Exploring Aesthetic Museums and Glass Shrines on Naoshima

Glass shrine floating on a pond at the Benesse House Art Site.

Over the last three days I have been traveling through a chain of tropical art islands in Shikoku with a friend and seeing a lot of aesthetic architecture. The main island we’ve been staying on is Naoshima, which I first visited roughly five years ago. The other two islands we visited are called Shodoshima and Teshima, which you can reach from Noashima by ferry. Naoshima is known for its works by artists like Tadao Ando and Yayoi Kusama which showcase the “coexistence of nature, art and architecture“. Shodoshima is famous for its Olive Park that inspired the location of Kiki’s Delivery Service. Teshima is famous for its large concrete shell called “Matrix”. In this article series I will be talking about the best things I’ve discovered on them all, starting with Naoshima!

Getting to Naoshima

The best two ways to get to Naoshima are to fly to Takamatsu or Okayama and take a ferry to Naoshima from their respective ports. Since tickets from Narita Airport to Takamatsu Airport were cheaper, we decided to fly there for around 27000 yen. However, you can purchase airline tickets at a much cheaper price if you buy them in advance. The ferry ride from Takamatsu Port is about an hour and costs 550 – 1200 yen depending on if you take the high speed ferry or not. The entire trip takes about 3 hours from Tokyo so plan to leave early and reference the ferry time table so you get their early. Most things on Naoshima Island close by 7pm. I recommend renting a bike near the port so you can cover the most ground.

Slowpoke is the unofficial mascot of Takamatsu, so be sure to keep an eye out for his vending machine and airport limousine (which fortunately was on time)! There is also Slowpoke Udon (called Yadon Udon) you can purchase in select omiyage stores.

Art Sites around Miyanoura Port

We arrived to Naoshima’s Miyanoura Port at 11am and decided to take some pictures of the Red Pumpkin and the Naoshima Pavilion, which are both two free exhibits that you can climb inside! Much like some of the art we saw in Aomori earlier this year, these works were vibrant and interactive. After snapping some photos, we rented electric bikes from a nearby store for the three days we were staying and decided to make our way around the island. The best thing about Naoshima is that it can be fully explored by bike so you don’t need to wait for any buses!

Go’o Shrine

The Go’o Shrine is a small wooden shrine atop a hill with very intricate stairs made out of glass. This was my first time seeing a shrine like this so it was very awe-inspiring. Go’o Shrine is actually part of the Art House Project that turns abandoned or destroyed places into works of art and is considered to be a real Shinto shrine. You should definitely stop by and pay your respects if you have the time because the entrance is free.

Entrance Fee: Free
Address: 〒761-3110 Kagawa, Kagawa District, Naoshima, 宮ノ浦820

Benesse House & Benesse Art Site

The Benesse House is arguably Naoshima’s most famous museum complex designed by Tadao Ando. My favorite work of art here is a neon sign that illuminates several phrases that have to do with living and dying. I first visited this museum five years ago, but it was so great to finally see it again! This time we decided to eat wagashi and green tea at the tea house attached to the Benesse Hotel. The tea was the best I’ve ever had in Shikoku so I definitely recommend it to my fellow tea enthusiasts. I also liked how they had a miniature model of the Go’o Shrine here! It felt so neat seeing it after seeing the real thing! There is also a glass shrine floating on top of water outside of the teahouse which was one of my favorite things that I discovered on this trip. The walkway has colorful sculptures of various animals you can see. The whole composition of the Benesse House is unrivaled, making it one of my top museums in Japan.

For a comprehensive list of Naoshima museums, please see my previous Naoshima article.

Yayoi Kusama’s Narcissus Garden

Outside from the Benesse House Museum is a garden full of metal balls called the “Narcissus Garden” designed by Yayoi Kusama. What I found amazing is how they were made of stainless steel and were resistant to the weather. Seeing them balanced on stairs and floating in the lake was quite impressive, especially with the natural lighting. Within this garden you will also find 88 Buddha statues made of industrial waste designed by Tsuyoshi Ozawa. These statues are said to inspire prayer within visitors to the garden. Since this exhibit is free if you have purchased a ticket to the Benesse House museum, you should definitely see it!

Lunch at the Benesse Cafe

While at the Benesse House, we decided to stop at the Benesse Cafe for lunch. Not only does it have a fantastic view of the outdoor sculptures, but the food is delicious too! I ordered the tomato pasta which was completely vegetarian, and a lemon float with served in an iconic Naoshima glass with a Yayoi Kusama print. Both tasted amazing, and the glass is purchasable in the shop if you would like to take it home as a souvenir.

Beach & Dinner at New Olympia

After a full day of sightseeing, we decided to relax at Gotanji Beach near the Benesse House and go swimming. When I first came to this beach 5 years ago, it was full of foreign tourists and quite happening, but since the pandemic it is more quiet and serene. We bought drinks from a nearby grocery store and spent quite a while watching the sunset. It truly felt like a private beach!

Afterwards we stopped at a nearby teishoku place called New Olympia for a sashimi set. When you’re by the ocean, you gotta have sashimi! I ordered grilled fish with my set and some cold sake too. I was not disappointed because the quality of this seafood was top notch.

I ❤ Yu

On the island there is only one bathhouse called I ❤ Yu that is perfect for taking a long soak after sightseeing. What makes this bathhouse so unique is it is designed with mosaic patterns and has a giant elephant statue mounted above the bathing area. The floor of the bath has a unique collage of old Japanese artwork that is semi-erotic and includes Angkor beer seals from Cambodia and images of animals too. I really enjoyed seeing the glitzy mesh of cultures while I reflected on everything that I had done this day. I recommend stopping by here if you get the chance!

Address: 2252-2, Naoshima, Kagawa District, Kagawa 761-3110
Entrance Fee: 660 yen

Accommodation

Last time I visited Naoshima I only did it as a day trip, but this time I wanted to try staying overnight on the island. We picked a small Japanese Inn called Oyaji no Umi that was roughly 4800 yen per night. The location was great because it was next to Naoshima Port and the Ando Museum. The Benesse House and the other art sites were easily reachable by bike. The rooms were very traditional with tatami floors and Japanese style, but it made the experience all the more wholesome. Breakfast was included in the price so it was very good deal! I enjoyed eating the warm toast with eggs, salad, and yogurt while I was here because there were not many breakfast places on the island. Some accommodations on the island are a bit pricey, but this one was perfect for our budget.

