Touring Komodo Island and Swimming with Manta Rays

A fearless Komodo Dragon basks in the sunlight on the beaches of Komodo National Park in Indonesia.

After spending four days in central Ubud and seeing temples and beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Sites, I decided to fly to Komodo Island so I could see these majestic dragons in their natural habitat. Komodo Dragons are native to Indonesia and prefer extremely dry climates. They are found on four islands including Komodo, Rinca, Flores, and Gili Montang. Komodo Dragons are capable of running very fast and are highly venomous, so if you want to see them it’s always recommended to go with a local guide or on a tour. I booked a day tour that stopped at the highlights of Padar Island and Komodo National Park through EventBrite for $84. This tour included hiking, swimming at a Pink Beach, a tour through Komodo National Park, and snorkeling with Manta Rays so I think it was extremely worth the price. I was absolutely exhausted at the end of the tour, but grateful that I had the chance to see so many rare sites.

Getting to Komodo Island

From Denpasar Airport in central Bali, I booked a roundtrip ticket to Labuan Bajo Airport on Komodo Island through Lion Air for $115. This is the average price of tickets to the island from Bali so it wasn’t a bad deal.

You can also take a multiple day boat tour here from Lombok, but some of the tours have mixed reviews due to the quality of the accommodations on the ship. These tours allow you to see more locations where Komodo Dragons live, however, and can sometimes be a better bargain.

Expect to stay on Komodo Island for at least 3 days since hotel pickup for the Komodo National Park tours start before 6am and end in the evening. I found my stay to be extremely relaxing and loved how gorgeous the island was. I would highly recommend coming here if you love adventure!

Trekking through Padar Island

My guide picked me up around 6am and took me to the pier where I met up with my tour group on a speedboat. Our first stop of the tour was Padar Island, which is a rocky island in the Komodo archipelago with beautiful mountains and lush scenery. Hiking to the top of the hills gives you a beautiful view of the ocean and surrounding islands. What’s unique about Padar Island is that although there is wildlife there, no people live on the island which is why its nature is so pristine and clear. Though hiking to the top definitely left me in a sweat, the view was worth it!

Swimming at Pink Beach

The next stop of the tour was Pink Beach, which had been on my bucket list for the longest time. Though many people argue if the sand on the beach is actually pink or edited in photos, I can confirm that it here really did look pink here! You can especially see the bright pink color when the waves soak the sand.

But how do pink beaches get their color? According to The World Travel Guy:

Pink beaches apparently get their color from foraminifera, which are microscopic red organisms that live in the coral reefs and get washed up on the beach.

The World Travel Guy

Not only was the pink color visible on the beach, but you can also see traces of it when you go snorkeling in the water. I would highly recommend coming here even if you don’t want to go on the full tour, because traveling to a pink beach is a once in a lifetime experience!

Touring Komodo National Park

Our next stop was the main event: Komodo National Park. There are around 3000 Komodo Dragons residing on this island, but unfortunately during our tour we only saw a few of them lounging on the beach. The tour featured two main locations: the beachfront near the pier and a trek on a paved path through the jungle. Though Komodo Dragons are usually active during the day, many of them hide away in the jungle of this island because they do not particularly like humans. But rest assured, this tour is not invasive to their home and the guide will help you safely approach and interact with the dragons. During the trek we saw one Komodo nest which looked like a huge hill on the ground. We learned that Komodo dragons sometimes eat their young which just adds to their infamous legend. Though I was a bit sad we didn’t see more of them, I was happy to see the ones on the beach because they are such rare reptiles.

There are other multiple day trips that you can book online that specifically focus on seeing the dragons, but I liked this tour the best because it stopped at so many different locations in one day.

