Exploring Narai in Kiso Valley

A rainy yet beautiful day in the mountain town of Narai.

A place that’s been on my bucket list for quite a while is Kamikochi, a beautiful hiking area nestled in the valleys of Nagano, and this year I finally had the chance to go! I was actually planning to go last year, but the main camping area was attacked by a wild bear that tore a tent to shreds and stole a camper’s curry, so unfortunately my trip was cancelled. Fortunately this year they had the bears under control and no other attacks have been reported. However, this year we encountered wild monkeys during our hike but they were extremely friendly!

I will be covering my trip to Kamikochi in two separate posts since this trip lasted two full days. On the first day I rode from Tokyo to Enzan Station to meet my friends in Yamanashi which was on the way. From there we drove to Narai in Nagano by car which was roughly two hours away. This was an extremely smart move since the weather was rainy the first day but sunny for our hiking trip on the second day.

Narai is reachable by both car and the Chuo Line making it cheaper than taking the shinkansen. If you have the chance you should definitely check this town out because it has a lot of history and delicious food!

Getting to Know Narai

After parking or getting off at the station, all of the main strip of Narai can be explored by foot. The very first thing that I noticed was the Narai Kiso Bridge that will take you over to the shops and restaurants. In the Meiji Period, Narai was a famous post town and you can see why by how easy it is to get around here. The town is extremely condensed and features a lot of antique wooden buildings and cafes that you can explore. There are small art museums, soba and teishoku restaurants, as well as a stone path that will take you to Joryuji, a temple with a painting of a dragon inside. This was actually my favorite part of the town because I wasn’t expecting to see such a beautiful mural! Narai can be explored in about 1 hour and is the perfect place to stretch your legs before making it to other destinations in Nagano.

Shirahone Onsen

Before heading to our ryokan, we decided to stop by Shirahone Onsen which is a natural sulfur hot spring located in the mountains. It’s about a 45 minute drive from Narai but was completely worth the trip! For the entire day the weather was chilly and raining, but a soak in the onsen definitely put us back in high spirits. This is probably the best onsen I’ve been to in Nagano besides the fancy resort I stayed at in January. I just appreciated how simple but highly effective it was. Natural hot springs definitely have a healing property!

Address: Azumi, Matsumoto, Nagano 390-1515
Admission Fee: 520 yen (the baths are gender segregated)

Narai Food

Since Narai is located near the river, ayu (sweet fish) are one of the most popular meals here! When I first moved to Japan, I honestly didn’t know what to think of freshwater fish but recently they have really grown on me. For lunch I had a teishoku set which included ayu, miso, tofu, and rice in the town we visited earlier. The meal was simple but I couldn’t believe how amazing it was! For dinner we drove to a restaurant called Mominoki where I had vegetables with miso, another grilled ayu, and some delicious caramel and azuki ice cream topped with jelly cubes. I mentioned this in my last Nagano article, but the people here have the longest life span in Japan and you can easily see why. This prefecture is filled with onsen and beautiful nature and has wonderful food too! There are a lot of options for both meat lovers and vegetarians too.

Lodge Fumoto

After a full day of hiking, food, and hot springs, we decided to spend the night at Lodge Fumoto. Unbeknownst to us, we were the only 3 people staying that weekend so it was the ultimate party! The reason for that is a lot of buses to Kamikochi have reduced service due to the pandemic and you really need a car to get around. The hotel, or “lodge” is really no frills and has limited amenities but it has amazing hot springs. There is a shared indoor bath and a private outdoor one you can freely reserve. You can tell by the sulfur debris that sticks to the wood that these hot springs are legit and the surrounding outdoor scenery is absolutely breathtaking. I had an amazing stay here and am happy that we didn’t go camping so we could avoid the rain. The rooms here are around 6000 yen which is average for most ryokan too.

Thank you for reading the first part of my summer Nagano adventure! In my next article I will be writing about how we hiked through the entirety of Kamikochi and met the monkeys. Now is a really good time to travel here because there are far less people than usual!