Thank you for reading my Naoshima artice. I will be publishing an article on Shodoshima next with instructions on how to reach the Kiki’s Delivery Service park.

Spending a Sunburned Day at Strata Naha

Last night in Naha, gotta do it big!

After successfully freediving on Aka Island and Zamami Island, I sailed back to Naha via ferry for a final day of adventure in the tropical city before returning to Tokyo. I had already seen most of what I wanted here before, but there were a few new places that I wanted to check out. Namely Umikaji Terrace that is conveniently located near the airport, which contains a number of little shops and restaurants, and also a resort with a pool I had never stayed at before called Strata Naha. Since I was sunburned from not wearing a wetsuit the day before, there wasn’t a lot I could do during the day so I took it leisurely. Consider this a guide of what to do in Naha if you are sunburned, or if you are just looking to take the day easy too! And please check out my Naha Cafe Guide if you are looking for more food recommendations.

Exploring Umikaji Terrace

Umikaji Terrace is a oceanfront hodgepodge of bars, shops, and restaurants with patio and outdoor seating. It is conveniently located near Naha Airport and is a great place to watch the sunset in the city while knocking back a drink. I was impressed with the variety of food and desserts here—they had quite the international selection. I was mainly here to try the drop soda at Gallirallus (see below), but I ended up ordering a avocado salmon toast from a Hawaiian eatery nearby. I ended up killing a lot of time here by watching the ocean from the shade. I loved the bright blue design of the tables outside that matched the color of the sea, not to mention all of the Okinawan décor. One thing that really amused me here was meat taiyaki. I had never seen a taiyaki with a weiner in it before but I guess they think of every food crossover in Okinawa. There was also a really interesting ice bar on one of the terraces that I would really like to check out next time I visit. I look forward to seeing what kind of food trends become popular here!

Address: 〒901-0233 Okinawa, Tomigusuku, Senaga, 174−6

Trying Drop Soda at Gallirallus

Here it is—the main event! One of the things I was most looking forward to trying in Okinawa was the ball drop soda because in all of my time trying aesthetic food, I had never seen anything like it before. You can choose from a variety of fruity flavors for the soda base (I chose strawberry), and also decide if you want a scoop of ice cream in the drink or not. The balls in this soda are very unique because they contain edible flowers and pieces of fruits. I thought the strawberry and pineapple balls were the most delicious and was very pleased with the quality of this drink. Compared to tapioca pearls, these flower and fruit balls just pack so much more flavor. If you get the chance, definitely hit Gallirallus up because I haven’t seen any other shop in the world serve drop soda before. You saw it here first.

Accommodation: Strata Naha

Since I am adventurous and enjoy staying in different types of accommodations, I figured this time I would stay in a new resort with a pool so I could relax before my flight the next morning. I found a centrally located resort called Strata Naha with rooms priced around 7000 yen per night online so I decided to try it out. Compared to where I had stayed before at Aqua Citta, this resort was much quieter and I had the pool to myself even though there were other guests around in the garden area. Since I didn’t feel like socializing much, I really enjoyed the atmosphere here, although I would normally recommend Aqua Citta to my friends because it is slightly cheaper and had a better happy hour deal. However, Strata is better for those who want a more private and mature atmosphere. I enjoy both resorts for different reasons and will definitely be back again!

Recommended Food Spots

I wanted to eat something healthy for dinner after swimming so I looked up vegan restaurants that were open at night and found a really nice one called Rakuen Cafe. Rakuen serves a variety of dishes including rice bowls, vegan taco rice, and green smoothies. I really enjoyed my power bowl because it had star fruit in it that reminds me of the paopu fruit from Kingdom Hearts. I also ordered a side of sweet potato fries here because I had never seen fries so purple! They really tasted better than traditional french fries so I was so happy I tried them. Though I had already tried Blue Seal ice cream on multiple trips, there’s a really huge shop with a bright neon sign at night right down the street from Rakuen so I took a picture of it. If you’ve never tried Blue Seal, you definitely need to once in your life because it’s Okinawa’s pride! The final place I recommend for breakfast is Lestel Cafe, because it has delicious banana and honey bread and indoor disco décor. Honestly I dig the disco breakfastcore vibe here and I think more restaurants should embrace it. Naha restaurants and cafes are unmatched in style when it comes to Japan.

Final Thoughts

Despite the sunburn at the end, this was yet another successful trip where I checked off everything that I had planned on my itinerary. Revisiting old places, traveling to new islands and getting better at freediving, and ending my trip at this beautiful resort just made the experience all the more memorable. I plan on coming back to Okinawa in the fall because I have a sponsor here, and I think next time I will visit Ishigaki and Iriomote so I can continue to practice swimming and diving on different islands. Thank you to everyone that has kept up with my 2022 Okinawa article series, because this article is the final one (for now)!

Before I go to America this summer, I have one final place that I want to write about which is Aomori! Please look forward to my Aomori article series which will be in the works very soon!

Flying to the Fisherman’s Town of Kushiro for Birdwatching and Hiking Expeditions (Part 2)

Hiking to the base of Mt. Io where volcanic gases spew from vents.

After a lovely first evening of exploring the central streets of Kushiro and having a whole rental apartment complex to myself, the next I departed on a full day bus tour to all of the major sightseeing points of this area. The White Pirika Bus I selected for this trip runs from January – March and will take you on a journey to see rare species of birds, famous lakes and mountains, and hot springs too! I really recommend this tour because I was able to see everything I wanted and it was cheaper than renting a car. The guides only speak Japanese, but will show you the best spots for birdwatching and hiking so you know exactly where to go without wasting any time. As someone who loves photography and listening to guides to practice Japanese, this was the optimal tour for me. I would advise booking this tour at least a week in advance online because it has limited availability.

The major spots that are covered in this tour are: Tsurumidai (for viewing the cranes), Sunayu (for viewing the swans), Mt. Io, Lake Mashu, and Lake Akan Hot Springs

Afterwards you can request to be dropped of at Kushiro Station, Kushiro Airport, or your accommodation.

If you come during the warmer seasons to Kushiro, you can reserve similar buses on the Akan Bus website, but the swans and cranes rarely appear. I recommend coming here during the winter because you can do and see the most!

