Osaka Summer Highlights: Tsukenkaku and Unique Gourmet Experiences

Braving the skies of Shin Sekai at Tsutenkaku Tower!

After spending a lovely two nights in Kyoto and revisiting one of my favorite temples, I decided to take the local train to Osaka so I could climb the Tsutenkaku Tower and continue my aesthetic food journey around Kansai for two days. I have been to Shin Sekai and seen the iconic Parisian-like tower many times but never ascended to the top until this trip. The panoramic view of Osaka from the 5th floor is absolutely amazing, so I would recommend it to those who love seeing city skylines and aren’t afraid of heights. I also visited many unique restaurants and cafes this time around that I wish to share with others because you can’t find them anywhere else in Japan!

Tsutenkaku Tower

Located in Shin Sekai, Tsutenkaku Tower is comparable to both Tokyo Tower and the Eiffel Tower with its steel beams and breathtaking view of the entire city. Like Tokyo Tower, you can choose to ascend to different observation decks (both the 4th and the 5th), but I would recommend buying a ticket to the 5th because the open air deck is definitely worth seeing. There is a glass platform you can peer down from if you’re not afraid of heights, and the view from it truly is a thrill. One thing I absolutely loved here were the neon rainbow lights attached to the wall between the 4th and 5th floors. They definitely gave the interior of the tower its own retro vibe. There were also disco balls hanging from the 4th floor as well as golden statues you could touch for luck. On top of that, there’s a slide that you can ride down that simulates an amusement park ride! I didn’t try it this time, but it’s on the list for next time I come to Osaka!

When you exit the tower, there is a souvenir shop and a really neat display of various companies that started in Osaka, such as Glico. If you’ve been to downtown Osaka then you’ve definitely seen the iconic Glico Running Man!

Address: 1 Chome-18-6 Ebisuhigashi, Naniwa Ward, Osaka, 556-0002
Entrance Fee: 800 ~ 1000 yen (depending on which observation deck you choose)

Osaka Castle

Since Osaka Castle is another place that I haven’t visited since my study abroad trip, I decided I would see it again on this time! Like Tsutenkaku, this castle is an important landmark of Osaka with its iconic golden fish placed on the roofs and gates that are said to help protect the castle from fires. What’s interesting about this castle is that it’s surrounded by a moat, but part of the moat is dry and now grows green vegetation. You can see the best angle of the castle when you exit the park with the way the sun shines down on it and the trees frame its adorned structure.

I was surprised to see boats floating around the castle when I visited because I did not remember them before. You can book a boat tour through Gozabune Boat if you are interested in riding in a replica of Hideyoshi Toyotomis’s original vessel. He was the warrior who built this castle and was also obsessed with gold.

Address: 540-0002 Osaka, Chuo Ward, Osakajo, 1番1号
Entrance Fee: 600 yen

The Latest Aesthetic Gourmet Experiences in Osaka

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

Dogyan

Dogyan is a pop-up shop near Osaka castle that serves ramen and Ghibli inspired shaved ice. What makes the shaved ice so unique here is that they use a lot of frosting instead of just syrup to create the shape of the character. I tried the Calcifer one from Howl’s Moving Castle because I found his face hilarious. I would recommend that my friends try Totoro and No Face ices to tell me how they taste! The Calcifer one I tried tasted similar to a frozen cake and was very sweet. I would like to come back and try their noodles when I have more of an appetite.

Dogyan has very specific operating days so be sure to check their Instagram for more information.

Egg Takoyaki

Located underneath Umeda Station, there is a takoyaki shop called Takonotetsu that sells takoyaki with all sorts of different toppings such as cheese, egg, and different flavors of mayonnaise! I have eaten takoyaki in Osaka many times before, but never with egg on top. I was happy I tried it with my Japanese friends because the egg gives the fried part of the takoyaki a creamier texture and contains a lot of protein. Cheese takoyaki is also very good, but the cheese melts fast so you have to watch out! I can’t wait to eat takoyaki again next time I’m in Osaka!

W Osaka

W Osaka is a new upscale hotel that was just constructed last year and boasts a wonderful restaurant and café! The café I visited was called MIXup, and if you go early enough then you don’t usually need a reservation. I was enamored by their aesthetic statues that looked like they got splashed with rainbow paint and their placemats the resembled records. I decided to try their award winning pastry, the “Bouteille de Grand Marnier”, which the creator of the pastry herself served to me! The delicate orange, chocolate, and caramel combination of it completely blew my mind. In addition to this, they have macarons, parfaits, and other pastries you can try. You can order food too if you make a reservation. I will definitely come back here one day to try more gourmet pastries!

Sushi at Tiffany’s

And I said, what about sushi at Tiffany’s? While browsing Instagram, I was recommended a peculiar restaurant that serves caviar out of Tiffany’s glassware, and I knew immediately I had to go. Located close to Umeda, “Kitashinchi Sushi Tsu” (北新地 すし通) is a unique sushi restaurant that serves its sushi on Tiffany dishes and is very high-end. I absolutely adored the decor here, and the quality of fish was the best I’ve ever had in Kansai. I booked the “Anniversary Course” through Tabelog which was around 10,000 yen, but it was completely worth the price. If you come here, expect to pay a lot but prepare to have your mind blown by how good the food is. Sometimes you just need to be a fancy bitch and eat an anniversary course by yourself!

Moonkery

Moonkery is just your everyday Taiwanese tea shop with a giant moon on the 2nd floor that makes the perfect photo opp. This is actually the coolest tea shop that I’ve ever been to because it has a futuristic space scene and also serves desserts. I tried the coldbrew herbal tea and was a huge fan of it! The tea leaves in the bottle really gave it an ample flavor. I hope to come back here and try one of their pastries next time because I would like to support their business. I hope more aesthetic cafes like this continue to pop up!

Accommodation

Since I was seeing Night Tempo on his Showa Groove Tour on this trip, I decided to stay at a travel hotel called Hotel Morning Box in Shinsaibashi near the venue. I really liked this place because it had a public bath, a nice cafe where you could relax, and the cheapest rooms were around 3000 yen. I was sad because Asahi Plaza, the famous sauna and capsule hotel, closed during the pandemic, but at least this hotel as a wonderful warm bath you can use and the prices are very similar. Though I usually stay in different hotels when visiting Kansai, I truly want to stay in this one again because I enjoyed how new the rooms were and the central location.