Final Day in Miyakojima: Exploring Irabu Island & The Great Bike Crisis that was Averted

A scene from Non Non Biyori: Okinawa e Ikukoto ni Natta recreated on Irabu Island.

After a sublime day of scuba diving on the best beaches in Miyakojima and exploring the pumpkin limestone cave, I was about ready to wrap up my Okinawa trip and fly back to Tokyo. However, before my flight departed at 4pm that day, there was one more island I wanted to see early in the morning. Irabu Island is connected to the mainland of Miyakojima by the appropriately named Irabu Bridge and can be reached by car, bike, and even on foot! It is roughly 11km from the main resort strip of Miyakojima and is extremely rural but has some beautiful beaches, cafes, and resorts to see. I figured it would be the perfect final destination to end my trip and reflect for a bit before taking the 5 hour plane ride home.

I woke up early, rented a regular road bike from my hotel, and set off for Irabu Island! During my morning run I had the chance to see the sun rise and it looked absolutely stunning on Painagama Beach. The blue colors of the ocean that surrounded Irabu were also impressive as I crossed the bridge. I had flashbacks to the Grand Tethe’alla Bridge from Tales of Symphonia as I made my way to the other side. This almost didn’t feel real!

It took me about 50 mins to bike to the main beach of Irabu called “Day’s Beach” but the view was definitely worth it. It looked just like the beach in one of my favorite anime movies Non Non Biyori: Okinawa e Ikukoto ni Natta. Even though this was slightly different from the setting of the movie, it still had the same vibe:

Here are some more photos that I took of Day’s Beach. If I had more time I would have went swimming! I noticed that there were a lot of farms and plantations here. One of the highlights of biking was stopping to see all of the tropical plants on the way:

After walking along the beach and feeling refreshed, I decided to stop by a nearby restaurant called Blue Turtle. Here I tried their signature rum cocktail called the “Blue Turtle”, ate some fried sweet potato and octopus, and drank a dragon fruit smoothie for dessert. The food here was top notch and the view of the beach was even better. Despite not being able to see any turtles during my scuba trip the previous day, this feast sort of made up for it.

Finally feeling fulfilled that I accomplished everything on my itinerary, I went to unlock my bike and set off back off across the bridge. But that is when disaster struck—as I started riding back I noticed I had a flat tire despite not feeling it at all before. I’ve ridden around Tokyo with flat tires on my bike when I’ve been short on time, but having this happen on a rural island is less than ideal. I thought about biking the 11km back or even walking if I had to since I had enough time, but I instead decided to do the smart thing and stop at the nearest resort and ask for help. Fortunately the staff at Azure Villa were more than willing to help me!

Initially I thought it was just a flat tire (パンクしたタイヤ) but after inspection the staff confirmed the tube was damaged too. This is the danger of renting bikes on rural islands—you truly never know what you’re getting and sometimes weather conditions can hasten these damages. Fortunately the staff drove me 11km back to my resort for free (because I don’t think most Okinawan taxis could carry this bike) and were super empathetic. I offered to pay them the normal taxi fee but they refused me. I couldn’t have asked for more kindness than what they had showed me. Okinawan culture is truly amazing!

When we arrived back at my resort on the mainland, Hotel Locus, the staff there was also super kind to me, gave me my bike rental money back, and added 様 to my name which was the greatest honor. I was able to make my flight with time to spare and saw everything on my itinerary, but if this would have happened the first day it would have killed the vibe a bit. However, no adventure is complete without some obstacle, and we all handled this in the best way possible so I’m proud.

Thank you to everyone that has kept up with my Okinawa article series! I am so happy I was able to make this trip safely in between emergency states and have such a phenomenal time. In the future I will be writing a spin-off series of my previous trip to Okinawa in 2016 mentioning all of the heritage spots I visited. This weekend I will be going to Kyushu to have some more island adventures, but they will be more a lot more relaxed than this. Life is never calm for an adventurer but I am loving every second of this life!