Tsurumidai

The very first place we stopped on our tour was Tsurumidai, which is a popular lookout spot for the Japanese Red-crowned Crane (also known as the “Japanese Tanchou”). The Red-crowned Crane is one of the largest East Asian cranes and one of the rarest species of crane in the world. This bird is said to bring good luck and is a prominent symbol in many folklore and legends. It also appears in Japan Airlines’ logo! I enjoyed watching these cranes spread their wings and honk at one another. They seemed completely unbaffled by the presence of so many humans watching them from the other side of the fence. They were a lot bigger than I had initially anticipated, and that made watching them all the more fun. After March they usually migrate to other countries such as Russia and China. I was extremely lucky to catch sight of them this year!

Sunayu

The next stop of this tour was at Sunayu, which is a hot spring that oozes out of the sand for both humans and birds! Sunayu is located on the east side of Lake Kussharo, and is a popular campsite during the warmer months. During the winter, whooper swans flock to the warm waters for comfort and a number of people come to watch them. A few years ago, a group of my Japanese friends came here for photography and one of them created this melodic track called “Whooper Song” that was inspired by the sight of the whooper swan. Since then I wanted to come to Kushiro and see the bird for myself, so I’m extremely grateful I had this opportunity!

Here are more photos I took of the beautiful whooper swans. They truly are serene:

Mt. Io

Our third and perhaps most adventurous stop was at Mt. Io, which is an active volcano in Kushiro. It is famous for erupting sulfur and volcanic gases from its vents, and has a lot of characteristic geological formations. Climbing is prohibited, but you can hike up to the fenced area and get extremely close to the vents. I watched a Japanese couple stick their hands into the fumes and was concerned they were going to get burned, but it is safe to do this at the base! I tried it myself and found that the temperature was comfortably warm; kind of like a steam sauna. You can buy eggs cooked by the steam at the souvenir shop which I highly recommend, because they are healthy and delicious!

Lake Mashu

Our next destination was a brief stop at Lake Mashu, which is a caldera lake formed by an active volcano in Akan Mashu National Park. It has been called “the clearest lake in the world” and is considered Japan’s post beautiful lake. It is also one of the deepest lakes in this country. Visitors are not allowed to go down to the lake, but can view it from multiple observatories. I was thankful to have the tour guide here to point me in the right direction of to where to take the best pictures. Its waters truly were beautiful and reflected the surrounding winter scenery.

Lake Akan Hot Springs (and Lunch)

Our last stop was at Lake Akan Hot Springs where we were given an hour of free time to do whatever we wanted. Here you can choose to ride a banana boat, rent winter sports equipment, go shopping, or bathe in a hot spring bath. If you know me, you know I love hot springs so I naturally went to the nearest one at a hotel adjacent to the bus stop. The entrance fee was only 1000 yen and it included a towel and shampoo. I had the whole outdoor bath to myself so that was a plus! It felt so good to clean up after all the hiking I did this day. I also walked around the hot spring town and looked at the little shops. I enjoyed seeing all of the wood carving places and cafes, but unfortunately not a lot of things were open. I did enjoy how private this area was though; there was hardly anyone here except for our tour group and that was nice!

Right before this stop we were given a delicious bento lunch that contained fish or meat (I chose fish), and I ordered hojicha gelato for dessert. All of the food in Hokkaido is cheap and tastes amazing so you really can’t go wrong with what you eat here!

Final Thoughts

Overall this was one of the best tours I’ve ever been on in Japan because not only did it include lunch and entrance fees to all of the parks, but it also took me to every single place I wanted to see in Kushiro! I had a fantastic time seeing the birds, active volcanoes, and lakes this part of Hokkaido had to offer⁠—not to mention the hot springs! I feel extremely fulfilled to cross yet another dream destination off my list. I would recommend Kushiro to travelers who have already seen all of the major cities of Hokkaido and are looking for something more secluded and unique. I hope to come back to Hokkaido again during the summer for some more photography, because this island has a lot of untouched nature and exciting places to see. I feel so relaxed after getting out of the city for a while too!

Thank you for reading my Kushiro article series. I plan on going to Nara this year to see the cherry blossoms, and possibly Shimane and Yamaguchi too if I have time. Please expect more exciting articles from me!

Flying to the Fisherman’s Town of Kushiro for Birdwatching and Hiking Expeditions (Part 1)

Rare appearance of Whooper Swans at Sunayu in Kushiro, Hokkaido.

Earlier this week I flew to the small fishing village of Kushiro, Hokkaido, to live out my birdwatching dreams and see rare species that are exclusive to Japan and only gather during the early winter months. I have been to Hokkaido 4 times now (three times during the winter and once during the summer), and was happy to return since my last trip to the Lavender Fields of Furano. Kushiro is known for its delicious seafood, beautiful birds, and volcanic mountains with scenic lakes. There are various hot spring towns that surround the bases of the mountains attracting a number of tourists from outside of town each year. You can also partake in winter sports at Lake Akan which has rental gear during this season.

Overall I would describe Kushiro as a secluded getaway with many areas to hike through and enjoy year round. It was a much needed vacation from my crazy city life, and after completing this expedition I feel much more at ease and can think clearly now.

I would recommend Kushiro to those who have already seen the major cities of Hokkaido (such as Sapporo, Hakodate, and Otaru) and are looking for something different. This is definitely more of a remote area, so be prepared to travel a lot! Fortunately I have prepared a cost-efficient itinerary on how to best see Kushiro in two days without a car.

Getting to Kushiro from Tokyo

The best way to get to Kushiro is to fly directly to Kushiro Airport. The average cost of roundtrip tickets from Haneda Airport to Kushiro Airport is around 30,000 yen and takes about 1.5 hours. You can also take the train from Sapporo Station if you’re already in Hokkaido, but it takes over 4 hours and costs around 20,000 yen. Flying will save you a lot of time and stress, so I recommend looking for deals through Peach Aviation.

This time I decided to go with AIRDO Airlines because their flight schedule best fit my work schedule. My flight was very smooth, and my flight attendant noticed I had my Switch and Hisuin Growlithe plush with me so she gave me a free Pokemon postcard! This was truly exceptional service. I also enjoyed flying into the sunset on this trip and seeing all of the vibrant colors:

As you can see from the map, Hokkaido is close to Sakhalin, which is the largest island of Russia. At one time you could travel to Sakhalin by a five-hour ferry from Wakkanai, which is a port town at the tip of Hokkaido. For more information, see this writeup from Time Out Tokyo.