Swimming with Manta Rays

The last two activities on our tour were snorkeling at Kanawa Island and a dive spot where several giant Manta Rays live. I have swam with smaller Manta Rays on the Big Island of Hawaii, but this was my first time swimming with them in Asia. I actually liked this dive spot better than the Hawaii one because they were much bigger and there was more room to swim. Seeing them up close is an experience that I will never forget! Manta Rays make great snorkeling buddies because they are so friendly. Your guide will help you take pictures and videos if you have an underwater camera.

Recommended Food & Drink

The first place I tried was Happy Banana Komodo, which is a sushi place with vegan options downtown. This was my first time trying sushi in Indonesia so I was very excited to go! I tried two of their rolls that featured avocado and mayo, and also their vegan tofu katsu nigiri. Overall the taste of the sushi was similar to American sushi, but the texture of the wasabi and ginger was a bit off compared to Japan. Despite that, this is one of the best restaurants on the island due to their variety of dishes so I would recommend it.

Komodough is a cute little bakery downtown that had the best pun on the island. Here you can buy fresh loaves of bread to take with you on your travels, coffee, and adorable little pastries. I enjoyed drinking avocado coffee (not pictured because I drank it so fast) and also trying some of their bread. This is a great place to come in the morning for a light breakfast and also at night for a small snack. Overall, I love the business they are doing here and how accommodating they are being open during the morning through the evening.

A new restaurant and cocktail bar had just opened when I arrived on the island, so I decided to check it out. Copper Bonnet Bistro & Bar features fancy craft cocktails and entrees, and was definitely one of the most upscale places that I found on the island. I ordered two cocktails; one that simulated the salty taste of sushi with a piece of nori pinned to the glass, and one that tasted likely bubbly rose and cream. Both were the most original cocktails that I tried in Indonesia, so I highly recommend this place to all who love fine drinks.

Accommodation

I stayed at Bayview Gardens Hotel which had free breakfast and an infinity pool with astonishing views of the bay! Rooms are around $60 per night, but the stay includes breakfast and is in a central location so you can walk to bars and other places easily. Komodo Island has a lot of wonderful accommodations for travelers, but I liked this one because it was extremely quiet and the rooms were top quality. Absolutely perfect for resting after a long day.

Thank you for reading the last article in my Indonesia series! My next big trip will be to Europe in April, but until then I hope to keep writing about fun attractions in Japan. Happy holidays and thank you for keeping up with my travels.

Visiting the top UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Bali and Nusa Penida

Waves crash against the rocks of Tanah Lot—the most beautiful seaside temple in Bali.

After exploring central Ubud and Canggu, I planned to see the most beautiful temples, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and sightseeing spots of Bali (such as the rice terraces and jungle swings) over the next three days. I also took a day trip to Nusa Penida for hiking and photography during this time. This article will review three different tours I booked for the purpose of covering as much ground as possible. Of course you can go to all of these places without a guide, but with heavy traffic and wait times, it’s best to go with someone local because they can help you avoid these things and also teach you more about the historythe locations that you’re seeing. I would recommend staying at least three – five days in central Bali so you have enough time to see all of these beautiful places. Depending on how adventurous you are, there are a number of things you can try on your trip.

Bali Instagram Highlights Tour

Perhaps the #1 tour I was looking forward to was the Full-Day Instagram Highlights Tour from GetYourGuide! This tour was around $50 and takes you to Tegallalang Rice Terrace, Tukad Cepung Waterfall, Tirta Gangga, and Lempuyang Temple (also known as the “Gates of Heaven”). I enjoyed seeing the main highlights of Bali and learning about the history of them with a local guide. The group consisted of just me and one other person so I really lucked out!

Tegallalang Rice Terrace is in north Bali and features beautifully arranged paddies with zip lines, jungle swings, and human-sized bird’s nests that you can pose in. I enjoyed hiking around this area and taking pictures of the luscious greenery here. Afterwards, we stopped at a roastery where you can try interesting flavors like avocado and coconut coffee. We also learned about the Asian palm civet, which is an animal that eats ripe coffee cherries and poops coffee beans that can be turned into luxurious coffee. What a wonderous place that Bali is!