Super Aesthetic Adventures in Okinawa and Miyako

Okinawa in a bottle as it appears in Non Non Biyori.

With the end of sakura season in central Japan, it’s time to start thinking about plans for one of the craziest holidays of the year—Golden Week. Though I’ve taken a number of 3 day trips this year, it’s been quite a long time since I’ve created a multi-day itinerary. In fact, the last time I’ve an extended trip was in January 2020 to Taiwan. I’ve decided that this month I’m going to beat the Golden Week rush and take a 5 day trip to Okinawa focusing on Naha and Miyakojima since a number of attractions have been added since my last trip in 2016.

The dates I have chosen are 4/23 – 4/27 which should give me enough time to see everything I want. My planned itinerary (so far) is listed below:

Tokyo → Naha → Miyako → Naha ↺ Tokyo

My itinerary in 2016 was similar but replaced Miyako with Ishigaki. Both islands are worth seeing from what I’ve heard and while my last trip was focused on sightseeing, this trip is more focused on photography. There will be plenty of relaxation and adventure as well of course!

Though Japan is currently between emergency states and still not open for international travel, a large number of companies are forced to close during this holiday and inevitably people will be traveling domestically. Roundtrip flights to Okinawa from Tokyo usually cost between 16000 – 23000 yen depending on which airline you choose, but I found a reasonably priced fight with Jetstar for the average of 20000 yen and purchased it because I want to arrive there early in the morning. Even if certain places have curfews or restrictions, I will make the most of what I can enjoy.

Day 1: Relaxing at Naha’s Sanrio Resort

I will be departing from Narita Airport at 8:10am and arriving to Naha Airport at 11:05am.

On my first trip to Okinawa in 2016, I mostly stayed in budget hostels so I could use my money for bus tours to see the highlights of the main island. This time since I have more money saved up and wanted to try nicer facilities, I fortunately found the perfect place to spend my first night in Naha. When Hotel Okinawa with Sanrio Characters opened just a few years ago, it was spread all over my timeline and I knew that I was destined to stay here eventually. This hotel has rooms with 66 individual designs of Sanrio so picking my favorite series was difficult, but I decided on the My Melody themed double just because I love the bright pink colors in the artwork. These rooms cost roughly 11000 yen a night and have a nice location so I think the experience will be worth it! You can definitely find slightly cheaper facilities around Naha, but they won’t be as aesthetic as this. Expect a lot of photos of this place from me!

After I get checked in, I plan on checking out Ti-da Beach Parlor for some high tier smoothies then checking out the surrounding beaches. I will also walk down the main street for old times’ sake and see if Epica is still going all night. I intend for this day to be chill but I’m open to whatever comes my way!

Day 2: Dessert Museum at Stem Resort

Another amazing attraction that got added to Naha after my first trip was the Stem Resort theme park with an extremely photogenic dessert museum. Like Sanrio Puroland in Tokyo that I just visited last month, the museum is very cute and has a number of photo opportunities. Though I am mostly coming here for the sake of photography, I am looking forward to enjoying the inflatables and dinosaur museum if I have time afterwards. Also the rooftop bar doesn’t sound like a bad idea either. The admission fee seems to vary from 1800 – 3000 yen depending on what attractions you want to see so that is actually quite cheap to enjoy a resort of this caliber.

After I finish shooting here, I plan on heading back to my hotel at Hotel Aqua City and enjoying some fine wine. This resort is cheaper than the Sanrio one and has an amazing pool. I will need to rest up because the next day I am flying to Miyako!

Day 3: Getting Acquainted with Miyako Island

I will depart from Naha Airport at 9:40am and arrive at Miyako Airport at 10:30am. A one way flight costs approximately 8000 yen but is overall worth it. Ishigaki (which I previously visited) and Miyako are the most popular islands to visit aside from the main one so I’m looking forward to comparing my experiences of the two.