In 2018, there were discussions about the construction of a bridge from Hokkaido to Sakhalin that would connect Japan to Russia. I remember hearing about this in the news and thinking it was an interesting idea at the time, but the construction never happened (maybe for the better). With the way the world news is now, it’s truly shocking to believe that it was ever even a concept. My heart goes out to all of my friends in Europe and I hope for the safety of Ukraine.

Exploring Kushiro’s Main Street: Kita Odori

I arrived to Kushiro airport around 17:00, and took the Airport Limousine bus to the center of the city for 950 yen. The ride took around an hour and I couldn’t see much outside of my window because it was already pitch black. There was snow on the ground, but the temperature of Kushiro in March wasn’t really any different of how Michigan, my home town, is during this time of year. I would definitely recommend bringing warm clothes, a hat, and gloves, though! During summers in Kushiro, the snow completely melts and the temperature is more mild. However, I wanted to come in the winter specifically so I could see the rare types of birds that flock here.

After my bus arrived at Kushiro Station, the first thing I decided to do was eat some delicious seafood donburi which Hokkaido is famous for. I looked up a restaurant called 釧ちゃん食堂 釧路本店 that had phenomenal reviews so I took a 10 minute cab ride there and prepared to chow down. Trust me, I was not disappointed because I bought this huge bowl of fresh fish for only 2200 yen. The crab, sea urchin, and squid tasted so fresh and there were huge slabs of other fish included in this assortment too:

Address: 〒088-0623 Hokkaido, Kushiro District, Kushiro, Kowa, 4−11 2F

Another place where you can get delicious seafood is Kushiro Fisherman’s Wharf MOO which is right near the station, but it closes at 17:00 so be sure to get there early!

After filling my stomach and feeling completely satisfied, I decided to go to hot spring on top of a hotel called Paco Kushiro. This was within walking distance of my accommodation (see further below) and only cost 1000 yen to enter. It had a sauna, multiple spa baths, and an open air bath on the 12th floor that was perhaps the steamiest hot spring I had ever entered due to the cold temperature. I couldn’t take any pictures because it was public, but it greatly relieved my fatigue so I can’t recommend it enough!

When I awoke the next morning, I decided to go on a 4 mile run to get more acquainted with Kita Odori and the surrounding area. I first ran to Itsukushima Shrine, which was about a mile from my hotel. This is one of the biggest shrines in the area and is definitely worth checking out if you’re interested in them. I also passed by Yonemachi Park that had a lighthouse as a famous landmark. On my way back I stumbled upon Grace Church near the station. This is a tourist destination that also serves as a wedding hall, but I have seen many churches in the US so I wasn’t particularly interested in it. There was also a police station that had signs in Russian. The further north you go in Hokkaido, the more of this you will see!

After finishing my run, I decided to take a tour through the White Pirika bus company to see the major sights of Kushiro. I will be detailing and reviewing my experience in my next article!

Accommodation

This time I chose to stay in a brand new apartment complex called Kamuy Rera that is close to Kushiro Station. The average cost of single rooms is 4500 per night, but this is one of the nicest places I’ve ever stayed at and I was the only guest there! It was great having an entire lounge to myself, plus all of the rooms were equipped with powerful heaters. In the past, sometimes I’ve made mistakes of staying in guest houses that aren’t insulated very well and have had trouble sleeping. However, I slept like a baby here and was ready for a full day of hiking the next morning. I would recommend staying here because it is centrally located and very quiet.

This concludes my introductory article of “Cool” Kushiro. In my next article, I will be writing in-depth about the unique species of birds in Kushiro and where to find them, plus my recommended hiking areas. Please look forward to my future adventures, because I have a lot planned this year!

Wandering through Neon Aesthetic Paradise in Naha

Lost in paradise in the infinity pool at Hotel Aqua Citta.

After an extremely fulfilling first day in Naha sipping on premium fruit cocktails and chilling at the Sanrio Resort, I planned to wander through neon aesthetic paradise at two recent attractions that had been added to the city since my last trip: Stem Resort and DMM Kariyushi Aquarium. I also wanted to hit the infinity pool at my new resort and reflect on life before flying to Miyakojima the next day.

I had a busy day ahead of me but fortunately was able to accomplish everything on my itinerary and meet many new friends in the process! If you come to Okinawa, you will never forget the friendliness of the people or the vividness of the city. I’m happy to say that day two of my trip was another brilliant success.

Stem Resort

Stem Resort is a 4 floor amusement park that just opened last year consisting of the Hitasura Kawaii Museum, a dinosaur park, a waterpark with inflatables, and a rooftop bar with hot tubs. No matter what age you are you’re bound to find something here that strikes your interest here. Given my love for neon colors, the Hitasura Kawaii Museum is what attracted me here the most. When I first walked in I was greeted by a wall of donuts and rainbow popsicles dangling from the ceiling. There was a room with a giant high heel you could sit in and watch looping BLACKPINK music videos. The lip-shaped couch in the adjacent room was definitely relaxing to sit on and the room full of lanterns made me feel like I was back at the teamLab Borderless museum. Holy nostalgia. The neon sides and donut slide were also a great touch but I think my favorite room was the final one that had a ball pit full of rainbow alpacas. I took a nap in there and replenished my MP. I am so happy I could finally experience this new museum because it’s been on my bucket list for quite a long time.

Since it was still raining this day I was unable to check out the outdoor attractions, but I was extremely satisfied with what I saw indoors. I have already been to a dinosaur park in Okayama and plan on going to the unicorn inflatable park once I can finally enter the Philippines, so the Kawaii Museum was what I was truly most interested and fortunately got a ton of pictures there. For all of my life I will never forget the ball pit full of rainbow alpacas.

Address: 901-0225 Okinawa, Tomigusuku, Toyosaki, 3-35 屋上
Entrance Fee: Depends on what you want to see but I paid 1800 yen to enter and thought the experience was worth it!

DMM Kariyushi Aquarium

Have you ever dreamed of walking through an LSD aquarium filled with jellyfish tanks? Well look no further! And believe it or not, this is just one small exhibit that makes up the DMM Kariyushi Aquarium.

Though the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium that I visited in 2016 takes the crown for being the biggest and most diverse aquarium in Japan, the DMM Aquarium combines art with underwater life and also has a rainforest area. Its creative visuals and lighting definitely enhance the experience and almost make you feel like you are part of the exhibit! There is a room where you can take off your shoes and walk on a sealed panel to view all of the fish and sting rays swimming beneath your feet. I also got to see a sloth up close for the very first time in the rainforest area, and they even had a rare species of turtle here too!