Thank you for reading about my super aesthetic journey to Osaka! I still have one more article to write in this series about Nagoya’s World Cosplay Summit, so please look forward to it!

Visiting Two of Aomori’s Most Aesthetic Art Museums

After an action-filled day visiting sakura parks, shrines, and real life anime movie locations, we decided to spend our final day in Aomori seeing two of the most aesthetic museums in the prefecture: Aomori Museum of Art and Towada Art Center. What drew me to these museums were their life-sized open air exhibits that fuses Japanese and Western art together in creative ways. Though places like Tokyo and Naoshima have many notable museums, I have never seen anything quite like the works here, which is another huge reason I wanted to visit Aomori. Please continue reading for my full review of these museums, and see for yourself what you think! If the weather is rainy during your trip like it was for us, visiting places like this is an ideal way to spend time.

Aomori Museum of Art

The Aomori Museum of Art is one of the craziest modern art museums I have ever visited in Japan, and that’s really saying a lot! What struck me the most was how random some of the permanent galleries here were. First we walked from the entrance to a room full of tribal paintings to a room full of Ultraman sketches by Tohl Narita himself. Next we walked through a hallway with pictures of ears on the wall into a room filled with stars. Finally the path lead to an outdoor area with a gigantic sculpted dog standing over a bowl filled with flowers. This dog is known as the “A to Z Memorial Dog”, which is considered to be a symbol of Aomori Prefecture. It was created by a Japanese artist named Yoshitomo Nara who projects the loneliness of his childhood into his fiberglass sculptures, creating a new wave of aesthetics. His artistic vision and personal experience growing up is much like my own, which is why I wanted to see his works in person so much.

Here is a handy excerpt from Public Delivery explaining the symbolism of his dog sculptures:

Yoshimoto Nara’s dogs evoke a myriad of emotions in the audience, including joy, anxiety, fear, insecurity, hope, playfulness, and confidence. His figures seem to exist in only a dream-like state where reality becomes what you make of it. His mixture of vulnerability, rebellion and hopefulness within his artworks connects intimately with people worldwide.

Throughout his career, he has incited a deep sense of childhood memory and the allure of youth while concurrently leaving a relentless reminder of the fundamental issues and problems of adulthood. This figure symbolizes a defiant spirit associated with youthful hopefulness and belief that we have what it takes to change the world.

Yoshitomo Nara’s shining dog sculptures – What you should know

In addition to dogs, there are also other sculptures of his in the museum including faces of people and a house with three children reading a book inside. The scene is a bit creepy at first, but after viewing the scene from multiple angles you’ll see that it is more cartoonish than it is scary. His works are much better seen in person than online, so I would encourage those who are interested to please come to Aomori to see them!

Address: Chikano-185 Yasuta, Aomori, 038-0021
Entrance Fee: 510 yen (may be extra for special exhibits)

Towada Art Center

Towada Art Center is an interactive art museum geared for both children and adults with a number of hands-on exhibits. I was really impressed with the variety of high-quality art that was placed outdoors including Yayoi Kusama’s pumpkin that you can climb into, a horse made out of sculpted flowers, a giant ghost, and a big puffy car next to a puffy house. All of these things were life-sized and very eye-catching. Plus they were scattered around the museum and not just in front of it so there was really a lot to check out. Hilariously, we spent all of our time photographing the free outdoor exhibits and only went into the gift shop because we were satisfied with everything we had seen. I ordered an apple dessert at the cafe that was a replica of one of the sculptures outdoors because I thought it was unique. It tasted as exquisite as it looked because the “apples” were actually blueberries with red chocolate melted over them. Touché because that is art in itself.

Address: 10-9 Nishi2bancho, Towada, Aomori 034-0082
Entrance Fee: 800-1800 yen depending on what exhibits you want to see (outdoor exhibitions are free)

Eating Curry at unbreakable

While looking for cafes between the two museums, one name really caught my eye: unbreakable in Towada City. What exactly is it about this cafe that makes it unbreakable? Perhaps it’s the zestiness of the green curry or the size of the garlic shrimp? Whatever it was, it was definitely good. Of all of the cafes around, this one had the best assortment of rice dishes and latte flavors. I tried a vanilla one and it really hit the spot—I was caffeinated and ready to appreciate more art! This was yet another random find that really made my day. I hope these cafes can continue to stay in business because they truly make amazing food and drinks.

Address: Osaka-72-1 Osaka, Towada, Aomori 034-0041 (Note that this is in Aomori and not in Osaka)

Final Thoughts

While it was quite the long haul to and from Tokyo, Aomori was definitely worth the visit! Although it rained a bit during our trip, the scenery and cherry blossoms were lovely, the food and art museums were extremely diverse, and the city and shops had a lot of charm. The best time to visit this prefecture is probably during sakura season (like we did) and in the summer for the Nebuta Festival, but I imagine with all of the pretty trees Autumn would be a great time to visit too! If you can get a rental car, I would definitely recommend it as the parks and museums here are quite spread out and hard to reach with public transportation. Three days was enough to complete everything on our itinerary and we left Aomori feeling extremely satisfied.

This will be my last article for a while as I am heading to Hawaii next week, but when I return to Japan I plan on visiting the 2 prefectures that I haven’t been to yet: Akita & Iwate. Please look forward to reading more articles from me this summer, and I might decide to write a Hawaii series too!

A Roadtrip to Aomori: Visiting Ashino Park, Seibi-en, and Takayama Inari Shrine

The sun fades into the clouds on the main path to Takayama Inari Shrine.

After an amazing day of eating delicious food and seeing the sakura in Hirosaki Park, we started out extremely early on our next day of sightseeing in Aomori. Our first destination was Ashino Park, which is Aomori’s other famous sakura park that is roughly 2 hours away from the main part of the city. The illuminated sakura we saw by Hirosaki Castle the previous night were absolutely gorgeous, so we wanted to try seeing them during the day too! We also found out about Seibi-en through a friend, which is the real life location of Studio Ghibli’s The Secret World of Arietty so we decided to head there after. Our final destination for the day was Takayama Inari Shrine, which is a beautiful shrine near the Sea of Japan. This day was long but we were fortunately able to accomplish everything on our itinerary.