The next destination was Tukad Cepung Waterfall. There are actually multiple waterfalls that you can see here which makes it a pretty exciting hike. I enjoyed getting in the water and being up close to them because it made me feel one with nature.

After traveling into the mountains a bit, we stopped at a restaurant that had a giant jungle swing and had lunch (I was full from my floating breakfast so I just had an avocado smoothie). Swinging on the jungle swing was a thrilling experience that felt a bit like riding on a roller coaster. I enjoyed the thrill of soaring over the surrounding rice terraces! The swing can reach quite high heights so the staff will strap you in safely in order to keep your balance and not fall off. Though a bit frightening, I definitely enjoyed the thrill of the ride!

After lunch we went to Tirta Gangga, which is a water palace with stepping stones, large fountains, and plenty of hungry koi fish. Our guide bought us fish feed so we could help satisfy their hunger. Though it was very crowded here, I loved walking around the maze of beautiful pools here. We also saw a fruit bat hanging from a tree around the entrance of this area. I was surprised to see one around during the day, but it seemed like it was used to people here.

Our final destination was the Gates of Heaven, which is one of Bali’s oldest temples near Mt. Agung. Though it was not an overly popular tourist destination at first according to our guide, it became popular over the years due to its magical “reflection” over what seems like a body of water in various photography. However, upon arriving at this temple I realized that this reflection is produced by cameramen at the temple holding a piece of glass under your phone while taking the photo—the temple actually doesn’t have any reflective properties around it.

In order to get your picture taken at the gates, you need to queue in a line for about 3-5 hours, but you can sit under a shaded area until your number is called. Some bloggers have criticized this tourist attraction for being a waste of time due to the illusion, but I still think the Gates of Heaven are worth seeing. The architecture and the scenery of the surrounding mountains is breathtaking, and I was very happy with how my photo turned out.

Overall this tour was a great intro to all of Bali’s main highlights and I am very happy with all of the photography I got to do.

Nusa Penida Tour

Gazing at the cliffs of the giant T-Rex rock formation at Kelingking Beach.

On my second day in Ubud, I decided to take a day trip to Nusa Penida which is a nearby island that has a lot of interesting natural rock formations and beaches. I booked my Nusa Penida tour through GetYourGuide with hotel pickup for around $85. After taking an hour long ferry ride to the island, you will first stop at the T-Rex rock formation at Kelingking Beach. I really enjoyed seeing this rock formation because you get to climb down stairs on the T-Rex’s back that lead to a hidden beach.

Next we stopped at Broken Beach and Angel’s Billabong, which you can also go for a swim at. Broken Beach has a picturesque arch that leads to the ocean, so it’s a popular spot for photography. Angel’s Billabong is a natural infinity pool with emerald waters between rock cliffs which makes it another popular place for photography. If you decide to go swimming here, please be careful of the tides because there have been numerous causalities here. Our group did not go swimming here, but we did marvel at how beautiful the water was.

Our final destination was Crystal Bay Beach, where I spent two hours swimming in its beautiful blue waters and also grabbed lunch. I had a spicy type of noodle soup with eggs and vegetables. Crystal Bay Beach was nice, but I wish we could have spent a bit of more time at the other destinations. However, Nusa Penida is always scorching hot so it was nice to be in the water. Hiking here was a bit difficult due to the extreme heat but I still enjoyed the island.

Though this tour mostly focused on the beach, I had a ton of fun seeing all of the cool landmarks here. Due to the narrow and bumpy roads of Nusa Penida, I highly recommend going with a guide instead of going by yourself. Your guide can also tell you what places are best to swim at on the day you visit based on the tides.

UNESCO World Heritage Tour

On my final full day in Bali, I decided to book the Bali UNESCO World Heritage Sites tour through GetYouGuide so I could see some more temples and beautiful places. This tour costs around $25 which is truly a steal for everything you can see. The tour first stops at Pura Taman Ayun, which is a gorgeous temple with a moat, distinctive gates, and several barong that you can see up close. The barong is a mythological creatures that resembles a panther with beady eyes and is said to bring good luck. I enjoyed seeing how cute they were!