I highly recommend trying the churros at the cafe. I bought them for the cute packing because I love tiny eels. This experience was so fun and had the best jellyfish exhibit that I had ever seen. If you’re looking for an artsy aquarium that is centrally located in Naha then this is your place!

Address: 3-35 Toyosaki, Tomigusuku, Okinawa 901-0225
Entrance Fee: 2400 yen

Vegan Omurice and Falafels at Ukishima Garden

Continuing my theme of trying new vegan restaurants, I decided to stop at Ukishima Garden to try some vegan omurice stuffed with rice and vegetables and order some falafel on the side. Instead of egg they used tofu to give this dish the classic fluffy texture. It was so creative and tasted even better than the usual omurice. I think this was actually the best dish that I had on the island! It was home cooked and made with love! They also have vegan burgers and taco rice on the menu as well as organic teas and wines. Check it out if you ever get the chance because this food is top notch!

Address: 2 Chome-12-3 Matsuo, Naha, Okinawa 900-0014

Accommodation

Although I adored the Sanrio Hotel I stayed at the night before, I really wanted to stay somewhere with a pool so I chose Naha Aqua Citta which is rated as one of the top city resorts. With its beautiful infinity pool, free welcome drink tickets, and friendly atmosphere, I can definitely see why! I met so many amazing people on the rooftop bar that invited me to play drinking games because I was alone. We even ended up going to a hookah bar called Silver Ren which had the best hookah that I’ve ever smoked in Japan. People of all ages, races, and cultures were here so it was truly an international experience. The cheapest rooms are around 6800 yen per night which are more than worth it for the amenities. I would definitely stay here again just so I could mingle and meet more awesome people.

In my next article I will talk about my trip to Miyako Island! Thank you for reading and please look forward to it~

Living Life the Way it’s Supposed to be Lived (Onsen Trip to Nagano, Japan)

Snow falls gently on Lake Nojiri in Nagano creating a a picturesque winter scene.

Right before the second emergency state for Tokyo and surrounding areas was declared on January 7th, a number of business owners gathered in Nagano Prefecture to discuss what would become of their once booming industry that has rapidly declined this year due to the effect of the corona virus. According to a friend of mine who owns several ski resorts and ryokan in this area, they are currently only at 1/4 capacity this year. Usually Nagano is one of the most popular areas to do winter sports because it is easily accessible by shinkansen and has many hot springs where you can spend the night. It was also where the 1998 Winter Olympics were hosted and is famous for its snow monkeys which normally draw in a number of visitors from around the world each year. According to the Foreign Press Center, Nagano has surpassed Okinawa for having the longest life expectancy in Japan of above 80 years for both men and woman. Seeing the local tourism drop in such a boisterous place is a fatal blow to the nation, but also can’t be helped in this situation.

Though this is a tough time for everyone, currently many people in Nagano are strategizing what they can to keep their businesses alive. My friend who I met through writing articles online invited me to Nagano right before signing the contract to close one of their hotels for a final celebration. This became a two day trip that was completely sponsored and I am very fortunate that I was able to travel here so spontaneously. I previously traveled to Nagano in 2018 and saw the snow monkeys as well as an indie music show in Matsumoto, but I’ve never stayed at a ryokan here. Like the ryokan in Nara that I stayed at during my last sponsored motorcycle trip, this one did not disappoint!

Getting to Nagano

From Tokyo Station, Nagano Station is only 1 hour and 20 mins away and only costs 8340 yen to ride the Hokuriku Shinkansen there. This is less hassle than going all the way to Kyoto or Osaka. I was initially worried about traveling here due to heavy snowfall last weekend and almost cancelled my trip, but my friend assured me that the snow was further north by Toyama and my trains from Tokyo would not be affected. I left around 9:30am and made it to Nagano Station by 11:30am. The trip was peaceful because I mostly slept on the train and drank a cup of umeshu from Ueno for a buzz when I woke up. Since I didn’t travel during the New Year’s holiday, this was my first major trip of 2021 and it was sure a memorable one!

Lunch at Hotel Metropolitan Nagano

Just as I arrived to Nagano Station, my friend was waiting for me in the parking lot with their car. The temperature was definitely chilly but not as cold as I had expected. I was happy to see the vast view of the snowy mountains but was also starving. Fortunately my friend was hungry too so after exchanging quick greetings we drove to Hotel Metropolitan Nagano and had a delicious lunch set at Shinano. I ordered a balance of sashimi, rice, tempura, and vegetables and has some delicious miso soup to warm me up. I loved the decorative dishes and the wine they had on display here. Already I was proud of myself for braving through the snow and making it here because the food was worth it!

Exploring Lake Nojiri

Since our ryokan checkin time was at 15:00, we had around 3 hours to kill. We decided to drive around Lake Nojiri since it was on the way to the onsen. Though the area around Nagano Station was mostly just frosty, we were surprised to see thick layers of snow piling up just 5km away on the forest roads. Fortunately my friend had a lot of experience driving here so it was not a problem. Once we arrived at the lake, we got out of the car to do some photography. There was a beautiful island in the middle of the lake that gleamed in the gentle sunlight. There were also little log cabins in clusters on the edge of the lake. My friend informed me that this area was called “Gaijin Mura” because foreign missionaries have owned property and have lived here for over 100 years. According to Outdoor Japan, they have managed to protect the place from “bubble-era developers” so this is actually a good thing. This area already has a number of resorts so it’s refreshing to see this atmosphere. You can rent cabins here year-round which sounds like an awesome to do in the summer!

I remember a while ago one of my Japanese friends traveled to this area and called it “雪の国” on Twitter. With all of the snow flurries around I can definitely see the reference to “Snow Kingdom” in Mario Odyssey!

Arriving at Onsen Paradise (Yorozuya)

After driving around Lake Nojiri in its entirety, we arrived to our ryokan, Yorozuya, around 15:30 and immediately went to the public outdoor hot springs since they are the largest and have the best scenery. We decided to use the smaller private ones at night after dinner. I had previously looked on Booking and other Japanese sites for ryokan deals, but could have never imagined staying somewhere so beautiful. My friend actually found this deal through a local travel agency in Nagano by going there in person. All of the rooms had their own custom design and were equipped with a kotatsu (which I slept under), yukata, amenities, and premium room service. It had been half a year since I had stayed in one of these room so I was beyond excited. I will be sure to consult with Japanese travel agencies in the future because this was for sure a better place than anywhere I looked at online. I felt fully relaxed and welcome during my stay so I would rate Yorozuya 5 stars.