On my first day I will mostly be getting acquainted with the island and taking it easy, but the places I want to see the most are Miyako Shrine, Kamamamine Park, and bike to Ibaru Island which is extremely rural but has some scenic points. There are a few bars and restaurants I have in mind too if they’re open. I’ve heard Miyako is much smaller than Ishigaki and has less things to do, but the beach game is still strong and I want to go somewhere that I’ve never been before. Regardless I am looking forward to getting away from the city and getting to know this little beach town!

I chose to stay at Hotel Locus for 2 nights just because it is located right on the beach and also has a beautiful pool. It is around the same price as the Aqua City Hotel in Naha so it’s affordable. I plan on renting a bike and also using taxis if needed to get around but overall most of the things I want to see are near my accommodation so it should be convenient.

Day 4: Snorkeling with Turtles & Cave Exploration

Since I still haven’t been able to travel to the Philippines and snorkel with turtles in Cebu like I originally planned last year, I decided to try it in Miyako! I found a good tour on Klook that includes the turtle experience with the exploration of a pumpkin-shaped limestone cave and figured that was right up my alley so I immediately booked it. I am beyond stoked to try underwater photography with equipment I bought last year for my GoPro but haven’t been able to use yet! This tour will take me around the Kerama Islands and has a lot of activity so it seems like a great deal. There are also kayaking and boat tours available, but I have already done that stuff in other countries already and am going for the more unique experiences. This tour lasts for around 6 hours so I know I will be exhausted by the end of the day, but it will be a blast!

Day 5: Final Day of Enjoying the Beach & Heading Home

On my final day I just want to go swimming at Sunayama Beach and explore any last place that I haven’t had time to see yet. I have to catch two planes to get back to Tokyo, but I will leave Miyako at 4pm and reach Tokyo at 10pm. I have a layover at Naha Airport so I can do souvenir shopping and photo editing while I wait. Though it seems like a long while, I am sure the time will go fast. Overall I love tropical weather so just the warm atmosphere is enough to make me happy. It’s been almost a year since I last had a beach vacation in Miyazaki, so I am more than ready for this trip! It’s going to be another one for the books. Please look forward to my upcoming Okinawa article series!

A Well-deserved Trip to Ginzan Onsen and the Totoro Tree

It’s been quite a while since my last update due to my new job (which I love) and moving to the center of Tokyo (which took almost an entire month), but Resurface to Reality is back! I plan on making more frequent updates now that I am fully situated with my new life style (more about that later). Life has been extremely kind to me recently which is why I plan to do more writing!

This weekend I finally found some time to travel up north and see two destinations on my bucket list that I’ve wanted to explore for quite some time: Ginzan Onsen & The Totoro Tree. This was my very first time in Yamagata Prefecture and I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but the Autumn weather was ideal for hiking. Due to the busyness of the Go To Travel Campaign, it was quite hard to book hotels so I opted for a day trip. One day was enough time for me to see everything that I had plan and also get lost on the way, but I recommend 2 – 3 days here if you have enough time.

Due to their strong Ghlibli resemblance, these are the two main places that I sought out:

The Totoro Tree

As a photographer who has traveled to various real-life anime locations including the Satsuki and Mei House and the Totoro Bus Stop, naturally this tree was high priority on my list of destinations. According to Yamagata Japan, the real name of this tree is “Kosugi no Ohsugi” which means “Giant Cedar Tree of Magarigawa”, but to the locals here it is simply referred to as “The Totoro Tree” because it looks like Totoro when viewed from a distance. At first I thought that perhaps someone had cut the hedges of the tree to look like Totoro, but upon my arrival I realized that it is far too large and remotely located for someone to do that. This tree naturally looks like Totoro and that’s why nature is awesome!

There is a viewing platform on the same road where you can see the tree from afar, but I recommend taking the walking trail adjacent to it so you can see it up close (it takes about 5 mins to reach the base of the tree). I brought my Totoro doll for size comparison. Not many people were there, but it was a hit with the children that had come with their families.