We next stopped at the Jatiluwih rice terraces where we went for a short hike. These rice terraces are actually the largest in Bali which were awesome to see. Then we went to the nearby Ulun Danu Beratan Temple which is a huge temple complex near the lake. I loved seeing the bright flowers that grew here, the winding paths, and all of the unique floating structures of the temple. There is also mini petting zoo that is part of the complex which I found to be amusing. It truly was surreal being in such a beautiful place in Bali.

The final destination of the tour was Tanah Lot, which is a beautiful seaside temple that has the perfect backdrop for photography. Surrounding the temple up the way are a number of shops restaurants where you can relax and watch the picture-perfect sunset. Unlike the Gates of Heaven, this image is no illusion! What I enjoyed the most is I didn’t feel rushed at all on this tour which is why I’d highly recommend it to those looking to experience Bali’s most historical sites. I’ll remember the burning image of this sunset for the rest of my life.

Recommended Food

Here are my top food recommendations in Ubud. The majority of cafes and restaurants have vegan options, so I was able to try a lot of food!

Since I am a lover of all things avocado, I decided to search for the most unique avocado dishes in Ubud. The first place I found was a cafe called Mudra where I ordered avocado, tomato, and beet hummus arranged beautifully on a breakfast entrée, and an avocado affogato to drink. Some people are confused at the idea of avocado and coffee together, but when blended into juice avocado actually goes well with it. I really loved the originality of all of the menu items here and would love to come back and try some more delicious food here again some time!

The avocado waffles with dried tomatoes, olives, and feta cheese are from a lovely vegan spot called Alchemy. This was my first time trying a non-dessert waffle, but I have to say I highly recommend it! Not only was it very healthy and filling, but I really enjoyed the was it was seasoned with a salad dressing that suited all of the ingredients. This place is open late so you can eat these waffles during any time of the day!

If you like Greek food, then I recommend stopping by OIA for some quality tapas. I ordered a Greek salad and pita bread with yogurt dip for dinner after one of my tours and it really hit the spot. For breakfast, I recommend going to Pukako Bisma because they have a lot of really good open sandwiches and coffee. I ordered mushrooms, tomatoes, and cheese on a piece of sourdough bread and was very satisfied with the quality of ingredients. For desert, I recommend Tukies Coconut Shop which is a chain all over Ubud. The coconut ice cream here tastes amazing and you can customize it with wafers and several different toppings.

The best spot that I found for drinking was called No Mas Bar. I ordered several fruity cocktails with with foam made from egg whites. The seasonal one with grapefruit liquor was probably my favorite, but honestly every craft cocktail on the menu looked like it was worth trying. The lemongrass sour was also pretty satisfying after all the sightseeing I did on this trip!

Thank you for reading my article on some of the most aesthetic places to visit in central Bali. In my next article, I will be talking about my trip to Komodo Island! Please look forward to it.

Experiencing the Wonders of Central Ubud & Canggu

Enjoying a fresh flower bath in Ubud!

After spending 4 days on the Gili Islands, I decided to make my way into the heart of Bali for the purpose of seeing temples and beautiful destinations. Two of the most popular places to stay in are Ubud and Canggu. Ubud very close to Bali’s famous rice terraces and jungles, plus has a palace and a large market making it a popular place for those looking to experience the cultural side of Bali. Canggu is close to the beach and has more of a wild nightlife, so it’s better for backpackers and travelers who want to mingle and do activities together. I spent the majority of my time in Ubud, but I recommend checking out both because they each have amazing food and places worth seeing.