Ashino Park

Ashino Park is located south of the central part of Aomori City and is famous for its 1500 cherry blossom trees and “sakura tunnel” that a retro train frequently runs through. Like Hirosaki Park, Ashino was voted as one of the best places in Japan to see the cherry blossoms so we absolutely had to come here even though it was a bit of a trip. The park has a river that snakes through it and you can rent boats from a boathouse to spend time out on the water. There is also a famous suspension bridge that connects the park to a popular camping area in Aomori. Though many of the sakura petals had fallen into the water from the previous harsh weather that week, the park was still stunning to walk through. Fortunately many of the weeping sakura trees were still in bloom and I managed to get a few good shots here!

Entrance Fee: Free
Address: Goshogawara, Aomori 037-0202

Seibi-en

Our next stop was Seibi-en, which is a beautiful house that combines Western and Japanese architecture and has a zen garden, similar to the Umineko Manor I visited last year in Tokyo. The first floor of the house is completely Japanese styled and contains several tatami rooms and a bath. There is a framed picture from The Secret World of Arietty on one of the tables so you can recall the resemblance. The 2nd floor is completely Western styled and was unfortunately closed when we visited, but you can clearly see its distinctive style from outside. The staff will also take you on a tour to a chamber called Gohoden that is completely made out of gold lacquer works of art. As you walk on the stone steps in the garden that lead to a small island, you will also see a small shrine called Seibi Shrine that is connected. The composition of both the house and garden is unlike anything I’ve ever seen and really make me want to watch the movie again so I can see more! This was my favorite place that I saw in Aomori and I would happily recommend to to everyone visiting because it is close to Hirosaki Park and also accessible by train.

Entrance Fee: 430 yen
Address: Ishibayashi-1 Saruka, Hirakawa, Aomori 036-0242

Takayama Inari Shrine

Our last stop of the day was Takayama Inari Shrine, which was located in a pretty remote area next to the Sea of Japan, but it is definitely worth seeing! This shrine is said to represent good harvests and safety at sea. It was also the most beautiful shrine we saw in Aomori due to the bright red tori being surrounded by coastal scenery. It is similar to Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto but not nearly as big or steep of a hike. I enjoyed seeing the ponds, bridges, and beautiful trees that lead to the scenic view on the top of a hill. We arrived at the perfect time because the sun was starting to set and it gave the shrine a beautiful glow. I was awestruck by how aesthetic this shrine was so I also recommend seeing this if you are up for the drive.

Entrance Fee: Free
Address:
Washinosawa-147-1 Ushigatacho, Tsugaru, Aomori 038-3305

Food Picks

For lunch we decided to stop at a curry place that had a lot of vegan options called Michiru. I ordered a 5 curry set with rice, vegetables, and a giant egg and it tasted amazing! The pink fish curry was hands down the best because it packed the most flavor. The other vegetable curries had more of a bland taste but they were healthier than regular curry at least. I appreciated how they used fresh vegetables and organic ingredients here. For dessert I ordered ice cream topped with Aomori’s famous apple jam and my friend ordered organic cheesecake. Both were made with tender care and were the perfect way to end the meal. I’d definitely come back here in the future if I could so I could try more of the seasonal dishes! We also saw the A to Z Memorial Dog on the way to the restaurant because he was located nearby inside of the Former Yoshii Shuzō Brick Warehouse. I will be talking more about his symbolism in my next article.

For dinner we stopped at a teishoku place called Yayori nearby our hotels in the central city of Aomori. As we entered we found out that they normally only sell bento boxes during Golden Week while we were traveling, but since we had came all the way there the chefs made a special menu just for us! I enjoyed the fresh fish and vegetables because they were extremely nourishing. And it was very inexpensive too. I really appreciate how kind the staff was to us here.

Thank you for reading the second article of my Aomori series! The next article will cover various museums and be the final one. Please look forward to hearing about all of the creative modern art we discovered in this rural prefecture!

Freediving at the Kerama Islands: Aka Island and Zamami Island Edition (Part 1)

Free diving with a turtle at Hizushi Beach on Aka Island.

After an amazing two days of dining and chasing sunsets in Naha and Okinawa City, I decided to take a ferry to the Kerama Islands and spend my next two days there focusing on freediving. The Kerama Islands consists of a cluster of 20 big and small islands, but the main 3 that people travel to are Aka Island, Zamami Island, and Tokashiki Island. I chose to go to Aka Island and Zamami Island because they have 2 dog statues that have quite a famous love story together; Shiro and Marilyn. Shiro (found on Aka Island) and Marilyn (found on Zamami Island) are known as “the Hachiko of the sea” and inspired the Japanese movie I want to see Marilyn. Hiking to the statues is a fun experience as outside of Shibuya’s famous Hachiko statue, I have not seen many other statues that are similar in Japan. Funny how these two dogs ended up in Okinawa!

On top of that, the coral reefs on Aka Island are said to be the most beautiful of Kerama so that’s where I decided to start. I was not disappointed because I got the chance to swim with turtle on my very first day there! I also enjoyed getting acquainted with the culture of the Kerama Islands because they are very small and the people that live there friendly and wholesome. Since I came here right before Golden Week, the islands were peaceful and quiet too. I will never forget the two days I spent here!

Getting to the Kerama Islands

From Naha’s Tomari Port, I took a high speed ferry that reached Aka Island in about one hour. Please see the monthly ferry time table to plan your trip and see the ticket cost. Tickets can be purchased in advance or on the day of your trip but they may sell out.

Tomari Port Address: 3 Chome-25-1 Maejima, Naha, Okinawa 900-0016

From Aka Island’s Port, I was able to walk to my hotel in under 5 mins and rent a bike to get around the island. All of the best beaches on Aka Island and Zamami Island are accessible by bike so there is no need to rent a car. You can even walk or run to some of the main sightseeing spots too.

Please note that the Kerama Islands are mostly for swimming and aquatic sports. There are not many restaurants or bars on the island, so you will probably want to eat at your accommodation (most hotels include meals). If you are interested in beaches with more of a nightlife, the main island of Okinawa is better to stay at (you can still day trip to one of the main Kerama Islands and have enough time for sightseeing). However, if you wish to see multiple Kerama Islands then it is best to stay there. I think Aka Island has the best selection of hotels so that is where I decided to stay. Please keep reading for more details.

