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 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!
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~
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.
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.
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!!
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.
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.
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:
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…
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:
Condensing an entire late night astrology program into a glass and lacing it with acid has been the most fun my mouth has ever had. Dope ass cocktail. https://t.co/rT2DIkts5Z
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!
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:
I thought this was some kind of joke until I looked on Inspirock and realized others had run into this same situation:
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!
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!
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
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.
When people think of tropical destinations in Asia, Vietnam usually isn’t high on the list. Most people in Japan flock to Okinawa, Thailand, Philippines, Guam, or even the Gold Coast in Australia for vacation. I wanted to experience something different so I decided to fly to Phu Quoc Island in Vietnam from Hanoi and stay in a beach hut on my 25th birthday in 2018. This was one of my first times staying on a remote island alone, but it was completely safe and turned out to be one of the best birthdays of my life!
I stayed on Phu Quoc for four days and three nights and managed to learn a lot about the island culture of Vietnam. Being here is completely different than from being in the city which is truly eye-opening. In Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh you’ll get a lot of stares and attention from the locals, but here you’ll find complete and total privacy:
Getting to Phu Quoc
A roundtrip flight from Hanoi to Phu Quoc only costs $65 through VietJet and takes two hours so it is quite cheap and easy to plan out. I’ve researched other islands in Vietnam such as Cat Ba, but Phu Quoc is by far the most beautiful. Long Beach is the best place to stay on the island because it has a lot of restaurants and you can see the best view of the sunset. The beach looks pretty 24/7, but swimming in the ocean and watching the sky turn that lovely mixture of pink, blue, and red makes it feel as if you are living inside of a painting:
The island hut I stayed at was called Viet Than Resort. I chose this resort because I liked the design of the thatched huts and it was only around $35 per night. Plus it was right on the beach and had a swimming pool too! I came during the off-season in October, but I still had a lot of fun here because the weather was perfect. I spent my entire first day here exploring Long Beach and going swimming. It was definitely the relaxation that I needed after several days of trekking through the populated cities.
Cuisine on Phu Quoc is cheap, healthy, and extremely satisfying. I tried a restaurant near my hotel and ordered seafood ramen and an omelette. After hours of swimming, this was exactly what I needed!
Another perk of staying here is you’ll often run into Phu Quoc dogs. An islander informed me that these dogs are friendly towards people but completely independent. They’ll let people wash and feed them, but they spend most of their time frolicking on the beaches. I wish I were a Phu Quoc dog!
Unlike places in Thailand and Bali, Phu Quoc is NOT a party island. It does have a lot of bars and places to socialize, but you won’t find any recreational drugs here. I really wish that there were more islands in Japan like this. I went to Okinawa for my first birthday in Japan and had fun, but it does not have a lot of beach huts and the best beaches require renting a car or riding a infrequent bus to reach. I liked Phu Quoc because everything was accessible, and if I needed to get somewhere I could use Grab or ask my hotel to call a cheap taxi service. This would honestly not be a bad place to retire.
In my next article, I’ll be talking about my island tour and how I rode a cable car to Sun World! Thank you all for reading my Vietnam article series! Though this happened almost 2 years ago, this island is still a very popular resort destination and a place that I would recommend to all my friends. It’s really easy to have fun here no matter what your budget is.
Though the theatrical release of the Evangelion 4.0 movie has been indefinitely postponed due to the pandemic, official Evangelion collaborations are still going full swing in Japan. Last week I visited the Radio EVA Cafe located on the 6th floor of the Shibuya PARCO building and tried some of their delicious desserts. In addition they have some custom merchandise for sale. Their menu had a lot of options, but my personal favorite was the purple mousse rose with leaf-shaped chocolate:
This mousse was perfect because it was super soft and creamy, but not too sweet! The little bits of pancake also added to the texture. Though the food is quite expensive (averaging 1500 yen per dish), the pro of coming to this cafe is that you get to see special scenes from the movie! Unfortunately recording them is not allowed, but I was able to take a lot of pictures around the cafe:
I really enjoyed seeing the comic book art-style they chose here. The interior design was really thought out and it was interesting to see fully English quotes. Unfortunately there were not a lot of vegetarian options, but I loved the flavored drinks and desserts. For the full menu, please see their official website.
The cafe will be running from 6/1/2020 – 8/2/2020. There is no online reservation system so you can just walk in. I went on a weekday at 6pm and was immediately seated. For those who are unable to go, fear not! There will likely be another cafe when the movie is finally released. When that happens, I will be sure to check it out!