This article will list some of my top recommendations in Ubud and Canguu, and my next article will cover my favorite temples and UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Flower Bath at Udaya’s Kaveri Spa

One super popular thing to do in Bali is take an aroma bath filled with arranged flowers that make beautiful designs. Since I live for photography, I decided to book an appointment through Udaya’s Kaveri Spa, which has a reputation of being one of the best spas in Ubud. Though normally expensive, I got a 50% off coupon through their website because there are always online deals. The bath was around $39 but completely worth it for the once in a lifetime experience. The aromas and salts they put in the bath left my skin feeling amazing.

One thing to be careful of is these flowers are fresh and will attract bugs, so I recommend taking a flower bath in an indoor spa versus outside. Overall this was a wonderful memory and I am so happy the kind staff helped me take such wonderful photos.

Staying at a Traditional Indonesia Resort

On my first night in Ubud, I thought it would be fun to stay in a traditional Indonesian resort so I booked a room for around $60 at a beautiful place called Gayatri. This resort is in the heart of Ubud near the palace and the market so it’s in an ideal location. I really enjoyed seeing the stone statues that decorated the outdoor garden and the beautiful designs and patterns on the doors of the bungalows. When I entered my room, I noticed the spelt “Hi :)” in flowers which I very much enjoyed. The service here is great, and you can also try a unique kind of breakfast here!

If you love aesthetic food, then one fun thing to try in Bali is ordering a floating breakfast! This meal is served on a huge basket so you can eat it in a hot tub or pool. It’s very relaxing and gives you more privacy than going to a restaurant or buffet for breakfast. Though people usually try it for the photo op rather than the taste of the breakfast itself, I genuinely thought that my floating breakfast that I reserved at Gayatri was delicious! My meal included an avocado jaffle (toast with smashed fruit in it), warm noodle soup, dragon fruit juice, and pot of tea. You can customize your order with many different options which makes it very fun. Most resorts with pools in Bali offer it so it’s relatively easy to find.

I will be listing more of my favorite food places in Ubud in my next article!

Exploring Canggu

Canggu is a popular place to stay in Bali because it’s close to the beach and has a lot of amazing bars and restaurants around. It has much more of a party atmosphere than Ubud does which was quite welcoming to me. There are a number of resorts in this area, but the majority of people that hang around here are backpackers and into fitness, surfing, and yoga. I mostly came here for the food, but I also made a number of friends at the pool bar of my hostel. In fact, the budget accommodation I stayed at called Kos One Hostel was actually the coolest hostel I had ever seen in my life because it had a beautiful pool with a waterslide. It truly felt like I was staying at a waterpark resort, and the dorm rooms were only around $25 per night!

Though I didn’t have a very long stay in Canggu due to time constraints, I definitely had a memorable one. If you are interested in learning how to surf or take cooking classes, this is a great place to be. Also if you’re unsure what you want to do but really want to mingle and make friends, I recommend staying here over Ubud because it’s easier to find parties and meet people. Regardless, you will have a great time in Canggu!

Recommended Food & Drink

The best spot I found for happy hour drinks was a restaurant called Canggu Garden, because all of their fanciest signature cocktails were half off between 3pm – 7pm. I tried an orange infused vodka cocktail, a chocolate cocktail with cream and syrup, and the house white sangria mixed with fruit. All of the drinks tasted phenomenal and were reasonably priced. If you like pizza and Italian entrees, than you’ll love the food here too!

Another place that I had to try was the Avocado Factory, which was located just down the street from Canggu Garden so it was perfect. There are a lot of interesting options on the menu, including avocado pancakes and an egg katsu sandwich infused with avocado, but I chose the avocado and salmon bowl with cream cheese. I loved the rice and the cream cheese was definitely a nice touch! I wish I had enough room in my stomach to try more here, but one dish is pretty filling.

The final place I recommend is Café Vida for their smoothie bowls. I love the design of their smoothie bowls because they use multiple colors to create interesting patterns. I ordered the dragon fruit bowl and was impressed with its carefully curated sunset design. I also savored the fresh coconut shavings and granola and nuts on top. This bowl wasn’t overly fruity compared to others I’ve had in Bali, but it was one of the best I’ve tried. There are also a large amount of vegan entrees here, so you really can’t go wrong with what you order.