Address: 〒381-0401 Nagano, Shimotakai District, Yamanochi, Hirao, 3137

Dinner with a Hint of Gold

After fully relaxing at the indoor and outdoor hot springs, we sat down for our dinner at around 18:30. This wasn’t my first time going to an onsen during winter, but seeing the snow fall from sky while the steam rises up from the water was definitely a sight to behold. Plus I already had a decent buzz going on from the sake and apple wine that I ordered for our room so I was in a really good mood!

An immaculate course dinner was served with an explanation before each dish by the kind waitress and I was amazed to find that there were real flakes of gold in my food! I think the seared fish, sashimi, and mushroom hot pot were my favorites but all of these dishes tasted out of this world. Dessert was light fruit and green tea-flavored pudding. Plus another round of nihonshu requested by yours truly! And there was a tiny serve-yourself bar in the basement of the ryokan. What more could you ask for in life? The view of the snowy mountain tops from the window topped it off.

Private Onsen

Since the outdoor bath in our room was frozen due to cold temperatures, the Yorozuya staff graciously offered us a free shuttle service to a nearby onsen where we could use private baths after dinner. There we found a steamy indoor bath filled with apples and an outdoor one decorated with bamboo and an umbrella. Since these baths were completely private, photography was allowed. This was the moment I had been waiting for!!

Final Thoughts

This trip is exactly what I needed to get 2021 off to the right start and set my mind free. I did not travel during the winter holiday because many places were affected by COVID-19 and I wanted to prioritize work and saving money. I have been bummed that I still haven’t been able to travel to the Philippines or Indonesia like I had planned to last year, but this trip reminded me that it’s really important to focus on self-care and that nature can be enjoyed in its simplicity. I graciously thank all of my friends here for taking care of me because I don’t know when it will be safe to visit America again. However, I am very happy with my life now and am also close to reaching one of my major financial goals this month so I plan to continue at this pace for now. I have faith that things will get better with time and that I will be able to meet my friends and family with a smiling face one day again. In the meantime, I’ll be playing FFXIV and giving my all to my current line of work.

What does this mean for the future of small Japanese businesses though? From my personal example I found it interesting that two ryokan were working together to ensure that all facilities were available to their customers. Perhaps these businesses can continue to rely on one another and also local travel agencies to keep their businesses alive. Though I definitely noticed less people here, I did not sense a complete loss of hope. Cuts and sacrifices will need to be made in order to survive these hard times, but as this culture has demonstrated many times, perseverance can go a long way.

Osu no Mori Cafe Kodama: The Gateway to Ghibli Paradise

After my recent encounter with Totoro in Miyazaki Prefecture, I just can’t seem to escape the Ghibli universe!  But hey, I’m not complaining at all.  Just recently a new Ghibli-themed cafe called Osu no Mori Cafe Kodama (大須の森カフェ コダマ) opened in the bustling Osu Kannon district of Aichi Prefecture.  This place was recommended to me through my Instagram algorithms since I am an aesthetic food enthusiast.  It’s still relatively unknown because it’s tucked away on the 4th floor of a building next to a trading card game store making it easy to pass by.  The first time we tried to come here it was sadly closed for obon holiday.  However, this time we were luckily able to enter and relive the nostalgia of these films once again while feasting on delicious food.

Because we had gone to the Higashiyama Zoo right before, we were just as hungry as these characters when we first walked in…

Immediately we were treated with outstanding service as the waiter gave us complimentary konpeito (star-shaped candy) and fans with Ghibli patterns to borrow so we could cool down from the vicious heat.  We already felt at home here.

Onto the main event: The Food.  Each dish is priced around 800 – 1200 yen and themed drinks are around 600 yen.  Soft drinks and alcohol is also available for a relatively cheap price.  We couldn’t believe how well-prepared everything was here:

“Sorry to eat your hat, Mei-chan…” Me

“I hope your bacon burns.” – Howl’s Moving Castle

“Hold your [drink], commoner. You are in the presence of the king of Laputa.”
– Castle in the Sky

I appreciated all of the careful detail put into these menu items—they are truly one of a kind.  I loved the cheese ribbon on my omurice and how they customized my order to be vegetarian.  My boyfriend loved his super thicc bacon and how much the eggs resembled those from Howl’s Moving Castle.  The drink I ordered was Laputa-themed and had a glowing ice cube that activated when you poured the mixer into the glass.  How cool is that?  Every menu item had some kind of figure or plush doll laying around so that you could associate it with what you were eating.  Though the cafe is small in size, I’ve never seen any place so intricately decorated.  This is an experience like nowhere else around here.

Here are a few more shots of the cafe.  There are framed pictures, books, a little fireplace where Calcifer sits, and motifs everywhere you look.  Additionally, Totoro requests that you sanitize your hands before entering!

In addition to what we ordered, there are also pancakes with a small cat print that resemble Jiji from Kiki’s Delivery service.  There are also a ton of themed drinks based on the films that you can choose from.  I would really like to order a bunch when I come back so I can experience them all!

Is it worth it?

Although I’ve had a number of wonderful dining experiences in Nagoya, this was by far one of the best themed cafes that I have ever been to.  The service was top tier and the portion sizes were extremely generous for the price.  Unlike the official cafe at the Ghibli Museum, Kodama has more creative dishes that resemble actual food from the movies.  The interior design really brought the scenes to life as there were plush dolls and figures from every film surrounding you.  The soundtracks from the movies playing softly overhead also brought back a lot of memories.  I hope to see them expand their menu in the future to add some things from Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and Porco Rosso!  Overall it was completely worth the money we spent.  My only real criticism is that they didn’t have many desserts (only pancakes and a cake that resembles a potted plant), but hopefully that will change with time.

Also, if you ever go to Thailand, be sure to check out Bangkok’s Totoro Cafe as well!

Access

〒460-0011 Aichi, Nagoya, Naka Ward, Ōsu, 4 Chome−2−47 赤門ビル4階
Located on the 4th floor of the Akamon building near Kamimaezu Station.

*Though we walked in and were fortunately seated at the bar counter, it is recommended to make reservations via phone in advance.