Freediving on Aka Island

I arrived to Aka Island around 10am, checked into my accommodation (see details further below), rented a wetsuit and bike from my hotel for 2000 yen total, then decided to explore the 3 best beaches for swimming and diving which are: Aka Beach, Nishibama Beach, and Hizushi Beach. These beaches are within 10 – 15 mins of biking from each other and you can visit all of them in the day if you start around 1pm. Aka Beach is where I started since it was near my hotel, but the swimming area is roped off so you can only see a small portion of the coral reefs. I stayed here for about an 40 minutes and was able to see some tropical fish, but after that I decided to pack up my gear and bike to Hizushi Beach where I had the best luck because it is not roped off. After about 10 minutes of swimming, I found not only multiple schools of colorful fish, but also a sea turtle!

Here is a video I took on my GoPro of me swimming above the turtle:

This experience was absolutely magical given that the waters were so crystal clear and I felt comfortable swimming at this depth. The beaches of the Kerama Islands are so beautiful and pristine that they are often referred to as the “Kerama Blue” because they are some of the clearest in the world visited by many tourists who love the ocean. As I was diving, I felt like my vision was enhanced because I was able to see so many different shades I would never be able to see anywhere else other than underwater. Diving is an experience that will definitely change your perspective, so I recommend trying it or snorkeling at least to get a feel for it so you can experience the “Kerama Blue” as well.

Swimming and diving at the Kerama Beaches is typically safe, but do be careful of black and white branded sea snakes because they are extremely venomous. I saw 4 of them during my 2 days here, but they mostly stick to the bottom of the reef and only one came near me. Fortunately I was wearing a wetsuit and was able to swim away. I am guessing that the snake was coming up for air and was pulled by the current towards me, but you never know—it’s better to be safe than sorry! Despite this, I did not feel scared and continue to dive after waiting 15 minutes. Fortunately there were no more close encounters with snakes. Unlike land snakes, sea snakes slither much more slowly through the water so they are easier to avoid from my personal experience.

After about and hour and a half of swimming and diving at Hizushi Beach, I rode my bike to Nishibama Beach. This is more of an aesthetic beach for photography and sunbathing and has several cafes as well, but the coral reefs here are beautiful. I did not see any turtles here, but I did see a lot of unique fish and enjoyed the atmosphere. I spent about an hour here, but not all of it was spent diving. I spent time doing photography on the shore and also found a shell here that I took home as a souvenir so I could remember this day forever. This day felt completely and I was extremely satisfied with everything I saw here.

Please note that the peak turtle season is May – August but you can see them year round.

Staying at Hanamuro Inn

Out of all of the accommodations that I looked at on Aka Island, Hanamuro Inn was without a doubt the most fun and unique one to stay at! With its cheap rental gear (including snorkeling gear and bikes) it had a great system that was more of a deal than other rental shops on the island. It also had rooms with both and air conditioner and a fan, “hot tubs”, and delicious meals, so I think it was well worth the experience. The “hot tubs” were little bath tubs that you could wade and sun bathe in at any time of the day. They were ideal for relaxing in before and after the beach. The dinner I was served was a Japanese/American styled bento box with curry and french fries—the perfect combo. I loved how accommodating the staff was throughout my entire visit.

Please note that there are two Hanamuro Hotels on the island. There is a fancier one with a pool for those who are interested! Please see their website for more information as prices can change with the season. I paid around 12,000 yen for one night but it was worth it for the experience I had.

Hanamuro Inn is very close Maehama Beach where you can see wild deer roaming around the island! Unlike the deer in Nara, these deer are a little more timid but mostly seem to be calm around humans. Instead of senbei, they eat green grass on the island and it is advised that you do not feed them. The statue of Shiro the dog is very easy to find because it is directly north Aka Island’s Port. I think Shiro was the very first picture I took on this island, and I will hold it as a fond memory. At night you can see the stars shine brightly in the sky so I highly recommend staying overnight here if you can.

Other Dining Options

Since my hotel only served dinner and breakfast, I decided to have lunch at Hahna Cafe, which was just a short walk away from my hotel. They had delicious seafood pasta served with bread which I found to taste amazing because island food does not disappoint. They also have Okinawan soba and frozen cocktails and smoothies here. For dessert, I found a tiny cafe around the corner called guu guu that served some rice dishes, cakes, and desserts. I ordered no sugar coconut ice cream with azuki beans as the topping, and as expected it really hit the spot! I think since there are not very many restaurants on Aka Island, each one has a special charm.

Running to Geruma Island

Aka Island has a bridge that connects to Geruma Island where the Kerama Airport and elementary school is so I decided to explore this small and rural island before going to Zamami. Flying to Kerama Airport is typically more expensive, but perhaps is you wanted to come to the Kerama Islands directly without taking a ferry from Naha it would be to your advantage. Geruma was about 3.5 km from my hotel so I decided to run here. Walking here would take around 35-40 mins but if you run you can easily get here in 20 mins. Geruma has the lowest population of there Kerama Islands so there is not a lot to see here besides the main road that connects to the bridge, more coral reefs, and residential housing. The scenery did make it an interesting run though. My only complaint was that there seemed to be now vending machines to buy water at around, so be sure to stay hydrated if you come here! The beaches on this side appeared to have some washed up plastic on the shores so I would recommend not swimming here. Geruma is just something to check out if you are very curious like myself!

Thank you for reading my first article on the Kerama Islands! In my next article, I will talk about my experience exploring the next island I went to; which is Zamami. Look forward to reading more about my tropical adventures later this week!

KEEP HOPE ALIVE: Journey to the Hill of Hope

Continuing on from my backpacking trip through Yamaguchi Prefecture, I next ventured to Hiroshima where my main destination was the white marble Hill of Hope on Setoda Island. This beautiful sculpture garden was designed by an architect named Kuetani Ittou who was born in Hiroshima and all of the marble materials were actually mined and transported from Italy. Visitors can freely climb around the walls and up the pristine stairs to see a beautiful view of the ocean. There is also a little cafe here that sells delicious sakura gelato on the way up to the top. Hope is still very much alive here, and this monument beautifully ties it together in harmony with the surrounding area.

Address: 553-2 Setodacho Setoda, Onomichi, Hiroshima 722-2411
Entry Fee: 1400 yen (includes entry to Kosanji Temple and the Kongo Gallery as well)

Getting to Setoda Island

From Hiroshima Station, take the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen to Mihara Station, then take a short ferry ride to Setoda Island and you can walk directly there. This trip takes about 2 hours depending on the ferry time table at Mihara Port. You can also visit the rabbit island from here. These islands make ideal day trips because they are small and you can cover most of the area on foot.

