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.

Floating down the Mekong Delta in Vietnam

After hiking around Black Virgin Mountain & Cao Dai Temple, I decided it might be nice to go out on the water for a day.  Mekong River Delta, home to a maze of rivers, swamps, and floating markets, is the perfect place to go boating and experience an agricultural community.  This river starts in the Himalayas and flows through four other surrounding countries before reaching Vietnam.  The murky brown color of the water comes from the soil it washes up so the river itself is actually quite clean.  A majority of Vietnam’s rice and fish is transported to other areas from Mekong Delta, so it’s vital to the country’s economics.  Not to mention its jungle-like aesthetic makes it the perfect place to go on an adventure!

Mekong Delta can easily be reached from Ho Chi Minh City, but it’s cheapest to go on a tour.  I booked a group tour through Get Your Guide for around $28 and found it to be quite helpful.  I got to explore parts of the jungle, eat delicious Vietnamese food, and see some of the smaller islands.  One is even named after a unicorn!  I was fortunate that the other people on my tour were kind and welcoming.  I met one woman from Colombia that introduced me to her sons that were around my age (mid-twenties).  We all awkwardly laughed.  No vacation is complete without awkward random encounters!

Sailing on the Mekong Delta was amazing.  The weather was humid but fortunately there was a cool breeze.  No matter which direction you look there is a lot to see:

I highly recommend buying a nón lá (leaf hat) from the market during your trip.  Initially I thought that wearing one of these as a tourist would be embarrassing, but the hats are ideal for the weather here.  During warm days they can shield your entire face from the sun, and during rainy days the droplets will slide off  them keeping you completely dry.

After a while of sailing we stopped at Ben Tre, the capital of one of the largest provinces in the Mekong Delta, and got to explore some of the beautiful scenery on foot.  There was a tiny wildlife preserve with crocodiles, porcupine-like creatures, and other exotic animals.  A woman came with a colony of bees and showed us how honey was made (fortunately the bees didn’t seem hostile).  We also learned how coconuts were used to make desserts and got to try some coconut jelly!  It was so delicious.

Besides boats,the main form of transportation around the muddy banks of the Mekong Delta is by horse.  Although a lot of residents of Vietnam own motorbikes, they seem to be quite challenging to ride around here.  That is another reason why I recommend booking a tour.  Though it can take days to see the entire Mekong Delta here, just a day trip was enough for me.

I said it once but I’ll say it again: Vietnamese Cuisine tastes amazing and severely underrated.  For lunch we had a buffet that included elephant ear fish (see top picture), shrimp, omelette, rice, crackers, fresh fruit, and coconut jelly.  This kind of meal is simple but very filling.  Since I don’t eat meat, I informed the chef and they were able to accommodate my request.  If you’re looking for a fancier dinner, you can always order one back in Ho Chi Minh City!

I visited a similar place to Mekong Delta in Cambodia last year called Kampong Pluk.  It also has a floating economy, amazing fish, and many similarities to Vietnam.  I recommend checking out both because their cultures are slightly different.  I can’t pick a favorite because both of them were an entirely unique experience.

Here are some other things I recommend checking out in Ho Chi Minh City:

  • Notre Dame Cathedral – A historic church with beautiful architecture.
  • Ho Chi Minh City Hall – An iconic landmark of the city,
  • Cafe ZONE 69 – I found this place during my morning run and thought it was hilarious.  I have no idea if it still exists or not, but it’s in the heart of the city.
  • Ho Chi Minh Opera House – I sadly didn’t have enough time to go, but I’d love to see a show here in the future.
  • Jade Emperor Pagoda – One of the prettiest temples in town.

I only stayed 3 days in Ho Chi Minh City, but that was enough for me because I got to see and experience a lot of different things.  In my next article, I will be talking about my experience in Hanoi and how it differs from this city.  As always, please stay tuned for more updates!

 

Exploring the Freezing Ho Chi Minh City of Vietnam

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

Why Vietnam?  