Since I’ve finished my Jeju Island article series, I’m going to write about some of my favorite places to hang out in Seoul next. It’s hard to structure this article because there are literally so many cool areas of the city! My two favorite districts in Seoul are by far Itaewon and Gangnam. Both have extremely different vibes but are perfect for a night out depending on what my mood is. Itaewon is friendliest and most international while Gangnam is the fanciest district is Seoul. Even though I can’t speak Hangul, I never have trouble making friends in this city. Spontaneously getting invited to a bachelor’s party while staying here was one of the coolest things that have ever happened to me in a foreign country. I’ve been to Korea three times and hope to visit again when international travel is possible again.
Without further ado, here are the most fun places that I’ve discovered:
Common Ground is an urban mall that was built out of containers and is really fun to explore. Unlike other malls, there’s not a huge mob of annoying shoppers here because those type of people usually go to the fancier malls in the center of the city. Common Ground features small designer stores and also has restaurants and live music. A lot of stores here import brands too. No matter what your price range is, you can usually find something that fits your taste here. I actually didn’t buy much but I had fun doing photography with the winter illuminations outside. There was also a statue of an astronaut outside and some replicas of Roman statues inside the main building when I visited. How aesthetic!
While I was walking around here, a Korean student came up to me and interviewed me for a university project. Since I didn’t have a strict itinerary during my first trip, I happily participated. She asked me various questions about my country and also gave me some Korean snacks. Though it was a simple project, I was happy that I could help out. Common Ground is close to many universities so it’s great for socializing and meeting people!
Lotte World is one of the most famous amusement parks in Korea. In fact, it’s the largest indoor theme park in the world—which is why I had to go! It’s located in the massive Lotte Mall that has hundreds of shops and food from all around the world. If you are looking for top tier shopping in Seoul, then this is the place. I came after the start of the new year so the park had a winter theme. Fortunately it wasn’t very crowded and I could ride all of the rides that I wanted! There are carousels, roller coasters, haunted houses, and my personal favorite: The Balloon Ride. You can see the entire indoor park and mall from the top which makes it an amazing experience.
Even though Lotte World is owned by Lotte Co. Ltd., there are actually a lot of parallels between it and Disney Land. For example, the outside of Lotte World resembles the Disney World Castle. It also has a beautiful lake that you can view by walking across a bridge that leads to the artificially created “Magic Island” which is a lot like Disney Sea. Despite these similarities, the attractions are quite different and the entrance to Lotte World is considerably cheaper. If you like one park, you’ll probably like the other too.
I would recommend checking out Lotte World as opposed to other amusement parks because you can come here in any kind of weather thanks to the indoor park area.
Entrance Fee: 32$ for adults (cheaper than most amusement parks in Japan so it’s overall worth it)
The Jogyesa Temple in Insadong, Seoul is probably my favorite temple of all time in Korea. I first came here during the Lotus Festival in April and many bright hand-crafted paper ornaments were hung around the entire complex. I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was! Jogyesa is actually the center of Buddhism in Korea and many rituals and ceremonies are held here. There are private prayer rooms as well as places that you can make public offerings. The Chinese Scholar Tree was planted on the temple grounds because it is said to convert negative energy into positive energy and happiness. Though I’m not particularly religious, I definitely felt in high spirits here. Please check this place out if you ever get the chance. The monks are very friendly and welcoming.
I enjoyed seeing the English pack of M&Ms being used as an offering when I went:
Entrance Fee: Free
Myeongdong is essentially the Shibuya/Harajuku of Seoul. You can come here at any time of day and find something fun to do. It has street food, hilarious fashion (“say no to kids, drugs”), recreational parks, and cafes galore. The street and night markets have knock-off Gucci and Supreme which you can score for a low price. I enjoyed eating octopus and drinking sochu while I walked through all the streets and alleyways.
Some of my favorite places I found around Myeongdong Station were:
Artbox – An adorable mall with art supplies, cosmetics, and accessories. It reminded me of the LINE Friends store in Japan but had way more variety.
Stylenada 3CE – A pool-themed shopping mall and cafe with beautiful pink decor. It has amazing desserts!
Bbongsin – An amazing restaurant with cold noodles and calzones. Some of the best Korean food I’ve ever had!
Milky Bee – An ice cream shop with flower-shape gelato.
Myeongdong has bars that stay open late, but not much of a club scene. Continue reading to see my recommendations for clubs:
Ever since the song “Gangnam Style” became a hit song, I feel like this district doesn’t really need an introduction but I’ll give it a go anyway. Gangnam is the most upscale district in Seoul but you can enjoy the nightlife here with almost any budget. In addition to some of the most reputable clubs, it has secluded parks you can walk through by the river side and amazing cafes. Gangnam itself is pretty spread out so people don’t normally drink in the streets like in Itaewon. It’s classy and has a club area as well as a quiet upscale residential district as well.