Address

〒999-5206 Yamagata, Mogami District, Sakegawa, Magarigawa, Unnamed Road

I rode from Tokyo Station to Shinjo Station which took 3.5 hours and cost 12,000 yen. Then I took a taxi from the station directly to the tree for around 10,000 yen (expensive, but also not the worst I’ve paid). Unfortunately without a car this area is difficult to access, but I was a woman on a mission so the experience was overall worth it to me. After living in Japan for over 5 years, I realize these are the kind of obscure places I most love to explore.

Ginzan Onsen

After getting tons of pictures of the Totoro Tree, I next made my way to a famous hot springs resort that is said to have influenced the Ghibli classic Spirited Away: Ginzan Onsen. This onsen is nestled in the mountains and features a hiking trail that will take you to a gorge, various shrines, and ruins of a silver ore mine. The traditional ryokan that are lined across the river from one another light up at night and present a very picturesque, movie-like scene. This onsen is most popular during the winter season, but I think it looks gorgeous year round! No matter what time of year you choose to go, you will be presented with beautiful scenery and a charming atmosphere.

I started my adventure out by getting some eggplant soba and soba soft cream from the nearby restaurant Izu no Hana. Pretty much all the restaurants in Ginzanso serve only soba and a few other dishes, but I was looking for something specifically vegetarian so I chose here. I did not make the wrong choice because their portion sizes were huge and the ingredients they used were very fresh. The soba soft serve ice cream is a must-try! The saltiness of it really balanced the otherwise sweet flavor.

After snapping some photos of the beautiful river and the free footbath (which I recommend using at night), I decided to make my way to the south of the town and climb the hiking trails. Some of them go up and give you an aerial view of the town, and some of them descend down toward the ruins of the silver mine. It is best to start before 4pm so it doesn’t get dark on your way back.

Within 5 mins of hiking you will stumble across a beautiful gorge:

This reminds me of Takachiho Gorge which I traveled to during the summer, but it was much smaller in scale. It still looked lovely with the vivid Autumn colors, however!

After about 25 mins of walking, I looped around the trail and discovered the cave to the silver mine ruins. This entrance is quite easy to walk passed so be sure to read the guideposts!

The caves only take around 5 mins to explore, but are definitely worth seeing for their cryptic skull-like design on the inside. What a sharp contrast to the beautiful village that I had visited before!

Overall I spent around an hour on this trail admiring the bright red leaves, wandering and getting lost with an old Japanese couple, and exploring the silver mine ruins. It was quite the fun adventure—one that my heart had yearned for quite a long time!

When I arrived back at the main hot springs village, it had already started getting dark so I relaxed by the footbath and did some night photography. What a long but fulfilling day this was!

Address

Ginzanshinhata, Obanazawa, Yamagata

This onsen is easily reachable via bus Oishida Station, which is only 19 mins from the nearest station to the Totoro Tree. The buses from Oishida Station run once per hour, cost 720 yen, and take around 40 mins. The last bus stops at 6:41 after the town starts to get quiet, so be sure to check the time table if you’re day tripping like me.

Final Thoughts

Besides Kusatsu Onsen in Gunma, no other hot springs resort comes close to how beautiful Ginzan is. What I liked most is that almost all of the attractions were accessible by foot, and you can take local buses to reach the onsen that were further out. Due to the corona influence, many of the bath houses were closed so I didn’t get to try any besides the free foot bath, but here is a full list for those who are interested.

Though I traveled nearly 8 hours combined with trains and buses, seeing a secluded part of Yamagata’s countryside was worth it because it inspired me to use my GoPro again after months of not using it. She’s back, baby!

As I made my way from Tokyo to Yamagata, various station attendants handed me postcards to commemorate my journey. It felt good to be backpacking again. I will be taking another trip to Kyoto this weekend in celebration of the three day consecutive holiday for the purpose of capturing the red leaves and trying cute cafes. Please look forward to my future (more frequent) updates!

The Great Bike Trip: From Kawayu Onsen to Yoshinoyama (Day 3)

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Just restoring my MP.