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

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

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

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

Getting a Visa in Vietnam

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

ICE Coffee

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

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

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

Access

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

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

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DK AROMA TEA IS HERE!

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

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

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

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

Dining in Ho Chi Minh (Nha Hang Ngon)

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

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

Clubbing at Apocalypse Now

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

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

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

Accommodation

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

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

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

The Jeju Chronicles: Exploring Udo Island

During Golden Week of 2018 I decided to venture to Korea for the 2nd time and explore its most famous beach resort island: Jeju.  This island is extremely unique because not only does it have the best beaches in Korea, but it also has the Nexon Computer Museum with the world’s longest running MMO.  There’s also the tallest mountain in Korea (Mt. Hallasan), a folk village with traditional houses, and a fairly famous sex museum.  As you can see, Jeju has something for everybody because there is a huge diversity of attractions to see.  A lot of people that live close to Korea come here to spend their honeymoons or school vacations, but there are many backpackers like me who travel here too.  In this article series I will be detailing my 5 day stay in Jeju in hopes that other people will decide to come in the future.

Traveling to Jeju

The best way to travel to Jeju is to take a direct flight from Seoul.  Jeju Air has the cheapest flights that range from $30 – $50 USD roundtrip.  The flight only takes about an hour.  Jeju is comparable in Okinawa in Japan, but is much smaller and doesn’t have as many islands you can travel to.  However, traveling here is much cheaper than most islands in Japan and it has a different vibe.  One of the best islands you can visit in Jeju is called Udo which is the very first place I went.

Udo Island Day Trip

Udo Island was my first destination once I reached Jeju Airport.  Fortunately you don’t need to fly here and can instead take a relaxing 15 minute ferry.  The reason I wanted to go to Udo is because it is the perfect cycling destination.  The island was named for its somewhat rectangular shape that looks like cow lying down.  I also chuckled because the name reminded me of U-DO in Xenosaga.  You can see most of the attractions on Udo within 3 – 4 hours via electric bike.  E-bikes can be rented for around $10 per day and are extremely worth it.  This was my very first time riding an e-bike, but fortunately it wasn’t scary!  You can see the ocean from any point in Udo making it a wonderful spot for photography.  Everyone rides slow so they can stop to take pictures.

Since I was starving, I stopped at a local seafood restaurant near the bike rental shop.  I couldn’t speak much Hangul but I was able to place an order.  They whipped me up some spicy crab and muscle stew which tasted amazing.  For dessert, I decided to try the peanut ice cream that Udo is famous for.  They placed two adorable teddy bear crackers on it too.  The salty and sweet combination makes it worthy of all the praise that it gets.  You can find this food literally all over the island and it’s much cheaper than food in Seoul.

Finally feeling full, I decided to make my way down to the beaches.  Gwakji Beach and Hamdeok Beach were my two personal favorites.  Both can be reached via e-bike in less than 30 minutes and are found on the north side.  Exploring these beaches can take up to an hour.  I came here in late April so it was a bit cold to swim but the weather was near perfect.  Korea’s weather is similar to Japan’s but is slightly more mild.

Besides the swimming and biking, there are many other exciting things to do on Udo.  You can go horseback riding for a short time if you talk to someone near the stables.  If you like art, most of the buildings are painted in bright colors and there are murals all over the island.  The food here never disappoints.  The octopus-shaped bread I tried was filled with cheese and absolutely amazing.  Just the  atmosphere of being on a small beach island is awesome too.  I enjoyed walking inside the the giant shells that were near the pier and also petting the store owner’s dogs.  Everyone here is extremely friendly so you don’t have to worry about the language barrier.

On my way back to return my e-bike, I stumbled upon one of the best DJ booth turned ice cream shop ever.  The chef was spinning some fresh island beats as he was whipping up ice cream.  This was an extremely rare vibe that I was not expecting:

The store Udo Prince Story (우도왕자이야기) has both phenomenal food and music. If you come all the way out here, be sure not to miss out. This was the best instant dance party I ran into here and was the perfect way to end my day trip.