My first memory of Gangnam was meeting up with some of my old college friends here and going to Octagon, where we got invited to VIP tables and drank champagne. If you’re a girl then it’s really easy to meet people that will buy you drinks here. The crowds and sound system are pretty insane too. I honestly got too lit my first time here so I’d really like to come back and just focus on the music next time.
Last year I decided to get my eye bags removed at JK Plastic in Gangnam. I had sunken eyelids that were caused by genetics so the veins under my skin would show and create permanent eye bags. I always looked tired and wanted to fix the issue so I opted for eye surgery. I chose JK Plastic because they are one of the highest-rated clinics in Korea and speak English. It took about a week of downtime in Korea and then six weeks of recovery at home, but the skin beneath my eyelids has been fully restored now! When I woke up from surgery I nearly cried because they did such an amazing job and I could already see the results despite having a swollen face. During my down time I played visual novels and also watched a lot of anime. It wasn’t so bad—just make sure you have enough time off to take care of yourself!
Plastic surgeons in Korea are the best in the world. The advantage of going here is that if you’re a tourist you can get a tax refund from the surgery when you go to the airport. I would not recommend plastic surgery in Japan because my friends have said the surgeons here are not as experienced or friendly. I would recommend doing research, scheduling an online consultation with a clinic you like, and seeing what options fit you best. I may write a full article on this at a later time!
Itaewon is my favorite place to start my night out in Seoul. I have so many fond memories here. It caters to the late-night international crowd and has small, condensed streets as well as beautiful murals that decorate the walls. You can sit at an outdoor bar or go drinking in the street and easily meet people (both tourists and Korean nationals). You can find pretty much any type of restaurant or dessert shop here too. It has the feel of a college town but is much more upscale and classy. Usually I spend my first night going to various clubs and bars then wake up and soak in Itaewon Land Spa.
My favorite club here is called Cakeshop because it features a lot of independent producers from both Seoul and other countries plus it has a great vibe. It originally caught my eye because Carpainter did a set here in 2015 (unfortunately I was in America at the time or I would have gone). The club is small enough with one DJ booth and bar that it’s easy to converse with people and enjoy the music. I have made a number of friends here that I still stay in touch with. The entry fee usually isn’t more than $25.
Besides Cakeshop, Fountain is a great place to check out. The first floor is huge dance floor that’s always usually packed and the upper floors have tables and arcades for bigger groups. The music here is usually western EDM which disinterests me, but the atmosphere of the club is impressive. I have never paid any entrance fee when I have gone in. What I remember of Club Awesome was awesome too!
Next time I’m here I really want to check out a club called Pumpkin. If it’s actually Halloween-themed like its outer decor implies then I’m in.
Other Interesting Places:
Hongdae – Hongdae is a popular spot for college students and those who love K-pop music clubs. I came here to visit the ADERerror store and also to do some shopping. I didn’t like it as much as Itaewon or Gangnam due to my music taste, but I highly recommend you spend a night exploring here and see what you think.
I found an amazing “Magical Item Shop” called Creamy DD with tons of Sailor Moon and other magical girl accessories here. It’s easy to spot the sign if you walk down the main road:
Ihwa Mural Village – Since I went to Busan and saw Gamcheon I skipped this village, but if you are looking for beautiful murals and art to see then please check this place out! I want to go here in the future.
Secret Garden – A scenic area around Changdeokgung Palace that I recommend checking out if you have the time. It is one of the most beautiful gardens in Seoul!
Nami Island – A scenic island near Seoul where many K-dramas are filmed. Click the link to read my full article on it!
Places to Stay
As a backpacker, I favor cheap hostels but the majority of accommodations in Korea are less expensive than in Japan. You can likely find a nice hotel for $45 USD or less too.
Here are some of the places that I stayed at and enjoyed in Korea. I booked them close in proximity to the clubs I was interested in checking out:
Guesthouse Yacht (Itaewon) – A very inexpensive apartment-style dorm in the heart of Itaewon. This is my go-to place if I’m spending the night there because it’s safe, quiet, and conveniently located.
Kimchee Guesthouse (Gangnam) – A guest house near Gangnam City Office that has private and dorm rooms. I stayed here during my eye surgery recovery period and it was perfect because my room had a shower inside it. This is the cheapest you will get in the fanciest part of the city, I assure you.
Neo Seoul Guesthouse – I wanted to try staying in Hongdae for a night, so I chose this place because of the cool name. It was cheap and I could easily access the airport limousine the next day so I recommend it for its convenience (Itaewon and Gangnam are a bit further away).
This will be the last article about Korea that I write until my next trip! Since I live in Japan, I can sometimes find cheap round-trip flights for under $150 so I come here usually once a year for a week long vacation. Usually new restaurants and venues open, plus cosmetics and beauty clinics are really cheap here so I always have something to look forward to. Until next time, Seoul!