Having survived the harsh sun and rain of the first two days, we next set off for our motorbike adventure deep in the mountains of Nara Prefecture!  On the way there we decided to stop at the famous cemetery in Koyasan and also make our way to some viewpoints so we could experiment with skyline photography.  I had a lot of fun testing out the Canon EOS M I was lent for this trip and it turned out to be quite the relaxing day.  Though some of the parts of the mountain were steep, they were overall smooth and easy to ride on.  The main motivation for riding here was the luxury ryokan awaiting us upon completion of this trail.  This trip was going by so fast that I couldn’t believe it was halfway over…

For the introduction and full context of this trip, please see Day 1 (From Tokyo to Ise) and Day 2 (From Mihama Beach to Kawayu Onsen).

Departure

The 3rd day began on August 3rd at 6:30am.  I took one last dip in the river onsen before we departed because it was the perfect way to start the day.  We definitely got our money’s worth at Kawayu Ryokan!  Our original plan was to go to Awaji Island on this day but due to the rain our itinerary changed.  Tonight our final destination was a ryokan designed by a famous architect in the mountains of Nara (Yoshinoyama) which took approximately 4 hours to reach (with breaks included).  We decided to spend more time in Wakayama and see some extremely rare sites that are only accessible by vehicle while making our way through the deep mountain paths.

Our updated map travel map looked like this:

Mt. Tamaki & Tamakijinja Shrine

Our first destination was a viewpoint on Mt. Tamaki that was approximately 45 mins away from Kawayu Onsen.  It conveniently had a free parking lot for motorbikes since it’s located next to Tamakijinja Shrine.  The sun had already rose so we stood here and took pictures of the clouds cascading over the mountains.  The cedar trees in the forest were beautiful too!  They brought back fond memories that I had hiking through Yakushima.  How nostalgic.

We next walked 15 minutes to the World Heritage Site of Tamakijinja Shrine.  The area was partially shaded by foliage so it was an easy hike.  The morning breeze felt lovely too.

Tamakijinja Shrine

Tamakijinja Shrine is small in size but is located in one of the most beautiful areas of the mountain.  The cedar trees that surround it are estimated to be about 3000 years old.  If you ever get the chance to visit this area of Nara, I highly recommend this forest!  I would have never even known about it if it wasn’t for my experienced driver.

Tanize Suspension Bridge

Tanize Suspension Bridge is located near Mt. Tamaki and is one of the longest suspension bridges in Japan.  It connects the villages of Uenochi and Tanize and has a gorgeous pale blue river underneath it.  My driver thought I would appreciate the photo op so we stopped here to take a break.  The bridge was extremely stable and safe to walk across.  I didn’t get much of a thrill from it but I did love looking at the river below.  The construction that went into this is quite impressive.

Other than the bridge, there’s really not a lot to do here.  But I did try some strange-looking sushi wrapped in cabbage because that’s apparently the specialty here.  It was vegetarian-friendly and quite healthy.  The taste was a bit different than what I was used to but it gave me the energy I needed to power through the rest of this day:

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You really need to try cabbage sushi at least once in your life.

Koyasan

Our next stop was Koyasan (also known as Mt. Koya), which is a quaint little town in Nara filled with temples and one of Japan’s most famous cemeteries: Okunoin.  The mausoleum here is where is where Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism, lies in eternal meditation.  He is one of the most prominent figures in religious history making this area a sacred pilgrimage site.  In addition to him, many monks and feudal lords have been buried here.  You’ll also find some interesting looking tombstones dedicated to animals and science figures.  There are numerous bridges that you can cross to reach the mausoleum which make the journey interesting.  I also noticed that the leaves on the trees here were already turning red even though August had just began!

This is a place that I would not normally choose to go by myself because I am not religious or that well-versed in history, but my driver guided me through it which made the experience a lot more enriching.  A curious thing that I noticed here was that many statues were wearing red bibs.  I asked my driver why, and he didn’t know off the top of his head so we both researched it while we were resting.

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Jizo statues protect the souls of children and travelers.

According to Tadaima Japan, these statues are called Jizo and have two main roles:

“Their main role is to protect children. They also protect the souls of children who passed away and unborn babies. […] The other main role of Jizo is to protect the travelers, which is why you will often find Jizo statues on the side of the roads.”