After an exciting first day in Udo, I rode the ferry back to the main island where my accommodation “GreenDay” was.  There are a few hotels on Udo, but there is much more selection and nightlife on the main island of Jeju.

I chose GreenDay because I thought the name was hilarious and the dorms are only $15 per night.  I couldn’t pass up staying in this colorful little house:

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Taking a “Holiday” at GreenDay.

GreenDay Address: 251-9 Samdoi-dong, Jeju-si, Jeju-do, South Korea

Udo Access

I took a cheap taxi to Seongsan Port, then a 15 minute ferry to reach the island.  The ferry ticket is only $10 one way.  Please see the Udo Ferry Time Table for reference.

In my next article, I will be talking about some of the quirky museums that I explored.  Please stay tuned for more!

 

Kanazawa: The City of Gold and Miraculous Wonder

People always ask me what my favorite place to visit outside of Tokyo is—and though it’s extremely hard to for me to choose because there’s simply so many—one of my favorite destinations of all time is Kanazawa.  Kanazawa is the capital city of Ishikawa prefecture and is known for its famous seafood market, historical buildings including samurai houses, and brilliant gold architecture.  It has a rustic charm that is similar to Kyoto, but is far less touristy and is surrounded by the beautiful sea.

Kanazawa is also the birthplace of famous musical artist Nakata Yasutaka (producer of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, capsule, and Perfume), who created his own indie music festival called OTONOKO that was held once a year from 2016-2018 (it currently if unknown when it will be held again).  The festival attracted around 200-300 people and created a close community of music lovers that had traveled from all over Japan.  It’s one of the best music festivals I’ve ever been to in Japan because it features both the experienced artists of ASOBISYSTEM and the new and upcoming talents too.  I was happy to share this experience with many friends I had met at his previous music events held in Tokyo and other cities as well as explore the famous capital that is his hometown.  There is so much to do in Kanazawa outside of the festival too!

Here’s a list I’ve compiled of all of my favorite places in Kanazawa.  You can easily spend 3 full days doing things here:

Kanazawa Castle & Kenrokuen

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Kanazawa Castle is one of my all-time favorite castles in Japan and is located right next to the famous Japanese garden Kenrokuen.  This castle is massive compared to other ones I’ve visited and you can tell a lot of detail was put its re-construction after in caught on fire in the 1600s.  I first came here in the winter when a light layer of snow had piled on top of the castle’s roof and it was extremely aesthetic.  I was glad that it was one of the first places I had visited because it’s a huge part of the city’s history.

Strolling through Kenrokuen and listening to all of my favorite music was also a huge pleasure.  It’s considered one of Japan’s “three most beautiful landscape gardens” and is the best garden of Kanazawa so you should definitely check it out if you’re here.

The castle is free to enter, and Kenrokuen’s admission is 320 yen.

21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art

I recently wrote an article on the The Top 3 Most Innovative Art & Technology Museums I’ve Been to in Asia, and the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art is my top pick.

What you see here might just be my favorite exhibition in the world.  The image of the pool looks like some kind of mirage or frozen frame from a vaporwave music video, but there are actually living, breathing people going about their daily routines under the waters of this pool.  You can even “dive in” and join them—but you can’t jump or use the ladder.  Instead you must reach the underwater zone from another entrance (which can easily be found by following the signs).  In addition to the pool, there are various rooms with simulations you can enter.

This museum is an important part of Kanazawa’s culture because it draws a large number of people to the city.  Its design is very modern but somehow fits in the center of Kanazawa’s historic streets because it has a beautiful outdoor park and is near the Kenrokuen Garden.  The outside of the museum has free exhibits you can see as well.

The entrance fee is 360 yen for temporary exhibitions (some exhibits are free).