Thank you for reading the latest article in my Bali series. In my next article, I will be detailing my recommended temples and UNESCO World Heritage Sites that are accessible from both Bali and Canggu. Please look forward to it!

Exploring the Gili Islands of Indonesia: Gili Meno & Gili Air

Freediving around the 48 underwater Gili Meno statues is definitely worth the view!

After spending two lovely nights on Gili Trawangan, I decided to check out the other two Gili Islands: Gili Meno and Gili Air. Gili Meno is a popular place for snorkeling and diving due to its underwater statues of couples embracing created by artist Jason deCaires Taylor. You can see sea turtles and tropical fish in the coral reefs around here. I decided to book a private day trip snorkeling with a local guide through my hotel so I could ride a motorboat to all the most scenic places around the island. The trip was well worth the money because it saved me a lot of time.

Gili Air is a popular backpacking destination due to its facilities and friendly atmosphere. I had fun staying at a hostel called Begadang and swimming in its mushroom-shaped pool. Overall Gili T is the most lively of the 3 islands, but Gili Meno and Gili Air have nicer beaches and are more relaxed. I made the most friends on Gili Air, but there are friendly people to be met on all of the islands. I would recommend visiting them all if you get the chance since they are so close in proximity.

Freediving at Gili Meno

I left Gili T around 8:30am and went on a short boat ride to Gili Meno Island. On the way there I learned that the underwater statues are made of a pH natural concrete that promotes the growth of coral reefs, and they are arranged in a circle to represent the circle of life. That’s pretty deep, and I’m not just talking about the water! They’re also based on casts of real people which is why they have a distinct shape. The current around them is quite strong, but it’s easy to dive between them for the sake of taking pictures and videos. Just be careful not to touch them because they are covered in a natural layer of bacteria that could infect your skin. I fortunately arrived at a time when there weren’t many people so I was able to take many amazing photos on my GoPro! I am very excited to see the coral reef that grows here in the future. These islands truly have a lot of potential.

The boat stopped at three snorkeling/diving points total including the statues, a deep spot where the giant sea turtles are, and another spot close to Gili Meno Beach. I was very lucky and swam next to a turtle that was coming to the surface for a breath of air! Out of all the places I’ve been to, including Hawaii, this is the best experience I’ve had seeing sea turtles. The underwater visibility of the Gili Islands was very clear compared to my experience in the Philippines, so I prefer diving here. I was lucky I came at a time when it was sunny and there were not many people around.

After completing my dive and meeting many nice underwater friends, I chilled on the beach for a bit and drank dragon fruit juice before heading back to Gili T. The advantage of booking this tour is that it only takes up half of a day, so you will have the full afternoon and evening to plan more activities. If you are short on time and can’t stay overnight on Gili Meno, this is a great way to see the best of its waters. My tour cost around $70 but was completely worth the money for everything I got to see.

Staying on Gili Air

The next day I took a short ferry ride to Gili Air from the port. The main reason I wanted to stay here was so I could swim and take pictures of the mushroom-shaped pool at Begadang! Begadang is a popular hostel for backpackers because rooms start at $14 and it’s close to the beach. I rented a private hut with its own shower for around $20 which was a steal. While I was here I mostly stayed at the pool and recharged my energy, but I did rent a bike and go around the island. A lot of Gili Air is just sandy beaches and palm trees which is relaxing to see. There also appears to be new buildings in construction.

After seeing the island’s beaches, I stopped at Dila Spa and had an amazing facial and massage. The manager showed me a few spots to drink on the island which was very kind of her. At night we went out to Queen Sunset bar for drinks and met a few people at a reggae party on the beach. The performers that night arrived on private boat from Gili Meno which was pretty wild. They were very talented and I was happy I had the chance to see them. According to locals, they practice their music on Gili Meno every night, so if you like reggae then you know where to go. The best way to find out what parties are going on is to ask people around your hotel, because events spread by word of mouth here.