I’ve seen these statues before in other areas of Japan, but I never understood the true symbolism until now.  It makes sense that parents would want to wish a safe journey to their children in the afterlife by praying to Jizo.  I’ve also encountered some in my mountain hikes and am glad that they are watching over me.  Koyasan is a really great place to learn more about these kinds of subjects if you are interested.

After cooling off at the rest center here, we took a 2 hour ride towards Yoshinoyama to reach our final destination for the day:

Chikurin-in Gumpeon Ryokan

Our final destination was the famous Chikurin-in Gumpeon ryokan in Yoshinoyama.  This ryokan was originally a temple that housed high-ranking monks who appraised the mountain.  The former Emperor of Japan, Hirohito, has even stayed here!  Now it servers as a famous hotspring resort that is open to the public but much of the original architecture has been preserved.  A famous ikebana artist designed the garden outside and you can tell that a lot of articulate work was put into the aesthetic here.  Due to the pandemic, there was only one other guest staying at the time so we got upgraded to a family room for free.  That is literally the best hospitality we could have asked for.  It really was an honor staying here!

Here is a video tour of our upgraded family room.  This is hands-down the most fancy resort that I have every stayed at and I am eternally grateful to my sponsor for the trip:

Since the sun was going down and we were starving, we grabbed a healthy meal from a restaurant across the street.  The roads of Yoshinoyama are extremely narrow but you can easily find food and drinks near wherever you are staying.  Just be careful because some places close around 6pm.  This area designed for relaxing at your hotspring and is remote from the city so I recommend staying here overnight.  You will thank yourself later.

This was a seasonal food set that consisted of vegetables, soup, tofu, salad, tempura and rice.  It was so healthy and delicious.  You can find a lot of these meals in Yoshinoyama!

At this point we were exhausted and headed off to bed in our family-size ryokan, but I will be writing more about this area in my next and final article of this series!

Day 3 Itinerary: 80% Completion

It’s hard to score our completion due to us completely skipping over Awaji Island, but in hindsight I’m happy we did.  This was a full day that was packed with activity so I give us another 80%.  This gave us more time to explore the mountains of Nara and area around our famed ryokan.  Had we gone to Awaji, we would have missed out on seeing the shrines and learning about the history of Koyasan.  The best thing is that we agreed to go to Awaji on another trip over dinner so we wouldn’t be rushed with our activities.  That is the perfect compromise!

I will be writing my final article tomorrow as soon as I wake up.  Thank you to everyone that has been reading and supporting me!  There are many more adventures to come.

Spending my 25th Birthday at a Hut in Vietnam (Part 1)

When people think of tropical destinations in Asia, Vietnam usually isn’t high on the list.  Most people in Japan flock to Okinawa, Thailand, Philippines, Guam, or even the Gold Coast in Australia for vacation.  I wanted to experience something different so I decided to fly to Phu Quoc Island in Vietnam from Hanoi and stay in a beach hut on my 25th birthday in 2018.  This was one of my first times staying on a remote island alone, but it was completely safe and turned out to be one of the best birthdays of my life!

I stayed on Phu Quoc for four days and three nights and managed to learn a lot about the island culture of Vietnam.  Being here is completely different than from being in the city which is truly eye-opening.  In Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh you’ll get a lot of stares and attention from the locals, but here you’ll find complete and total privacy:

Getting to Phu Quoc

A roundtrip flight from Hanoi to Phu Quoc only costs $65 through VietJet and takes two hours so it is quite cheap and easy to plan out.  I’ve researched other islands in Vietnam such as Cat Ba, but Phu Quoc is by far the most beautiful.  Long Beach is the best place to stay on the island because it has a lot of restaurants and you can see the best view of the sunset.  The beach looks pretty 24/7, but swimming in the ocean and watching the sky turn that lovely mixture of pink, blue, and red makes it feel as if you are living inside of a painting:

The island hut I stayed at was called Viet Than Resort.  I chose this resort because I liked the design of the thatched huts and it was only around $35 per night.  Plus it was right on the beach and had a swimming pool too!  I came during the off-season in October, but I still had a lot of fun here because the weather was perfect.  I spent my entire first day here exploring Long Beach and going swimming.  It was definitely the relaxation that I needed after several days of trekking through the populated cities.