Golden Ice Cream & Sake

Since Kanazawa is the city of gold, you can find all sorts of golden souvenirs here.  The golden ice cream is by far the most famous (and delicious too).  At a confectionery shop called Hakuichi, you can savor the best gold-leaf ice cream in Japan.  I went during October one year and they added an edible ghost topping too!  The gold sake is also something I bought back for home.  It tastes just like any other sake but the gold flakes inside make it look like a glittery snow globe.  My friends joke that I have eaten more gold than anyone they know, and that very well may be true.

Omicho Fish Market

The Omicho Fish Market is where you’ll find some of the freshest seafood in mainland Japan.  Kanazawa is most famous for crab, but you can find almost any other kind of fish imaginable.  My personal favorites were Kaisen Maruhidon (rice bowls with mountains of seafood on top) and the tiny servings of sea urchin sold in the stalls outside.  Most restaurants will gladly customize your orders for you and there are amazing sushi restaurants here as well.

One of my favorite memories was when Nakata Yasutaka’s first solo album Digital Native was announced the night before the festival, so my friend and I split a crab then ordered a pitcher of sangria from a restaurant below the station in celebration.  A waiter peeled a fresh avacado for us too, but I don’t actually remember what we ordered in last photo…  That just goes to show how much fun I had here!

Higashi Chaya District

The Higashi Chaya District of Kanazawa is where some of the traditional teahouses and upscale ryokan are located so it’s one of the prettiest parts of the city.  There are also cafes, souvenir shops, and a lot of interesting architecture here.  It’s a lot similar to Kyoto’s Gion district but the crowds are more evenly distributed.  I love the winding streets and also the liveliness here.  Everything seems like it was built to perfection.

I highly recommend checking out the Nomura Clan Samurai Home here because it has unique artifacts and a beautiful home garden.  The Godburger is also a nice meme.  Although haven’t eaten there yet, it’s definitely on my bucket list.

Piano of Memories (思い出ピアノ)

As I was walking underneath Kanazawa Station, I noticed a really interesting exhibit.  Here sat an ordinary piano that anyone could walk up to and play but it had an interesting concept.  People could upload videos with the hashtag “sharepiano” for others to listen to online.  I uploaded this video I took to Twitter and the pianist actually found it and was happy I captured this moment!

Kanazawa is a popular destination for both foreign and domestic tourists, but it’s spread out enough so that things like this can be heard and appreciated.

Hotsprings, Hotels, & Other Recommendations

When I first came to Kanazawa, I didn’t have a lot of money so I decided to stay at a hostel called Good Neighbors Hostel (now called Off) near the station for around 2500 yen a night.  The 2nd time I stayed at Neighbors Inn (owned by the same people) for around the same price.  Both were extremely memorable times.

The first time I met a Perfume fan from Hong Kong who had awesome stickers of all the idols on his laptop.  We became good friends during the duration of the festival and the hostel had a Death Note-inspired “Guest Note” that we wrote in (fortunately no one died).  The second time the hostel had a ball pit so I took hilarious photos of myself pregaming in it.  I always have the best time staying in this city no matter where I am.

If hostels aren’t your style, you can find a variety of cheap hotels on websites like Booking.  Additionally, if you are looking for a day hot spring I recommend Terume Kanazawa.  The admission fee is only 1100 yen.

The official after party for the festival was held at an event space called Double with two floors (one bar floor and one music floor).  It is here where the strong gather and continue to party until down.  In 2018 I managed to meet Nakata-san before he left and get me T-shirt signed.  It was on my birthday weekend so it made it extremely special:

Here is a shot of the after-party I recorded in 2018.  It truly was a time to be alive and I hope to go again if it resumes in the future:

Access

From Tokyo Station, take the Hokuriku-Shinkansen towards Kanazawa.  This takes approximately 3 hours and costs 15,000 yen one way.  Nakata Yasutaka actually designed the shinkansen departure melody for this train so it’s extremely special!

You can also fly to Komatsu Airport and take a bus to Kanazawa Station which may be cheaper unless you have the JR Rail Pass.

If you are interested in other day trips from Kanazawa, please see my Shirakawago article.