Super Aesthetic Adventures in Osaka (Day 1)

For the duration of the 4 day consecutive summer holiday known as “Marine Day” in Japan, my boyfriend and I decided to take our very first trip together to bustling city of Osaka!  We chose this destination because it’s much more laid-back than Tokyo and there is a myriad of things to do and see here.  You can walk by the river and sip on a Strong Zero while being right in the heart of the city where there’s never a dull moment.  I’ve traveled to Osaka about 10 times (mainly for music events), but I still haven’t seen it all.  This time I was most excited to see the Kaiyukan Aquarium and go to the old school arcades with my boyfriend who is a fighting game fanatic.  Along the way we discovered so many delicious restaurants and made heartfelt memories that I’ll never forget.

We departed from Nagoya via the Willer Express Bus at 8:30am.  This was a good move because it was cheaper than the shinkansen and we could peacefully sleep on it.  We arrived to the Umeda Sky Building (in central Osaka) around 11:30 where we walked to La Tartine for coffee and some sweets.  I found this cafe through my Instragram algorithms and wanted to try the dog macaroon because it reminded me of Pasocom Ongaku Club’s mascot.  I also tried a cookie with a beach design that tasted amazing.  All of the desserts were intricately made here.  Incidentally, we also got a free coffee jelly as a gift for discovering this cafe through Instagram.  How nice♫~

Next we made our way towards our hotel in Shinsaibashi and decided to get some okonomiyaki for lunch at Hanahana since it was nearby.  Not only was this place absolutely delicious, but it was dirt cheap too.  I ordered shrimp okonomiyaki and my boyfriend got a mix of pork and seafood in his.  It was such a satisfying meal:

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Okonomiyaki: The staple Osaka meal.

Since our hotel wasn’t quite ready to check in to, we dropped off our stuff and headed straight to Kaiyukan Aquarium which I had never been to before!  This is one of the most famous aquariums in Japan so I figured it would be the perfect date spot.  Unfortunately since it was a holiday,  a lot of other people had the same idea so we had to wait an hour to enter.  Luckily it was worth the wait.  I had been to Japan’s largest aquarium in Okinawa years ago, but I hadn’t been to another one in ages so this was refreshing.  In addition to colorful schools of fish, smiling stingrays, and the “Silence Brand” crab, they also had capybara which is my favorite animal there too!  My boyfriend most enjoyed the waddle of penguins (yes, a group of penguins is actually called a “waddle”):

We were very impressed with the large variety of sea creatures here!  I also loved seeing the “Keep distance” penguin sign, though it was an impossible challenge for the over-excited Japanese children here.  I also liked the message that said “all things are connected” at the end.  It really had me thinking for a while.  By the time we finished seeing all of the exhibits here, we were exhausted.  This aquarium is quite huge compared to other underwater exhibits in Japan.

Admission Fee: 2,550 yen (worth in in my opinion)

Not wanting to miss out on every food opportunity that life presented us, we stopped for ramen and ice cream.  The two main food groups.  I bought a capybara souvenir at the aquarium so I could forever remember this moment.  This isn’t the first time this has happened.  My boyfriend chose to eat ramen at Zundoya which has a branch in Osaka.  He said it was some of the best that he’s had in a while.  I tried the Pokemon ice cream flavors at Bakin Robbins, but unfortunately they didn’t live up to the hype.  I give them a 6/10 because they taste like sugary melted soda.  They would be much more satisfying if they contained vodka.  Fortunately that’s what we had next…

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Drinking the galaxy at Mixology Bar Factory & Gear.

Yet another bar that ended up in my Instagram algorithms was called Mixology Bar Factory & Gear.  And boy, it did not disappoint.  It was here that we met a fire bender and drank magical cocktails from the galaxy.  My boyfriend also ordered a Tuxedo Mask-esque drink and another drink that was wrapped in plastic like Laura Palmer.  I ordered the “Little Planet” (pictured above) and a mysterious pineapple drink with a bubble that you can pop.  Watching the video is easier than explaining it.  This is peak aesthetic:

The taste of all of these drinks can be described as “works of art” but this Tweet sums our experience up the best:

If you have time, please check this bar out!  The average cost of drinks is 1300 yen but I promise that you won’t be disappointed.  There’s also some “Viagra Liqueur” (the opposite of whiskey dick) for those who are feeling adventurous.  We will remember this bar for the rest of our lives.

Where to Stay

Normally I stay at Asahi Capsule Hotel when I’m alone since it’s one of the cheapest places in Osaka, but since I came here with someone special I wanted to stay somewhere a bit nicer.

This time I chose Felice Hotel because it was only 5000 yen per night for 2 people.  This was within walking distance of Dotonbori and all of the bars we wanted to go to so it was the perfect choice.  Our bed was huge and extremely comfy.  There is also a public onsen bath and a rooftop bar that you can visit.  I would honestly love to stay here again!

Spending my 25th Birthday at a Hut in Vietnam (Part 3)

After going on a grand tour of Phu Quoc Island on the day of my birthday, I decided to spend my final day in Vietnam going to Hon Thom Sun World amusement park.  To reach this amusement park, you must go to the south end of the island by taxi and ride the world’s longest cable car to another island.  You will pass over a cluster of fishing markets on your way there so it really is worth it for the view.  I remember the ocean looked so beautiful from above.  I’m really grateful I got the chance to swim in it when I landed!

As soon as I entered the park I noticed I was starving, so I ordered some vegan spring rolls, a seafood noodle dish, and a strawberry smoothie.  I was surprised at how big the serving sizes were!  There are restaurants all over the place so you’ll never go hungry:

Next I decided it was time to explore the park.  I’ll admit that my main reason for coming here was to ride the cable car.  I didn’t put much research into what attractions there were, but I figured I’d go and have fun no matter what.  I looked at a local guidepost for direction, except there was only one destination on it:

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There is only one direction!! ONE!

I thought this was some kind of joke until I looked on Inspirock and realized others had run into this same situation:

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So okay, Trao Beach it was!  At least I could ride a air-conditioned van there from the park for free.  Since it was October, there wasn’t many people there so I could relax and enjoy it all I wanted.  It was essentially a private beach.  This was one of the scenarios where it was not about the destination, but they journey.  I had a lot of nice time thinking to myself and listening to all my favorite music.  The tiki statues and chairs made out of tires that I saw here also added to the ambiance:

Even though there wasn’t a lot to see at Sun World, being on a remote tropical island was more fun than being stuck in the city.  What’s interesting is that some pictures of the park online show a water park, but it only seems to be open during certain seasons.  There was no mention of it when I went in 2018 so I wonder if it’s under renovation.  I saw all sorts of construction going on in the main pavilion near the restaurant I was eating at.  I would guess that there is some plan to expand this park because it is in a beautiful area that has a lot of nature.  It really could become something amazing!

