace here.  In addition to the capybaras, I loved the nature and food.  I’m so glad I discovered yet another floral beach paradise in Asia and I recommend that everyone else come and experience it for themselves.

Getting to Atami

From Tokyo Station, take the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen towards Shin Osaka.  Atami Station is only 37 minutes away, which is closer than getting from one end of Tokyo to the other!  The cost is 4300 yen which is about the same as going to Nikko or Hakone.  It’s definitely worth the cost.

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

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The astrological murals of Formosa Boulevard Station shine brilliantly.

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

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

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

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

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

Standing at the Edge of the World: Laomei Reef & The Alpaca Cafe

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GoProing in the Reef: Laomei Beach still looks as awe-inspiring as ever in the winter.

Situated at the northern tip of Taiwan, Laomei Reef is a well sought-after location for photographers and beach goers alike with its stunning green scenery and relaxing atmosphere.  Though Taiwan isn’t particularly known for its beaches, I still wanted to experience at least one even though I came here during the dead of winter.  Hoping to capture the best lighting with GoPro, I arrived around sunset by taking the train to Tamsui Station from Taipei and then using a local bus (this took around 2.5 hours but was a nice day trip).  Even though it was the first week of January, all I needed to wear was a light jacket because the weather was sunny and mild.  During the summer months, I’ve heard that this beach transforms into quite the lively place.  I’d really like to come back and experience this in the future because beaches are my favorite places in the world.

Because there weren’t that many people around this time of year, I managed to capture some really great photos of the reef:

I love how the shallow water reflected the image of the sky above almost like a mirror.  You can actually get very close to the reef by standing on the trench by the shore.  According to John Ellis (a local photographer who I have been following), the reef was originally formed by a volcanic eruption that occurred over two hundred thousand years ago.  Summer is the best time to see the reef because that is when the most algae grows, but the beautiful shade of green is fortunately see-able in all seasons.  Though it was too cold to go swimming, I enjoyed watching the waves wash over the reef and felt at ease while I was here:

From this video it looks like I’m standing at the edge of the world!  Not wanting the adventure to end here, I decided to take a bus from here to the famous alpaca cafe called OIA Oia Art Cafe.  If you venture all the way out the the reef, you might as well take the time to pet the two lovely alpacas that live here because this cafe is very close:

I ordered a sweet beer and reminisced on all of my crazy encounters with animals while I was here.  Last year I went to the bunny island and miniature pig cafe in Tokyo, and now here I was in another foreign country drinking with animals (which I often prefer to humans).  Life is truly strange and amazing, and I am doing my best to live every minute to the fullest.

In addition to alpacas, they also have cats here.  I have been to many cat cafes already so I didn’t film them, but they were interesting to watch.  I spent most of my time petting the kind alpaca pictured above.  It looked very tired but fortunately well-fed, just like me.  Maybe we aren’t so different after all.

 

Exploring the Rocky Coast of Yehliu Geopark (Taiwan)

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The coast of Yehliu Geopark (captured with GoPro).

Located on the north coast of Taiwan, Yehliu Geopark contains uniquely-shaped rock formations such as the Queen’s Head and Fairy’s Shoe making it a popular hiking and sightseeing destination.  Besides the famous Taroko Gorge, this is one of my most favorite parks in Taiwan.  Since this park is a bit remote from Taipei City, I decided to book a cheap bus tour through GetYourGuide that stopped here and the famous lantern towns of this area (Jiufen and Shifen).  The tour was extremely laid back and you could freely wander around all the areas, so I would recommend it to people who are trying to make the most of their day.  I came here on the 2nd day of January, but the weather was sunny and I managed to take some decent photos despite the crowds:

Though I have been to a number of parks similar to this in Asia, the architecture here really amazed me!  The surface of the rocks reminded me of craters on the moon so I felt as if I was in my own sci-fi adventure.  Definitely be sure to follow the guideposts to the elegantly-shaped Queen’s Head rock (fortunately most of the signs are written in English).  The hike around the cape was very pleasant and it was awesome to see the ocean.  The entire park is walkable within 2 hours so you can definitely fit in other activities if you plan your day out.  The signs below indicate the major points of interest in the park (as you can see, there’s quite a lot):