Noteworthy Spots in Hamamatsu City (Shizuoka, Japan)

Last month I wrote about my aesthetic adventures to the Capybara Zoo and Planet Cafe, but here are some other noteworthy spots in Hamamatsu that are worth checking out.  If you go to Shizuoka Prefecture, you should definitely try the eel here because it’s some of the best in Japan.  In addition to that, there is also a tiny fantasy-themed village you can explore.  I’ve only been to Hamamatsu twice for music events, but I ended up stumbling into a lot of cool things on my journey.

Eel Eateries

As soon as I arrived at Hamamatsu Station, I immediately decided to go to an eel restaurant so I could finally try this city’s prized food.  I chose a small shop called 八百徳 that was about a 3 min walk from the station because they had a set meal for a nice value.  Cooked eel has a nice texture and is rich in protein so it’s a fit choice for an adventurer.  I ordered the main unagi set served with rice, a side of vegetables, and miso soup which was delicious.  You can eat eel all over Japan, but you can tell by the exquisite taste that they are farmed to perfection here.  Most eel sets will cost 1500 ~ 2700 yen here but is worth it in my opinion.

For those that are up for fishing, there is a lake in Kosai City where you can catch them yourself!  I have not been to this place, but it is somewhere I will consider traveling to in the future if I come back here again.

Nukumori Village

This fairy-like village nestled in a forest was designed by famous architect Shigeyoshi Sasaki and feels like something straight out of a Miyazaki movie!  Originally Nukumori Village was a furniture workshop, but due to its beautiful European architecture it has attracted a lot of people and expanded.  You can find small boutiques, restaurants, museums, and other aesthetic designs here.  I enjoyed walking through the miniature houses with stained-glass windows and taking photos of them.  There is an owl cafe called “Warmth of Owl here as well (I didn’t go but found it interesting).  Despite it being a tourist destination, I arrived around 2pm and found that it was serene and quiet.  It felt like less of a tourist trap and more of a relaxing day trip from the city to me.

Admission Fee: 400 yen
Please see Hamamatsu’s Tourism Website for a complete guide.

Unagi Pie Factory

From the crafty eel-shaped banisters to the one-of-a-kind unagi pie ice cream dessert served at the cafe here, this eel pie factory is truly a gem.  Here you can learn all about the process of eel pie baking and buy some fancy souvenirs for your friends (I handed out several to my friends at the club).  What exactly makes up an eel pie, you ask?

According Hamamatsu’s Tourism Website:

“Eel extract, garlic and other such flavorings are blended together with carefully-selected fresh butter to make the confection.”

The description sounds a bit fishy, but I can confirm that all of the samples I tried tasted like salted butter cookies.  In other words: Eel Pie is absolutely delicious (especially with ice cream)!  You can buy eel pie at various souvenir shops in Shizuoka, but coming to the factory is the best experience because you can order it fresh at the cafe.  As someone who loves weird food, I simply could not pass this opportunity up.

Please note that the factory is a bit far from the main city, but you can take a taxi or walk 18 mins here from Okubo Bus Stop via city bus.

Chillwood Bar

My friend and I were looking for a place to pregame before an event at Planet Cafe and stumbled upon a place called Chillwood Bar not far from the station.  Not only is this bar cozy with a wide range of cocktails and bottles of wine, but the owner looks and acts just like Sojiro from Persona 5.  We had some real-life anime going on here.  I ordered a sakura fizz cocktail and my friend and I split a bottle of wine.  Everyone was very friendly and asked me various questions about my life and travels in Japan.  I was more than happy to share my experiences with them since the alcohol was flowing.  I am glad to have made this website [Resurface to Reality] so I archive these memories and continue to create more.

Journey to Amanohashidate: Kyoto’s Picturesque Sandbar

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View of Amanohashidate from Kasamatsu Park’s ropeway.