Is it worth it?

The cost for the cable car ticket is around $15 USD (roundtrip) and entrance to the park is around $25 USD.  This actually isn’t that bad for a day on an island in Vietnam, but you could definitely go cheaper.  If you have an extra day to kill this excursion is great because of the unique cable car view—especially if you have a camera.  However, there may be only one destination available when you reach the island… you won’t know until you get there!

Upon further research, I noticed there is another amusement park called Sun World Ba Na Hills in Vietnam with the same logo (so they must be owned by the same company).  Search engines are likely confusing them in English.  Perhaps Phu Quoc’s Sun World (the one I visited) is going to be designed as a miniature version of the larger one.  Who knows?  I hope to return to Vietnam and visit the other, larger, park when it’s safe so I can expand this article!

Spending my 25th Birthday at a Hut in Vietnam (Part 2)

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Yet another beautiful sunset on Phu Quoc Island.

In my last article I talked about my expedition of Long Beach on Phu Quoc Island, but in this article I will talk about some of the other places that I ventured to outside of my hut!  I would recommend staying at least 3 full days on this island because between the beaches and the central town, there’s a lot of neat things to see.  I spent my mornings swimming on the beach and evenings chasing sunsets.  It was truly the best 25th birthday I could have imagined!

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The inside of a mini Cao Dai Temple in Duong Dong Town.

Since I wanted to see as much as possible on the island, I booked a day tour of the north and south sides of the island through Viet Fun Travel.  This is a completely private tour run by Phu Quoc locals, so it’s very high-rated and you can customize it to your liking.  I asked that they please take me to the Ridgeback Dog Farm because I wanted to feed the Phu Quoc dogs.  They happily complied with my request and created a custom itinerary for me.

Unfortunately because I was by myself this tour cost $195 USD which is very expensive, but since there are not many ways of transportation on Phu Quoc Island it was worth the money.  If you bring more people with you the price will drastically decrease.  Since these islanders don’t always make a lot during the low season, I didn’t feel regret spending this much for a quality tour.  It was fun and I got to experience so much!  My tour guide was very nice too.

Here are the places that we stopped at.  This tour lasted about 10 hours and included hotel pickup:

 

  • Pearl Farm & Fish Sauce Factory
  • Truc Lam Ho Quoc Meditation
  • Sao Beach
  • Coconut Tree Prison
  • Phu Quoc Ridgeback Dog Farm
  • Nguyen Trung Truc Temple
  • Passing Cape Ganh Dau
  • Vung Bau Beach & Ong Lang Beach

Our first stop was the pearl farm and the fish sauce factory.  Fish sauce is Phu Quoc’s most famous food and is exported all over the country.  I got to see how it was fermented in giant barrels which was pretty neat.  The “pearl farm” was a museum of pearls mostly geared towards selling them, but I didn’t mind seeing it for a short amount of time.  The pearls were so gorgeous.  If only I could afford them!  My tour guide bought me a sugar cane drink to sip on during the drive.  It was super sweet and full of sugar as the name implies.  There was also some mysterious green seaweed-like vegetable we tried.

The temples we saw on this tour were really beautiful too (unfortunately my photography skills from 2018 do not do them justice).  Truc Lam Ho Quoc Meditation has a beautiful garden you can see when you reach the top.  I enjoyed seeing the Choco-Pies that were placed in front of the deity at Nguyen Trung Truc Temple too.  If I ever become a deity, I hope people place Choco-Pies in front of me too.

 

We next stopped at the Coconut Tree Prison that was built by French Colonists to imprison Vietnamese soldiers during the Vietnam War.  Many tortures were performed here such as caging humans and burning off their flesh.  I didn’t take many photos because it was grotesque, but you can Google it for yourself and see just how horrible it was.  I was grateful for the personal tour because I never knew that there was a prison here!  Most people that visit Vietnam only get to see the Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi, as the Coconut Tree Prison is quite remote.

After that gruesome reminder of Vietnamese history was over, we stopped for my birthday lunch at a local Vietnamese restaurant.  Everything was on the house~  Cheers to turning 25 on Phu Quoc!!

At the restaurant we ate octopus, fried rice with blue crab, and I tried snails for the very first time!  The snails kind of taste like sautéed mushrooms but are chewy.  I recommend trying them at least once if you get the chance.  The flavor is actually quite enjoyable.  The best part about this restaurant was definitely the atmosphere.  Even though I was a tourist, I felt at home here.

We rode briefly through the central town of Duong Dong so our driver could get gas.  This is the largest town on the island just north of my island hut.  There is a seafood market and many temples and pagodas you can see.  We stopped briefly to see a Cao Dai temple before continuing our tour so I could rest for a bit.  If I ever some back to Phu Quoc, I would like to stay in this town for just one night to see what it’s like!

Next we stopped at the Phu Quoc Ridgeback Dog Farm so I could feed the dogs.  For some reason this was one of the most anticipated stops for me!  Phu Quoc dogs are some of the rarest and most expensive breeds in the world.  They are extremely independent and love roaming the beaches.  During the high seasons you can watch them race through courses and place bets on them.  Since I was here in October, I could only pet and feed them, but that was fine by me.  They were absolutely adorable:

My tour guide was extremely kind and gave me an extra bag of food.  He knew pretty much everyone on the island so people were always giving us souvenirs.  After I had fed every dog on the farm (and I mean EVERY dog), we decided to hit the southern Sao beaches.  I didn’t take a lot of pictures because I was swimming, but it was extremely surreal to see cows grazing out here:

While I was swimming my tour guide told me I could stay out here as long as I liked because he was practicing meditation with an mp3.  I stayed until sunset and got to soak up a lot of sun.  Everyone that is native to this island practices spirituality, but they never try to force their beliefs upon you.  I really enjoyed every single moment here even though my time was short.

I would recommend this tour to fellow adventurers because it truly takes you everywhere.  I was exhausted by the end of my trip and was thankful I could rest in my hut.  My next article will be the last of my Vietnam series!  Thank you to all that have read up to this point.