Recommended Food & Drinks

The best restaurant that I went to on Gili Air was called Gili Bliss because all of the dishes were very cute and had edible flowers in them. I ordered a vegan wrap that was topped with a huge scoop of guacamole and a big dragon fruit smoothie bowl. I loved how generous the portion sizes were here, and also how the interior walls were painted pink. This place really had an aesthetic flare to it which I love to see!

The best drink I had on the island was a watermelon smoothie with a butterfly carved out of the fruit and placed on the edge of the glass. If you know me, then you know I love creative drinks that go the extra mile. You can find this drink and other delicious food at JUJU Zero Waste Store & Vegan Cafe.

The final place I recommend is Begadang’s cafe. They make a mean omelette and smoothie bowl and eating by the pool is extremely relaxing. Definitely check out Begadang even if you choose to stay in another accommodation because the vibes are off the charts here! You can always chill at the bar and find people to talk to about your travels.

Thank you for reading my article on the Gili Islands. In my next article, I will be detailing my trip to Ubud and Canggu for prime sightseeing. Please look forward to reading more from me soon!

Exploring the Gili Islands of Indonesia: Gili Trawangan

Gili Trawangan: A vibrant and tropical backpacking destination for those traveling to Indonesia!

It’s been a bit since my last article series, but I am happy to announce that I am starting my next entry right before the holidays! For the last two weeks I’ve been backpacking through Bali, Indonesia, with my sights set on free diving on several of its gorgeous surrounding islands. Like the Philippines, Indonesia is a country that I’ve had on my bucket list for years due to its beautiful landscapes and beaches. If you live in Asia, then you probably are aware that it’s a popular destination for backpackers and travelers wishing to take tropical vacations. Food and accommodations are affordable and it is possible to visit many places in a single visit. Instead of traveling to the mainland, I decided to spend my entire time in Bali because I knew I wouldn’t want to leave the beach. I didn’t regret my decision one bit because there is so much to do in Bali that you can easily spend a month there!

My itinerary included the following destinations (all islands I visited were close to Bali):

Tokyo → Denpasar → Gili T → Gili Meno → Gili Air → Ubud → Nusa Penida → Komodo Island → Canggu → Denpasar ↺ Tokyo

In this latest article series I will start retelling the tale of my journey starting with the three Gili Islands: Gili Trawangan (frequently abbreviated as Gili T), Gili Meno, and Gili Air.

Getting to and around Bali

I booked a super cheap ticket from Tokyo to Denpasar through Singapore Airlines for $550. There was a 1 hour layover in Singapore, but enduring it was worth it for the discount. Direct flights post-pandemic are now usually over $900, so if you want a good deal from Japan definitely consider booking a flight with a short layover somewhere. December is during the rainy season in Bali, but it is still a pretty good time to viait. During my 14 day stay, it only rained briefly for 2 nights so it definitely felt like dry season to me!

The good thing about Bali is the majority of people in the areas that I was staying in spoke English and it was easy to communicate with them. In other parts of Indonesia, there is not much English guidance but fortunately I didn’t run into any problems. Compared to other countries I’ve been to, Indonesia is very religious with Islam being the most popular. Though very different from the religion I grew up with, I found learning about its practices to be quite interesting.

When traveling around the city, I recommend using the Grab app because it will always give you the lowest fairs. However, many people decide to rent scooters and motorbikes. If you decide to do this, just be aware that sometimes several vehicles share the same lane and roads are often narrow. Since I booked several tours to temples from Ubud that included transportation, I mostly walked to the places around the city that I wanted to go. Overall I didn’t have any problems at all getting around!

Adventures on Gili T Island

After I arrived to Denpasar Airport, I booked a private taxi to Padangbai Port through 12go Asia for $27 so I could reach Gili T Island via a 1.5 hour ferry ride. The average ticket price is around $32 one way for the fast boat, but your experience on the island will be more than worth the price. On Gili T, there are no cars so everyone gets around by horse and buggy and by road bike.