Due to the abrupt school closure and cancellation of public events put into effect by the Japanese government as prevention of the Corona Virus spread last week, I suddenly found myself with an abundance of free time.  Not wanting to waste this newfound freedom, I decided to hit up my friends in Kansai and see what the situation was like in the west.  As predicted, they informed me that there were noticeably less tourists around Kyoto and the prices of hotels had dropped drastically.  This was my chance!  Avoiding the public areas where the usual masses occupy (and now an increase of students too), I set my sights on a remote sandbar located in northern Kyoto: Amanohashidate.

If you follow my adventures, you’ll know that I went to Amanohashidate last year after Nanoboro Festa in August (see An Eerily Beautiful Beach in Northern Kyoto).  However, because I visited the fishing village of Ine first that day, it was already dark when I reached Amanohashidate and I could only take pictures of the highly aesthetic neon-colored beach.  It was definitely worth the trip, but this time I wanted to arrive during the day time so I could take pictures from the top of the ropeway.  The ropeway is at the north end of the sandbar located in Kasamatsu Park, so you must arrive before 5pm if you want to get to the top.  Fortunately I made it there early and managed to take a lot of awesome photos!

I arrived at Amanohashidate Station from Kyoto Station around 2pm and decided to walk on the beach for a while.  It was windy and a bit chilly, but the coast was still beautiful to see because the sun was out.  All shops still seemed to be in operation here, and it was easy to ask people at the tourist center for directions.  A few Japanese tourists were here in addition to myself, but the numbers were considerably less than the summer.  I was happy because that meant I had the optimal photo opportunity.  I found it funny how Amanohashidate has an anime girl personification in addition to a cute pinecone mascot!

For lunch I grabbed a kani meshi (krab rice) bento and a small selection of sushi from Kyoto Station.  See my Tentacle Bento Article for more information about the best on-the-go lunches in Kyoto.  In addition to octopus, crab here is also amazing (sorry, Mr. Krabs)!

To cross the sandbar, you can either rent a bike for 200 yen/2 hours and ride 20 mins to the other side, or take a boat ride for 600 yen and cross it in 10 mins (from the Amanohashidate Official Tourism website).  I’m normally a biker, but since it was windy I opted for the boat ride.  A family and their dog joined me so I wasn’t alone.  Kasamatsu Park is just a short walk from Ichinomiya Pier and the chair lift is very fun to ride.

Here is footage from my GoPro of the sandbar and the chairlift.  It’s really amazing to see how big Kyoto is:

At the souvenir shop at the top of the mountain I found some nice oddities.  The pinecone nuts were very interesting, and even more so were the pastries with a design of a person staring at you while bent over.  Apparently this is the pose many people use in their photos with the sandbar when they reach the top.  I guess it looks cool because you can see the sandbar inbetween your legs but… why?  Stay weird, Japan.

After riding back down the chairlift, I spent my remaining time on the beach as planned.  I highly recommend coming here in the summer if you have time because it gives you some of the best views of Kyoto.  I would like to come in the summer again and attempt to go swimming here!

Access

Monju, Miyazu, Kyoto 626-0001 (from Amanohashidate Station)

Directions: From Kyoto Station, take the Hashidate Limited Express 5 towards Toyo-Oka.  This costs around 5000 yen but it has the fewest transfers and will get you there in 2 hours.  The express train also has an antique vibe to it and is fun to see.

I will be writing about fun places in Kansai as well as the all you can drink capsule hotel I found in central Kyoto next.  The fear of the virus has not stopped my traveling or events organized by my friends even though large scale events such as Anime Japan have been cancelled.  Please remember that it’s safe to travel in Japan if you continually wash your hands, use sanitizer, and practice good hygeine.

Grand Adventures in Busan: Daewangam Park, Gamcheon Culture Village, and Jagalchi Market (Part 2)

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Shenanigans in the colorful Gamcheon Culture Village.

After missing the last bus to my hostel and staying by myself at a love hotel in Busan, I decided to make my way to the colorful Gamcheon Culture Village which is consists of historic houses and beautiful murals with awe-inspiring messages.  Originally in the 1950s this was a place where Korean refugees fled in South Korea, and the area was extremely undeveloped.  Now it has transformed into a beautiful place full of art and culture (hence the name).  Nicknamed the “Machu Picchu of Busan” this coastal village is the perfect place for a relaxing day of sightseeing.  There are a number of people that reside in the village as well, so tourists are asked to be respectful of houses outside of the map.