After exploring the east and west side of Jeju Island and climbing Mt. Hallasan, I decided to spend my final day on the island relaxing and seeing some of the places that most tours don’t cover (such as the sex museum and private beaches). Since I don’t have an international license, I had my hostel help book me a private taxi driver. The average cost of private taxi drivers in Jeju is about $150 USD per day but hiring one is much easier than trying to use the local buses. The duration of the taxi session is around 9 hours and you can easily see all of the things you want to see without hassle. Hilariously, all the English-speaking drivers were booked already due to high demand but I was able to book a Japanese one. Without further hesitation I set off for my fifth and final day on the island and hoped for the best! Fortunately the weather was on my side.
See Iho Tewoo Beach & Gwakji Beach
Jeju has around eight popular swimming beaches in total, but I chose to travel to the two most photogenic ones. Iho Tewoo Beach is famous for its two horse-shaped lighthouses. I wanted to see them in person so this was the very first destination I chose! Unfortunately it was bit too cold to go swimming, but I just liked being on an empty and relaxing beach. Apparently this beach is extremely popular during the summer because you can go for boat rides here, but during late April when I went it was extremely peaceful and quiet. Just what I wanted after all of the exhausting hiking that I did!
I picked up some amazing octopus at a nearby restaurant here. Raw Korean octopus tastes amazing:
After I had my fill, I decided to head to Gwakji Beach which is much livelier because there are a lot of resorts around it. None of the resorts on Jeju are particularly fancy, but the cafes sure are. I decided to try Mônsant which is owned by G-DRAGON purely because of its flawless architectural design. You can see the ocean through the panes of glass while sipping on delicious coffee. I ordered a strawberry smoothie and couldn’t believe the view that I was seeing:
I tried to go swimming here, but the beach shore was a bit rocky so I was reluctant. Jeju’s beaches are more designed for soaking up the atmosphere rather than actually getting soaked. I didn’t mind though, because Gwakji Beach definitely had a nice vibe. In addition to posh cafes there were squids being sun-dried and local food stalls around. I appreciated the diversity of food here.
One hilarious and slightly creepy trend here I saw was having photos of couples and babies printed onto lattes. I’m usually quite adventurous when it comes to food, but I don’t know if I’d have the courage to drink myself… This is just too realistic:
Nexon Computer Museum
The next stop was my favorite museum of all time in Korea: The Nexon Computer Museum. Nexon is the company responsible for creating Maple Story and the longest running commercial graphic MMO in the world: Baram, also known as Nexus: The Kingdom of the Winds. I was really surprised to see that a modest company in Korea had this award; which makes me think that Nexon is seriously underrated so naturally I wanted to learn more.
Ah yes, the infamous Sex Museum of Korea. I’ll admit I was a bit embarrassed coming here by myself, but I was on vacation so I figured why the hell not? Jeju Loveland is an art museum of erotic outdoor sculptures and has an indoor collection of various adult toys. What’s good is that it promotes a safe approach to sex and only admits entry to adults (honestly I’ve seen enough pedophilia in Japan bookstores and this was a much classier attraction). “Various romantic and sexual art works are waiting for you.” the official website says. I liked the ambiguity of the upside-down sculptures submerged in water… But I’ll leave the rest up to your imagination. Definitely see it if it fancies you!
Entrance Fee: $9 USD (not bad)
Jeju Horse Park
Before having my driver drop me off at the airport so I could take my flight back to Seoul, I decided to make one more stop at Jeju Horse Park. I was wearing the most extra outfit because I was shooting pictures on the beach just before, but once again I figured why not! I was on vacation and I wanted to ride a horse one last time. This was the perfect way to end my Jeju Chronicles. I had successfully accomplished everything that I had planned so this was yet another perfect trip to commemorate. The park has a really laidback approach and you can choose multiple routes around the mountains and seaside. I couldn’t use my camera because I was riding, but I had an amazing time! There was a guide who was keeping close watch on me so I felt safe at all times. Horseback riding is a great way to see Jeju Island and is relatively cheap so you should try it at least once while you’re here.
Entrance Fee: $10-$20 USD depending on how long you go.
As this article implies, I had a phenomenal time on Jeju Island and would recommend it to all my friends. There were a few issues with the language barrier here and there, but island people are some of the friendliest people that you will ever meet. I really treasured all of my time here. I was also able to speak Japanese in a few instances and find my way around. Google Maps aren’t always reliable in South Korea so I would do your research on what attractions you want to see before coming here. That’s it really. Once you arrive at Jeju, you’ll find that the island is small enough that you can easily navigate and fit in all the activities you want. Jeju is by far the most beautiful place in South Korea and you should definitely give it a chance because it has activities for everyone!