I asked my guide on how these rock formations were formed because I was curious, and apparently it was due to seawater erosion.  Each layer of contains a different level of hardness (I recall learning this long ago in primary school), so the unique shape of the rocks is caused by the ocean waves weathering them over time.  It’s amazing how flat some of the surfaces are, yet others look like they have circular shapes in them like coral.  You can get a great view of the entire park if you follow the trail to the lighthouse:

Located next to the park is Yehliu Ocean World if you’re interested in seeing dolphin and sea lion performances among other aquatic lifeforms.  Unfortunately I didn’t have time to see them, but I’ve had the chance to see them before in Thailand and Japan.

This was a fantastic 2nd day in Taiwan, and I will be covering the lantern towns in my next post!  Yehliu Geopark was the first outdoor area where I used my GoPro, so it will always have a special place in my heart!

Grand Adventures in Busan: Daewangam Park, Gamcheon Culture Village, and Jagalchi Market (Part 2)

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Shenanigans in the colorful Gamcheon Culture Village.

After missing the last bus to my hostel and staying by myself at a love hotel in Busan, I decided to make my way to the colorful Gamcheon Culture Village which is consists of historic houses and beautiful murals with awe-inspiring messages.  Originally in the 1950s this was a place where Korean refugees fled in South Korea, and the area was extremely undeveloped.  Now it has transformed into a beautiful place full of art and culture (hence the name).  Nicknamed the “Machu Picchu of Busan” this coastal village is the perfect place for a relaxing day of sightseeing.  There are a number of people that reside in the village as well, so tourists are asked to be respectful of houses outside of the map.

I decided to take a taxi to Gamcheon from my hostel, but Prepare Travel Plans has a good list of alternative ways to get here from Busan.  When I arrived to the village, I felt as if I had stepped into a storybook!  In fact, some of the stairs were painted with book titles.  It’s quite easy to get lost here because the buildings are extremely condensed, but I fortunately figured out my way around here by using the colored guideposts and English map from the tourist association.

I discovered a ton of interesting sights here like poop-flavored desserts, a statue from “The Little Prince”, animal-shaped dumplings, trick-eye art murals, locks that you can buy and wish for love with your partner, cotton candy cloud coffee, and all sorts of street food that was being sold in the alley.  If you buy a map (they are really cheap), then you can participate in a stamp rally that will guide you to all of the major sightseeing spots of the village.  I actually got lost at one point, but an elderly man pointed me in the right direction (even though we didn’t speak one another’s language).  It was extremely pleasant wandering through this town, and I am glad to see that it has turned into a source of happiness for people now.  The tourism here really does help the village, which is why I argue that visiting touristy places isn’t always a bad thing.

After a very colorful day, I decided to head back to central Busan and visit the Jagalchi Market which is very easy to get to because it’s in the heart of the city.  I recently watched Black Panther where part of the movie was filmed here, and it brought back so many memories!  I went late at night when not as many places were open, but I managed to find an amazing place that served me raw octopus:

It’s truly amazing seeing the large variety of seafood that is available.  You can select your food from the tank outside of the restaurant or you can ask them to choose for you.  I managed to break the language barrier by pointing at the octopus I wanted, and also used my translation app to order.  I noticed that outside of Seoul that not many Koreans speak English unless they have a reason to (such as an international career), but I still was able to get around find.  Busan is a very relaxing city compared to most found in Japan.  Tokyo is still my favorite city in the world, but I enjoyed experiencing life here.

I stayed here for only 2 days because I was short on time, but I recommend that people stay here for at least 3-4 days so they can see everything that this city has to experience.  There are a number of interesting parks and museums in Busan as well.  I will be publishing the rest of my adventures in Korea in the near future!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“The best spa in the world.”

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

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

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

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

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

Koh Rong: The Happiest Place in Cambodia

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

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

Getting to Koh Rong

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

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

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

Staying in a Treehouse

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

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

Chasing Sunsets

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

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

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

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

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

Finding Happiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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