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 Koh Rong Samleom

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

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

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

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

Resurface to Reality: Raving in the Jungle of Koh Rong

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Resurfacing to Reality at Police Beach, Cambodia.

When caught up in work, stress, and a maze of relationships, it’s often easy to lose sight of yourself and forget what is important.  Though I love living in Tokyo, I find it often hard to relax here and there is an endless amount of events occurring which really places a lot of pressure on my life.  Spending 4 days on the small Cambodian island of Koh Rong in Koh Touch, a small village that only stretches for about a mile, really taught me taught me some valuable lessons I will treasure for life.

It was here where I went to my first old-school rave in the jungle and learned to live frugally compared to my extravagant city life.  The villagers were extremely kind and I was always surrounded by friendly people that took care of me despite the fact that I ventured here completely alone.  My time here really helped me let go of a lot of anxieties and insecurities I had that were holding me back recently.  Though I have many caring friends in all the countries I have visited, being in this setting helped me resurface to reality and form an entirely new perspective so I could enter a new mindset that I couldn’t reach before. I am still trying to find the proper words to convey exactly what happened, so I am just going to start from the beginning and write it all as I feel it.

The night began I as I wandered from my treehouse from around 9pm to a local bar called Karma, just because it had a lot of pretty murals, dank music, and was the designated pre-game spot before the rave in the jungle.  The best way to find out where these places are at is by word of mouth (simply by asking someone that works at the bar what’s going on for the night).  Here I met a crazy diverse group of people (one banker, one bar owner, and one government worker) who I really hit it off with so they ordered me some happy cookies, shots, and some Turkish coffee (which is just really strong, delicious tasting coffee) to keep me awake.  We all just had the same vibe–this was our first time in Koh Rong and we wanted to go out for the night but didn’t know what to expect–so we stuck together.  Fortunately all of us were experienced travelers who had done the Fullmoon Parties in Thailand already and were looking for something different.  And an absolutely insane night full of neon lights, fantastic music, and important self-discoveries was ahead of us!

If you haven’t heard, the main reason that people flock to Koh Rong is because of their weekly beach parties on the un-ironically named Police Beach.  In addition to the vivid nightlife, there is a ton of unspoiled nature and beaches to explore.  The reason I love Koh Rong is because unlike other places, it usually only has one event going on per night such as beach parties, bar hopping, or game nights between small groups of people.  There is no competition between events and everyone that shows up is generally friendly and looking to have a good time.  I did not encounter one unpleasant person while on this island.  I came during the off-season in October, but the weather was still sunny with only mild rain.  It was perfectly suited for me because I never felt like I was missing out.

We arrived almost at the start of the party because we were already buzzed and ready to dance.  I wasn’t extremely familiar with any of the DJs but they did a great job of mixing really classic techno songs.  I liked the venue because it had an indoor area that protects you from the rain, lounge chairs where you can relax and smoke joints, and nicely-sized dancefloor, and an outdoor area where you could relax on the beach but still hear the music.  It wasn’t anything fancy because it was partially in the jungle, but it was perfect for what it was.  I have been to many clubs in Asia so I was looking for something different like this.

Basically anything goes at this party–it preserves the old rave culture that is lost to Japan and many other places.  If you’re looking for something, then you’re likely to find it if you make friends with people beforehand.  I also loved the fact that wild dogs would roll up to the party and fall asleep on the ground (they were friendly and nice).  While I was at this party I really had a lot of fun twirling on the dance floor and running across the beach.  I felt relaxed, energized, and full of life.  It reminded me of being in college again, so I messaged some of my old college friends and told them I was thinking of them while I was there (since it was day time in the US and they were awake we had some great convos).

I stuck with the group of people that I had met earlier, but also was in my head for the most of the night.  To be honest I don’t remember a lot of things, but I was able to reach a level of thinking where I could compartmentalize my stress and anxieties and manage them a lot better.  That in itself made the entire experience worth it.

When the clock struck 6am, we climbed down to the beach and watched the sunrise.  It was breathtaking.  The sun looked like a red beady dot that was emerging from a sea of clouds, just like how we were all slowly trickling out of the jungle to the beach.  Earlier that night I had put a lot of effort into my appearance but at this time of morning I didn’t have a single care in the world.  I felt like a mermaid as I swam in the cool water.

When the party ended, I didn’t go to sleep.  I ran back to my treehouse and blasted my favorite songs from my balcony.  I met one of the bartenders on the way walking his dog and we had a lovely conversation.  Then I waded in the water until the first ferries arrived and sailed off to Koh Rong Samloem Island (which I will cover in my next post).  Overall, this was one of the best party experiences I had in my life, and I am so grateful I made the decision to come out here.

Compared to the beautiful islands I traveled to in Thailand, this was like an off-the-grid, undiscovered, party paradise that only the true backpackers make it to.

As an article on Matador Network puts it:

It’s not as if Thailand lacks an authentic culture…but the country, especially its islands, has been inundated with foreign tourism for so long that it’s far more difficult to forge sincere connections than it was on Koh Rong.