I decided to take a taxi to Gamcheon from my hostel, but Prepare Travel Plans has a good list of alternative ways to get here from Busan.  When I arrived to the village, I felt as if I had stepped into a storybook!  In fact, some of the stairs were painted with book titles.  It’s quite easy to get lost here because the buildings are extremely condensed, but I fortunately figured out my way around here by using the colored guideposts and English map from the tourist association.

I discovered a ton of interesting sights here like poop-flavored desserts, a statue from “The Little Prince”, animal-shaped dumplings, trick-eye art murals, locks that you can buy and wish for love with your partner, cotton candy cloud coffee, and all sorts of street food that was being sold in the alley.  If you buy a map (they are really cheap), then you can participate in a stamp rally that will guide you to all of the major sightseeing spots of the village.  I actually got lost at one point, but an elderly man pointed me in the right direction (even though we didn’t speak one another’s language).  It was extremely pleasant wandering through this town, and I am glad to see that it has turned into a source of happiness for people now.  The tourism here really does help the village, which is why I argue that visiting touristy places isn’t always a bad thing.

After a very colorful day, I decided to head back to central Busan and visit the Jagalchi Market which is very easy to get to because it’s in the heart of the city.  I recently watched Black Panther where part of the movie was filmed here, and it brought back so many memories!  I went late at night when not as many places were open, but I managed to find an amazing place that served me raw octopus:

It’s truly amazing seeing the large variety of seafood that is available.  You can select your food from the tank outside of the restaurant or you can ask them to choose for you.  I managed to break the language barrier by pointing at the octopus I wanted, and also used my translation app to order.  I noticed that outside of Seoul that not many Koreans speak English unless they have a reason to (such as an international career), but I still was able to get around find.  Busan is a very relaxing city compared to most found in Japan.  Tokyo is still my favorite city in the world, but I enjoyed experiencing life here.

I stayed here for only 2 days because I was short on time, but I recommend that people stay here for at least 3-4 days so they can see everything that this city has to experience.  There are a number of interesting parks and museums in Busan as well.  I will be publishing the rest of my adventures in Korea in the near future!

Eating Live Octopus in Seoul

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Sannakji (산낙지): Live octopus from a local shop in Sinsa, Seoul.

Since I’m staying in Seoul for the next few days, I decided to be adventurous and try some wriggling live octopus (called sannakji).  I’ve eaten octopus sashimi in Japan many times and enjoy pairing it with soy sauce and wasabi, but the experience in South Korea is a bit different.  Instead of thinly slicing the octopus like in Japan, here they carefully cut the tentacles into smaller bite-sized pieces and give you special spicy sauce to eat it with.  Taste-wise I prefer spicy seafood, but texture-wise I prefer my octopus to be thinly cut so it’s easy to chew.  Though the tentacles were slippery and difficult to pick up with chopsticks, I managed to almost finish the entire plate!

The octopus is selected from a tank outside and takes about 10 minutes to prepare depending on how busy the restaurant is.  This dish is safe to eat when it is served to you, but due to the complex system of neurons in each tentacle, they still wriggle a bit even when they have been severed from the octopus’s body.  If you really enjoy seafood (especially in Asia), then this is something you should try!

Pro Soy Crab is a popular restaurant where people in Seoul go to eat crab and octopus, but I chose to eat at a local shop nearby that had a Japanese menu.  Sannakji is called “生きているテナガダコ” in Japanese, so you can also try looking that up (I cannot read hangal, so I rely on my Japanese skills here).  Earlier this year I ate Dancing Squid in Hakodate, so if you are interested in other seafood adventures, please look at my post here!