For information on how to get to Hiroshima and my recommended sightseeing points, please see my previous Hiroshima and Onomichi articles.

Other Points of Interest

Right before the Hill of Hope is a beautiful temple complex called Kosanji that you will see on your way there. I enjoyed seeing its striking colors and the beautiful lilies in the water. This is definitely the most gorgeous temple in all of Hiroshima Prefecture. Setoda Island is also very famous for its lemons and you will see various shops selling lemonade here! Though small, this island is the perfect half-day trip and you can easily combine it with a trip to Hiroshima City or Okayama. I decided to take the train to Kurashiki in Okayama because I was meeting a sponsor in the evening. This ended up being a great idea because I got the chance to go on another boat ride and see the gorgeous canal town again!

Revisiting Kurashiki

I first visited Kurashiki years ago while hitch-hiking through Okayama and really enjoyed the rustic charm of the canals. Unfortunately the day I went was a holiday and the canal boats were fully booked, but this time I made it just in time for a boat tour! The ride is only around 15 minutes but you can see the town from a lovely angle while feeling the soft breeze from the canal. I was happy to finally experience this, because it felt similar to the settings of one of my favorite anime called Aria.

Address: 1-4-8 Chuo, Kurashiki City (Kurashiki Tourist Information Center)
Ticket Fee: 500 yen

Afterwards it was around 6pm so we decided to eat some delicious seafood at a nearby restaurant called Hamayoshi. I cannot recommend it enough because the squid and sashimi especially were amazing!

Accommodation

Last time I was backpacking in Okayama I stayed in a net cafe near the station, but this time I stayed at the Royal Park Hotel in Kurashiki. Upgrade much? This hotel is around 8000 yen per night but that is a fair price for this area and it has a public onsen plus breakfast included. For the amenities it was more than worth the price.

The next article will be the final part of this series where I will be visiting Shimane Prefecture for the first time. Thank you all for supporting me on this long and crazy journey.

Exploring Fukuoka’s Frog Temple: Nyoirinji (Kaeru-dera)

Last week I decided to go on a spontaneous backpacking trip starting in Fukuoka and ending in Shimane Prefecture. The purpose of this trip was to explore 2 prefectures I had never seen before–Yamaguchi and Shimane–and also see some shrines, islands, and monuments in other prefectures that I had previously missed or not known about until earlier this year. Since Japan is gradually easing its entry restrictions for international students and business travel, my goal is to knock out as many destinations on my travel list between now and when tourists are allowed in again. When exactly that will be is currently unknown, but as long as covid cases don’t spike again like they did earlier in January, I think it could be possible later this year!

In this article series, I will be talking about some rare and little-known places in the 5 prefectures I visited in under 4 days. This trip went at an extremely fast pace since I had already been to some of these areas before, but it was extremely rewarding because I learned a lot about southern Tohoku and met up with friends along the way.

For information on how to get to Fukuoka from Tokyo and my recommended sightseeing points, please see my previous Fukuoka article from last year. I decided to start in Fukuoka just because there are a lot of discount flights there from Narita Airport, and it was convenient to take the shinkansen from Hakata Station to travel to other places on my list.

When I landed at Fukuoka Airport around noon, my best friend here came to pick me up in her car and we decided to go to Nyoirinji, aka the frog temple, which might be one of the most elaborate temples in the entire prefecture. Upon entering the grounds of this temple, over 5,000 frogs will welcome you!

First of all, I should note that this temple has influences from not only from Japan but other East Asian countries as well. It reminded me of some of the temples I had seen in Thailand and Vietnam long ago because it had a lot of foreign architecture. What I liked about it most was that it was very hands-on and had an amazing atmosphere being nestled in the countryside. You can crawl through and write messages on the metal frogs near the entrance which was very fun and interactive to me. There is also a giant frog that spits bubbles near the main entrance to the temple. How amazing is that!? If you walk through the gift shop and towards the back window, you will see a large variety of frogs from around the world. I spotted more than one Kermit plus a Beanie Baby from my childhood. I was not expecting to reconnect with my past like this, but I am so happy I did because these frogs brought back a lot of memories!

If you exit and keep walking around towards the back of this building, you can go downstairs to an area with neon lighting and hundreds of tiny Shinto statues. I thought this hidden part was so unique. I also recommend walking through the moss garden and up to the pagoda for a stunning view. This shrine truly has a lot for visitors to discover and that’s what makes it a special destination.

Address: 1728 Yokoguma, Ogori, Fukuoka 838-0105

Please note that you can get here by local train/taxi but traveling by car is the most efficient way.

Admission Fee: Free

Special Frogs & Monuments

While walking around the premises of Nyoirinji, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for special frogs and monuments! We spotted 2 Pikachu, a frog holding a 5 yen coin, Kumamon, and some lowkey frogs with their genitalia hanging out. These are just a few of many crazy but awesome things that you can see here!

Meet Nyoirinji’s Cat

When I was looking at pictures of this temple online, I saw this cat come up a lot and was very happy I had the chance to meet him in the flesh! He reminded me a lot of my own cat because he was very charming and cuddly. He seemed to enjoy all of the people coming to pet him at Nyoirinji while he basked in the sunlight. I’m quite envious of his lifestyle!

Fresh Eats in Fukuoka

While heading back to my accommodation, we decided to stop at some delicious shops on the way. Our first stop was at Kaisen Donburi Hanabi in Ropponmatsu, which is a really cool neighborhood just outside of central Fukuoka with a number of small coffee shops and music cafes. At Hanabi we ate mouthwatering seafood rice bowls that were probably the best I’ve ever had in this prefecture. I ordered shrimp topped with salmon roe and egg and couldn’t believe how huge the shrimp were! My friend and I joked that they must massage the shrimp here like they do the cows in Kobe to produce their famous beef!

For dessert we stopped at a CBD cafe called Green Life and had some really sweet CBD smoothies. CBD became really popular in Japan last year when the government restricted alcohol being sold at bars in efforts to stop covid from spreading. I don’t take it often but when I do, I definitely feel a bit more relaxed. The chocolate banana smoothie I had was blended very smoothly and I appreciate the large amount of chocolate sauce they used in their recipe too.