Cuisine on Phu Quoc is cheap, healthy, and extremely satisfying.  I tried a restaurant near my hotel and ordered seafood ramen and an omelette.  After hours of swimming, this was exactly what I needed!

Another perk of staying here is you’ll often run into Phu Quoc dogs.  An islander informed me that these dogs are friendly towards people but completely independent.  They’ll let people wash and feed them, but they spend most of their time frolicking on the beaches.  I wish I were a Phu Quoc dog!

Unlike places in Thailand and Bali, Phu Quoc is NOT a party island.  It does have a lot of bars and places to socialize, but you won’t find any recreational drugs here.  I really wish that there were more islands in Japan like this.  I went to Okinawa for my first birthday in Japan and had fun, but it does not have a lot of beach huts and the best beaches require renting a car or riding a infrequent bus to reach.  I liked Phu Quoc because everything was accessible, and if I needed to get somewhere I could use Grab or ask my hotel to call a cheap taxi service.  This would honestly not be a bad place to retire.

In my next article, I’ll be talking about my island tour and how I rode a cable car to Sun World!  Thank you all for reading my Vietnam article series!  Though this happened almost 2 years ago, this island is still a very popular resort destination and a place that I would recommend to all my friends.  It’s really easy to have fun here no matter what your budget is.

Strolling through Sentosa Island (Singapore)

Sentosa Island, dubbed “The State of Fun”, is a great getaway for both thrill seekers and those looking to unwind at beaches or resorts.  It also has rain forests, theme parks, and a giant Merlion observatory where you can see a beautiful panoramic view of the island.  The majority of the island is reachable on foot, but you can take cable cars from one end to the other.  Though some parts of the island are quite touristy, the beaches are never overcrowded, so I highly recommend traveling here to see them.

The best way to access this island is to travel from Mount Faber Station via cable car to Sentosa’s Mount Imbiah Station because you get the best views and most exciting experience.  However, taking the MRT is a cheaper option.  I decided to get the Cable Car Free & Easy Package they were selling at the entrance to the cable cars so I had unlimited rides and access to two attractions on the island.  This package was priced at $55 (SIN), and seemed to be overall worth it.

The view I managed to get from riding the cable cars was truly amazing!  I loved looking down at the sparkling pools and seeing the architecture of the massive theme parks:

Upon arrival, I decided to make my way to Sentosa’s most scenic beach, Palawan Beach.  Sentosa has a total of three beaches you can visit, but Palawan is hands down the most popular due to its famous suspension bridge you can cross to climb a wooden watchtower.  Even though I went to the beach on a weekend, it still wasn’t overly crowded and I had a lot of room to swim.  If you come, be sure to bring some water to be hydrated, as most of the restaurants are located closer to the station rather than the beachfront.

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In addition to this beautiful palmed-lined beach, you can also see Siloso Beach and Tanjong Beach, which are a bit more remote but definitely a great change of scenery.  You can also check out some of the many attractions that Sentosa Island has; everything from animal encounters to skydiving.  I chose to go to the Merlion Observatory and seeing an amazing view from its gaping mouth, as well as take the Skyride down to the beach area.  There are activities for all different interests and age groups available, so you have a lot to choose from.

The Sentosa Merlion is a lot bigger than the one in central Singapore and is definitely worth checking out!  You can learn some of the history of the country and also why the Merlion was chosen as its courageous symbol.  It has two galleries; one from atop its head and one from its mouth.  Both are very fun to check out.  In addition, you also get a card to receive a lucky gift from the Merlion!

I am very happy for my experience at the State of Fun because it was exactly the trip I needed to recharge from the bustling city life.