Backpacking through Canal City (Otaru, Japan)

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I’ve never been to Hokkaido in the summer, but since it’s the only main island of Japan where I haven’t gone swimming yet, I figured I’d explore one of the port towns over the weekend.  The advantage to coming to this island in the summer is there is a lot of flower farms in bloom, the weather is near perfect, and there’s tons of fresh ice cream everywhere!  Well, actually there’s ice cream here year-round since Hokkaido is known for its dairy, but this is the optimum weather for it.

I took a discount flight through Jetstar by booking it a few months in advance from Tokyo to New Chitose Airport, then took the express train from there to reach Otaru.  Otaru is a historic port town with amazing seafood and ice cream.  Almost all of the major attractions are within walking distance from the main station, and it has a very bubbly shopping street.  There are a number of landmarks and famous buildings, as well as the relaxing stroll down canal street!

I started my trip with a stop at Popura Farm Otaru to try their famous melon bowl ice cream.  It did not disappoint.  With newfound energy I wandered to the canal street for some photography.  It truly looks like something out of a Venetian movie!  They offer boat rides here, but since I was trying to steer away from crowds, I opted not to go.  Being in this pleasant weather was sure relaxing though.

Next I traveled to the shopping street right down the road and saw some interesting shops!  You could buy almost anything here: crab buns, green tea, music boxes, sushi, Sniw Miku goods, art, and more.  They also had Peanuts and Hello Kitty themed  restaurants.  What a happening place.  My favorite shop here was LeTAO, because they were giving amazing free samples of cheese cake and cookies here.  Shops on this street close around 7pm, so be sure to come early so you can see everything.

At the end of this street was a very unique music box museum!  They had adorable sushi cake music boxes for sale, as well as the Orpheus music box you could see (not for sale), which is one of the oldest and most famous in Japan.  Although the first floor was a bit of a tourist trap with nothing but souvenirs on the tables, the upper floors had a lot of rare music boxes and were exciting to see.  This museum is very small but has a homey feel.

Afterwards I decided it was time to go to the beach!  The weather was perfect and I was in an elevated mood that comes with traveling to a new place.  I grabbed my swimsuit and took a local bus to to Higashi Otaru Beach, which was one of the closest swimming beaches to Otaru Station.  From the photos and reviews on Google Maps, it looked like quite the promising place for a swim.  However, I was quite disappointed its overall condition and how small the swimming area was.

This beach is right next to the railroad tracks, so you need to walk a long distance down the side of a highway to get to an area where it’s safe to cross.  When I finally got there I noticed the sand was very rough, and there was litter on the beach.  I tried to go swimming but I couldn’t get far–there were a lot of rocks and it just didn’t live up to my previous expectations for it.  Instead, I decided to make up for it by drinking two mini bottles of wine that I had stored in my backpack and relaxed for a while.  This was the first time that I’ve been disappointed by a beach in Japan, but I wasn’t about to let it ruin my trip.  I found a rock to sit on and gazed at the beautiful horizon while I rested.  From this point of view, it looked like a stunning beach:

Not wanting to accept disappointment, I decided to make my way back to the central city and find a hotspring.  Except I was slightly buzzed and couldn’t find the bus stop.  I decided to walk on the side of the highway until I found a taxi.  But I was on the wrong side of the road.  How to cross… That’s when the free shuttle to Otaru Kourakuen miraculously arrived and stopped for me.  I decided that’s where I was going next!  Adorable otters greeted me at the door, and a dip in the hot springs was exactly what I needed to regain my spirit.  I was back again!  Back from disappointment.

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I owe my life to this hotspring.

Afterwards, it was getting to be dusk so I decided to make my way back to the center of the city and grab dinner.  I decided on a seafood place near the melon ice cream restaurant and ordered some delicious crab leg avocado sushi.  If you’re going to try seafood, Hokkaido is the place to do it!

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It looks American!

Feeling extremely satisfied I decided to make my way back to Sapporo where I was staying, just because it has cheaper guesthouse options.  I had a very good time here in Otaru though!  After living in Tokyo for over three years, I am always glad to spend my time in the scenic countryside.