The next morning I stopped at a food truck called MEETS which sells coffee, bread, and delicious dessert waffles shaped like the moon. I absolutely loved the design of my moon waffle because not only did it have caramel, nuts, and chocolate on it, but also an oatmeal cookie! I thought this idea was so creative. On this trip I noticed a number of new food trucks have started popping up around the city and I’m excited to see what other delicious foods and desserts are sold in the future.

Spot the Cherry Blossoms

On my way to Hakata Station the next morning, I saw cherry blossoms blooming at Tochoji Temple! Unfortunately I didn’t have time to check out all of the major cherry blossom viewing spots, but please see Fukuoka Now’s Guide for more information on them.

In my next article, I will be exploring all the major sights of Yamaguchi Prefecture. Please look forward to it!

Visiting Ureshino, the Cheerful Hot Spring Town from Zombieland Saga

Private teacup baths at Yuzennoyado Toukai.

After a full day of doing some urban exploring of abandoned onsen and aesthetic museums in Takeo, I decided to take a bus to my onsen resort in Ureshino, Saga for some well-deserved relaxation. I chose to stay in Ureshino due to a friend’s recommendation of a famous local onsen with private teacup baths and a beautiful outdoor garden. Unbeknownst to me at the time I made the booking, Ureshino is featured in episode 4 of Zombieland Saga and also has the real life Cafe Moka that serves up amazing sweets just like in the anime! In this article I will be reviewing my stay in Ureshino and will also compare the real locations to their anime counterparts.

Morning Run in Ureshino

My favorite way to start the day in a new place is to go for a middle-distance run so I can get better acquainted with the area. Usually if there is a river or a shrine that I see on the map, I try to run in that direction so I will find the best scenery. Just mere minutes after crossing Ureshino Bridge I came across this beautiful river with stepping stones and multiple waterfalls. This area is actually featured in the first ending song of Zombieland Saga and is within 1km of the main resort area of Ureshino. I couldn’t believe how gorgeous it was! It almost felt like I had been spirited away to another world. You can follow this river trail for quite a long time and it will lead to more luscious nature. It’s no wonder why people come here to escape their busy lives.

Cafe Moka

While referencing the Zombieland Saga Wiki for the best nearby locations to visit, I noticed the famous sweets cafe in episode 4 was just 6 mins walking from my resort. What crazy luck was that! Cafe Moka has some of the best parfaits in Saga and also serves Japanese dishes like curry too. With its cozy atmosphere and welcoming staff, I can see why it was popular even before Zombieland Saga was released! Now that the 2nd season is airing, there is a bit of a wait to get in, but fortunately I was able to get a table. The first time I walked in the owner’s younger daughter came out to greet me, but then immediately noticed I was foreign and was at a loss for words—she just blinked at me and stared. I thought that her reaction was one of the best that I have gotten in a while! After traveling all over the world these kinds of things don’t even phase me any more, but I will admit it was funny. The owner sincerely apologized that the cafe was full but I decided to use the hot springs at my resort and come back. The second time I arrived an hour before the cafe closed and was seated, and it proved to be well worth the wait!

Though there were a lot of delicious sweets on the menu, I decided to go with the banana caramel parfait because I love Kyushu bananas. The whole entire time I was here I felt complete euphoria. There were posters and plaques autographed by the voice actors and MAPPA animators as well as figures galore. The owner brought out several notebooks with messages from them as well while I waited! As she served me my parfait, she asked me what zombie girl was my favorite and I had to say Saki.  I’d be friends with all the girls in Zombieland Saga, but Saki has the funniest and most unique personality. She has really interesting taste in everything from fashion to men and would for sure be the best girl to drink with. She always has the best punch lines too!

After spending around an hour here soaking up the full otaku culture, I decided to head back to my resort. The owner handed me the official Zombieland Saga Stamp Rally Map with the custom Cafe Moka stamp on it. Though making it to all of these locations without a car would be difficult, it could be done in approximately 4-5 days and is a good reference for even non-anime fans because it contains the most exciting highlights of Saga:

Official Zombieland Saga Stamp Rally Map

Main Points of Interest in Ureshino from Zombieland Saga

Here are the main points of interest that you can see on foot in Ureshino. All of these locations from Zombieland Saga took less than 15 minutes to see!

It’s absolutely mind-boggling to think that the artists and animators caught so many intricate details of this town, especially the pattern of the stray cats! Additionally I thought the legend of going to Toyotamahime Shrine and touching the white catfish to have beautiful skin was made up as part of the story, but it’s actually true! Visiting the shrine was so much fun and I would have never known about it if it wasn’t for this amazing series. I was happy to discover the foot baths and design of the bridge and resorts in the anime perfectly capture the essence of the real life Ureshino too. The overall atmosphere of Ureshino was very lively despite the pandemic and people were out and about at night wearing yukata. Fortunately Saga has not entered an emergency state so you can enjoy most of the scenery uninterrupted. It has a magic quality that you just simply can’t find in the city, so please visit if you get the chance!

Accommodation

Though there are a lot of wonderful onsen to stay at in Ureshino, I chose Yuzennoyado Toukai thanks to its beautiful teacup bath design. Staying here one night costs around 6000 yen and is well worth the price. The room that I stayed in by myself was spacious, quiet, and very clean. There are two different bathsa large shared one and the private outdoor teacups that you can reserve by calling the lobby. I recommend trying them both because they provide unique experiences that will relax and heal your body. There were ping pong tables in the lobby just like in anime too. It was almost too good to be true! I cherish my experience here because it brought me closer to nature and also gave me the chance to relive scenes from Zombieland Saga.

Thank you for reading about my experience in Ureshino! If you have any questions about Saga, please feel free to ask me. I will be writing one more article about Karatsu in this series. Please look forward to reading it later this weekend!

Luscious Beaches and Juicy Bananas at Miyakojima, Okinawa

Sunayama Beach at sunset at Miyakojima.

After I had my fill of the mainland of Okinawa staying at the Sanrio Resort and wandering through aesthetic neon paradise in Naha, I decided to fly to Miyakojima for the purpose of exploring luscious beaches and going scuba diving. Flights from Naha to Miyakojima cost just over 10000 yen roundtrip and take around 50 minutes to reach the airport. Since this island is extremely remote and located closer to Taiwan than the main islands of Japan, I think the price is extremely worth it. You can also take ferries to this island, but since the previous two days had a gale advisory I didn’t want to risk it being cancelled. Fortunately my flight was extremely smooth and I had an entire row all to myself! I was welcomed to Miyako with sunny weather and was able to explore the entire area around Painagama Beach where my resort was located. Miyako is relatively small in size and you can travel coast to coast from one end of the island to the other in just over an hour by car. Renting bikes to reach beaches is also very common.