The biggest issue with islands in Thailand is that they are sometimes overcrowded with tourists so it’s difficult to partake in genuine Thai culture while you are there.  Plus because their Full Moon parties attract a large number of tourists, there are always other smaller underground parties going on at the same time as competition.  If you are only in Thailand for a short time, then it’s really impossible to hit up all the events.  However, at Koh Rong you never have the fear of missing out and can really learn from the culture of the people there.  The parties take place away from the hotel area so you can easily escape them if you need to.  There is a sense of peace and balance on Koh Rong that you’d never find elsewhere.  From what I’ve heard, Thailand used to be like this in the 80s, but this kind of culture is starting to fade away with the huge tourist boom.  However, I am extremely grateful I had the opportunity to travel to both countries and make friends.

Will I come back to Koh Rong to resurface to reality again in the future?  Perhaps one day.  Next I have my sights set on the Philippines and Indonesia which I likely will traverse next year!  But this has been my best island experience by far so I likely will try to go again.  Thank you to everyone for reading my heartfelt post.

A Sacred Beach Getaway to Koh Nang Yuan (Thailand)

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The postcard-worthy view of Koh Nang Yuan in Koh Tao, Thailand.

Koh Tao is yet another popular destination in the Gulf of Thailand due to its colorful coral reefs that make it popular for diving because it attracts a large variety of sea creatures.  In addition to that, there are many beach huts and ocean resorts on the island making it a lively place. “Koh Tao” actually means “Turtle Island”, and you can see that a lot of the islands within it resemble turtles due to their leafy green foliage and surrounding rocks.

I chose to go to Koh Nang Yuan (on the northwest coast of Koh Tao) which is a chain of 3 gorgeous islets that are great for scuba diving.  Once arriving by speedboat, you can reach all of them on-foot by using a sandbar that spans in-between them.  If you climb up a trail from the boardwalk you can see one of the most amazing views in Thailand!  The emerald oceans glisten beautifully from above, and it truly feels like paradise.

In order to reach Koh Tao, I took a speedboat from my resort in Koh Samui.  I booked an affordable tour from Klook in advance, and had more than enough time to go swimming, hiking, and eat a buffet meal that was included in the tour.  Though some articles I’ve read online warn tourists to stay away from Koh Tao due to a series of murders that were found on the island (source: News.au), I did not sense any hostility while I was on this tour, and I think it is more than fine to visit even as a solo traveler as long as you are responsible.

During my trip here, I decided to stay in Tango Bay Resort on Koh Samui (for around $50 per night), because it is conveniently located and there are more activities to do on the island.  I enjoyed staying on Chaweng Beach because it is lively but still feels like a private beach.  My resort came with a private hut, a pool, a delicious restaurant and bar with a happy hour every day, and a beach, so I felt more than welcome!

When I walked into my room, both of the towels were folded like elephants!  It was truly a sight to behold and I couldn’t get over how cute they were.  I was impressed at how beautiful the beach was at night with the lanterns hanging from the trees and reflecting off the ocean.  I saw many people having weddings here and felt luxurious since I came here by myself.  Whether you’re with people or alone, it’s really hard to be sad here.

There are 3 foods that I recommend trying in Thailand: Seafood (any kind), sticky mango rice, and coconut ice cream (ideal if it’s from a real coconut).  I was fortunate that I could have all three on the beach!

It was great to relax here after being trapped in an office for so long.  I can’t stress how important it is to get away from the city and take an island vacation!  It doesn’t have to be expensive because countries like Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, and more are very affordable, and the quality of service is usually quite good.  I hope that everyone reading this is inspired to come here some day!

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That’s all for now–see you next menu, Space Cowboy!

The Rainbow Huts of Your Dreams (Koh Samui, Thailand)

Koh Samui is my favorite place in Thailand.  It has beautiful private beaches, and even unique geography like mountains with gardens that make it a stunning destination full of wonder.  I arrived here by ferry on the first day of 2019 after counting down the new year at the full moon party.  When one of the attendants woke me from my slumber, I had arrived at this fantasy dream-like island and was staying in a pink triangular hut on Lamai Beach:

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This is New Hut Bungalow, the most colorful and affordable accommodation on the island (priced at around $11 per night).  When I saw how adorable my hut was, I immediately fell in love with it!  All of the beaches on Koh Samui are more secluded and less touristy than the ones in Phuket and Krabi.  I enjoyed waking up and running on the beach every day, the ending the night with a swim under the purple and orange gradient sunset.  It felt like I had the beach to myself at times!

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The palm trees, soft waves, and the lanterns really made me feel like I was in paradise!  I enjoyed swimming and looking back at the rainbow huts.  It made me realize how hard I had worked to come here, and how much I was enjoying adventuring through this country! The restaurant also had amazing glass noodles and fresh fruit that I feasted on everyday.  It was so much fun that I didn’t want to leave!

One iconic landmark of these bungalows is the sign for the toilet whose eyes light up at night:

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Whether it’s cursed, and omen, or actually good luck, I was grateful for this guidepost, as the island gets quite dark around 8pm and there are no streetlights like in the city so this is a necessity to survival.  Even though whatever it was is now deceased.  In theory.  I really would like one of these for my room!

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The 5 cocktails I had during happy hour on my 2 nights here.

While I was in Koh Samui, I went to the Tiger Kingdom, saw and aquarium and birdshow, went to the Magic Buddha Garden and saw some of the mountains, and also relaxed on the beach and had an amazing start to the year!  I would choose this over Tokyo most days, because you don’t find this kind of relaxation there (though onsen are pretty great for that).  I am so excited for my next trip back here during Golden Week!