Here are some of the best places that you can explore on the north side of the island near the airport. I will be covering over parts of the island in my future articles!

Miyako Shrine & Kamamamine Park

While waiting to checkin to my hotel, I decided to see some of the local attractions on foot. My first destination was Miyako Shrine, which is just a short 15 minute taxi ride from the airport. The shrine is small and humble but I enjoyed visiting it while feeling the ocean breeze. The colors of the roof are unique to Ryukyuan architecture and it felt like the perfect place to begin my journey! I next walked to Kamamamine Park which was right down the road and is famous for its giant shisa playground. You can climb into the shisa’s mouth and also slide down from the top of its back. I saw kids climbing on top of its head too. I was already loving the vibe of this island because it felt extremely open and free.

Address: Shimozato Hirara, Miyakojima, Okinawa 906-0013
Entrance Fee: Free

Sunayama Beach

After checking into my resort, I decided to rent an ebike from the staff and bike to Sunayama Beach (accommodation details are listed at the end of this article). From the main resort strip, Sunayama Beach is about 25 mins biking. What I liked about this beach is it’s not clearly visible from the entrance—you have to climb over a sand dune to see the ocean which makes it extremely hype. Fortunately it’s just a short hike and once you see the emerald color of the waves, then the realization that you’ve arrived in paradise finally hits you! I am so happy that this was the very first beach that I visited in Miyako because it’s truly gorgeous and matched the color of my nails.

Sunayama Beach was actually quite small but that didn’t stop me from enjoying it. The arch rock on the beach is famous so I took a lot of pictures around it and then jumped in the water for a nice dip. The end of April is actually a great time to go swimming in Okinawa because the sun isn’t as harsh. I really wished there were hotels on this beach so I could wake up and go swimming here, but at the same time I liked the remote and private feel it had.

Yamatouga Ruins

The Yamatouga Ruins have stunning stone architecture reminiscent of ancient times and are a historic landmark of Miyakojima. I loved exploring the lush forested area and seeing the ivory that covered the walls. This is a cool place that I actually stumbled upon during one of my morning runs. It takes about 5 mins of walking from the entrance to reach the Yamato Well that still stores water. It’s amazing to see all of the architecture on this island because it really has been preserved well throughout time.

Address: Nishinakasone-353-1 Hirara, Miyakojima, Okinawa 906-0006

Top Dessert Picks

Unfortunately due to the pandemic a number of restaurants were closed here so I ate simple meals at my hotel, but the dessert game on this island was extremely strong. Here are my top dessert pics near the main resort area! I will be writing about other food options in my future articles.

Banana & Cake Monte Doll

While searching for dessert places, I stumbled across Monte Doll and immediately fell in love with their smiling banana peel mascot. Before this trip I went to the gym nearly three times a week so I could become strong and flex next to it. I didn’t want to let banana senpai down. The curse of trying Okinawan bananas is they are so ripe you will never want to eat the regular ones outside of the island again! I got the banana smoothie with coconut bits and the banana cream cake and both were to die for. If you come to Miyakojima, please visit this place! They all of the banana souvenirs that you could dream of too.

Address: Nishizato-7-2 Hirara, Miyakojima, Okinawa 906-0000

Blue Booth

After all the swimming I did this day, I treated myself to two different flavors of ice cream at Painagama Blue Booth near my resort. The first I tried was sweet potato, and the second I tried was caramel brownie. I appreciated how they included sweet potato chips and banana chips in their toppings because that’s definitely something that you don’t see every day! The atmosphere of this restaurant is extremely relaxing because they have little hammock seats as well as indoor and outdoor seating. In addition to ice cream, you can order hot dogs here too! They definitely have the perfect menu for a long day at the beach.

Address: Shimozato-247-2 Hirara, Miyakojima, Okinawa 906-0013

Accommodation

After looking at a few properties on the main resort strip of Painagama Beach, I decided to settle with Hotel Locus because it was new and had a cute outdoor pool. The cheapest rooms are around 7000 yen per night but the hotel is easily accessible from Miyako Airport, has a bicycle rental service, and wonderful amenities. There is also a rooftop where you can watch the sun set every night on the harbor. I was very impressed with my two night stay here and would recommend it to my friends because it really has everything you need.

Thank you for reading the 3rd article in my Okinawa series. In my next articles I will be talking about scuba diving and exploring Ibaru Island on Miyakojima.

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.

Exploring the Freezing Ho Chi Minh City of Vietnam

remple

During my birthday in October of 2018, I made the decision to take a week-long tropical vacation to Vietnam—baby’s first trip to a Communist country.  It has taken me nearly 2 years to find time the proper time to write about it, but take my word that this next article series will be worth the wait.  We will be exploring some of the craziest places and seeing how Communism shaped the culture here.  Going to Vietnam changed my life and is yet another adventure I’ll never forget.  In fact, people don’t talk about this country nearly enough!!

Why Vietnam?  

It all started during my first week Tokyo when I went clubbing in Roppongi (when it was still good) and met one of my best friends who is half Japanese and half Vietnamese.  She likes drinking and dancing as much as I do so naturally we hit it off.  One night while we were having dinner she couldn’t stop talking about how beautiful the beaches in Vietnam were.  Since I had already been to Okinawa (I still need to write about this) and Yakushima for my previous birthdays which are considered some of the most beautiful getaways in Japan, I decided it was time to get out of the country and see these renowned beaches for myself.

I researched and found that Phu Quoc is known as the most beautiful island in Vietnam.  Ho Chi Minh is the cheapest place to fly to from Tokyo likely because it is a large international business hub.  I paid around $400 USD through Vietnam Airlines for a roundtrip flight.  I decided that I wanted to see Hanoi too because that is where my friend is from, so I came up with an itinerary that looked like this:

Tokyo ⇒ Ho Chi Minh ⇒ Hanoi ⇒ Phu Quoc ⇒ Pineapple Island ⇒ Ho Chi Minh ↻ Tokyo

Though this only hits the major areas, I booked some private tours to remote temples that I will mentioning in this series.

Getting a Visa in Vietnam

Since Vietnam is a Communist country, tourists will need to apply for a visa BEFORE they arrive.  Unlike other countries, applying for a visa upon arrival is usually not permitted.  I chose to purchase one online through Vietnam e-Visa, which is a legitimate and trustworthy service that you can safely submit your documents to.  Your visa will last 1-3 months and usually costs around $25 (there is sadly no way to avoid this fee).  You can also apply directly at the Vietnamese Embassy in your country.  For my lifestyle, it was much easier to apply online and I received approval within 3 days.  Easy.

ICE Coffee

After arriving at Ho Chi Minh Airport and successfully passing through customs with my e-Visa (fortunately it was an easy process that didn’t require much time), I hired a taxi and drove to the very first destination on my list: ICE Coffee.  This is one of the most unique coffee shops in Vietnam that has a deep-frozen room full of furniture and sculptures made of ice plus an adorable Husky you can pet!  I was lucky because I came in the afternoon when no one else was there.  I ordered a simple strawberry milk drink and began my journey through the frozen lands of Ho Chi Minh (fortunately winter jackets can be borrowed at the entrance with no extra cost).  To my surprise there was a bed that you could take a nap in too.  Exactly what I needed after my long flight!

I loved the design of this place because it had an avant-garde ice cave feeling to it.  The neon lights that reflected off the ice ornaments added a really cool city pop (cave pop?) aesthetic:

I had previously thought about staying in an ice hotel in either China or Hokkaido, but now that I’ve been here and taken plenty of pictures I really don’t feel the need.  This is the perfect place to chill with your friends and plan your trip around the city (or by yourself like me).  The temperature is quite cold, but the blankets on top of the ice furniture will keep you warm.  The hot drinks definitely help too!

Access

262 Bùi Viện, Phường Phạm Ngũ Lão, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam

When I exited Winters and headed back towards Summers (pardon the Earthbound joke), it started downpouring rain.  That’s when I saw a familiar character’s face just up ahead—it was none other than Donkey Kong!  Not wanting to get drenched in the rain or awkwardly re-enter the coffee shop I just left, I ran towards the mysterious DK shop.  Whatever this place was, it had to be good.  Unbeknownst to me, it was another tea and coffee shop called Aroma Tea!  While I waited for the rain to subside, I decided to order the weirdest drink on the menu: Cream Cheese Tea.  The best part was that DK was smiling proudly on my cup:

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DK AROMA TEA IS HERE!

It was surprisingly sweet and easy to drink.  Obviously a lot of sugar and milk was added to create a satisfactory flavor.  Exactly what I needed after my strawberry milk, right?

I spent some time here planning out the rest of my day.  Fortunately the rain was only expected to last for 3 hours and I could still go out at night.  Because the traffic was starting to get heavy, I kindly asked the staff to assist me with calling a taxi because I couldn’t flag one down.  I severely underestimated the craziness rush hour here.  The majority of people in Vietnam ride motorbikes and it’s extremely hard to cross the road until you get the hang of it.  Most drivers will slow down when you start to walk across, but some remain driving at full speed until they’re right beside you!

Another thing to watch out for is the exhaust from all of the bikes.  I noticed it in my lungs immediately when I went for a run the next day.  Though I don’t have asthma, it was harder for me to breathe than usual.  Luckily I had planned various excursions outside of the city so I wasn’t breathing it in all the time.

When the taxi arrived, I had them drop me off at my hotel so I could check in and put my suitcase away.  After that, it was time to get changed into fancy clothes and party!

Dining in Ho Chi Minh (Nha Hang Ngon)

Even after sipping on all of those sugary drinks, my hunger was still unsatisfied.  I hadn’t eaten anything all day so I decided to dine at a beautiful restaurant called Nha Hang Ngon.  This place has all sorts of Vietnamese cuisine you can try with a gorgeous interior decor.  The menu is in English and has pictures of the dishes so it’s the perfect place to try things so you know what you like.  I ordered coconut shrimp, chili crab, and coconut ice cream while dining in the garden area.  The food and service was amazing!  Plus the rain had subsided so I was in a happy mood.  Who wouldn’t be when they’re eating here?

Even upscale restaurants in Vietnam are extremely affordable.  I only paid around $30 USD for all of this and it was very fulfilling.  Next it was time to hit the clubs!

Clubbing at Apocalypse Now

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I had a list of clubs written down, and Apocalypse Now was at the top of the list because of its iconic name…  In no time was drunk and ready to take on the apocalypse.  The club had no entrance fee and I immediately made friends with several Vietnamese girls who invited me to their table (probably due to my extremely blonde hair at the time).  They spoke simple English and we danced to better-than-what-you’d-expect remixes of popular EDM songs.  The club’s interior was very beautiful and had red lanterns.  I wish I would have taken more pictures, but I was too focused on having a good time and sipping on Coronas.

Though my time here was short because I had a huge itinerary, I still stay in touch with the girls I met through social media.  I enjoy seeing them travel around Vietnam because it inspires me to come back!

Clubbing in Ho Chi Minh is safe because there are always officers in uniform around keeping watch.  However, they don’t act like bouncers do.  They simply observe and ensure that no suspicious people try to sell drugs or anything.  Drugs are quite rare in this country so you shouldn’t have to worry about getting your drink spiked.  It is always a good idea to keep your eye on it, however.

Accommodation

I stayed at a private room in Blue River Hotel for $20 per night.  It was quiet, clean, and located near most of the attractions that I wanted to see so it was perfect for me.  With a little more money, you could likely stay in an upscale hotel with a spa and more luxurious amenities!  I was on a budget so I wasn’t able to stay in the nicer hotels, but I plan on checking them out in my next trip!

As far as transportation goes, I recommend using Grab app so you don’t get scammed.  The price is automatically calculated by distance so you don’t have to worry about dodgy people.  I’d like to believe that most people are honest, but I was scammed by an old taxi driver who hid the meter with a piece of cloth.  I can’t remember how much I lost, but it was likely the equivalent of $50 USD and I had no way to determine the correct amount.  I reluctantly paid and got out.  Vietnamese people are not rude or dangerous, but they will try to take advantage of tourists.  Please be careful while traveling here.

In my next series of articles, I will be writing about the rest of my adventures around Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, and Phu Quoc Island.  Please stay tuned for more!