Gili T has an mixed reputation for being one of the biggest party destinations in Indonesia, but also for being one of the most relaxing getaways that attracts non-partiers. It additionally has beautiful waters that you can go snorkeling in which I will be covering in my next article. The east side of the island has the most bars, restaurants, and people, but if you want to escape, you can go to the north and west sides of the island which have tranquil beaches and resorts. Though it may not be for everyone, I personally liked how Gili T had a balance of peacefulness and nonstop partying. The surrounding Gili Islands are smaller and therefor have a lot less visitors if you’re looking for somewhere more private. I recommend visiting them all since they are very close to one another. It is easy to bike around the entire island within an hour, so I recommend renting a road bike to get around these islands. Your accommodation can point you in the nearest direction.

Some of my favorite bars in Gili T included Natys Restaurant, which was right on the beach and had amazing happy hour deals, and Blue Beach Bar, which had a bar with one of the nicest pools you could swim in. I also recommend going up north a bit and trying the bars near Turtle Beach. Gili Bong Bar and Turtle Beach Bar are tiny little bars that have warm and welcoming atmospheres. Gili T is also for its abundance of magic mushrooms. Like in Thailand, mushrooms are a gray area in the Gili Islands and many travelers consume them in shakes which makes it lowkey. While biking around, I saw many signs advertising them out in the open which was pretty hilarious coming from Japan. As I always say, do at your own risk and stay safe, but also enjoy.

Gili T Activities

Honestly the top activities on Gili T are swimming, drinking, and relaxing on the beach, but there are a few others that I recommend! The most fun thing I did aside from snorkeling was go horseback riding on the beach. Next to my accommodation was a stable of rescued horses called STUD Horse Riding where you can ride a horse for 30 mins – 1 hour. I decided to book the 30 min course on the beach. It was a little scary, but mostly fun! When we rode in the water, my horse named “Pegasus” stomped one of her front hooves abruptly, and I asked my guide if she was mad. He laughed and said “No, that means ‘I like it’!” I’m grateful that these rescued horses can enjoy a happy life on the beach, just like we can.

Other activities include bike riding, getting a massage, and joining a yoga group or a cooking class. If you ask your accommodation or walk around downtown, you can easily find someone that will point you in the right direction. Most activities really don’t cost much money—you’ll probably be spending most of your money on the delicious food and drinks here.

Recommended Food

Indonesia is probably the first country I’ve been to where I could walk into any restaurant and not have any issues finding something I could eat thanks to the large variety of vegetarian and vegan food here. All of the food on Gili T is amazing so don’t be afraid to try new things!

The restaurant I was looking forward to trying the most was called Banyan Tree in downtown Gili because it had some of the most creative dishes on the island. I ordered a beet hummus wrap filled with vegetables, and dragon fruit and banana pancakes for dessert with a side of honey. Both entrees tasted amazing and I wished I could have tried more of the vegan food here! The vegetable trays and coffee here also look amazing. If only I had a bigger stomach!

Kayu Cafe was another restaurant right down the street that I really enjoyed. For breakfast I had a vanilla latte with vegan waffles and scrambled tofu. I absolutely love the waffles in Bali because they come with an assortment of interesting toppings and dressings. I came back here another morning to try a giant vegetarian bagel and a green smoothie bowl. This is honestly the best place to grab breakfast on the island and I would recommend it to everyone!

The last place I recommend is Samadhi Living, which is a tiny café where I ordered a giant Buddha Bowl. I really loved the potato wedges, beet slices, and rice in this dish because all of the toppings packed a lot of flavor. I am so happy there were so many options for me on Gili T!

If vegan food is not your style, you can easily find grills downtown. I wanted to try the most unique dishes on the island which is why I mainly went to vegan cafes, but there really is great food for everyone here!

Accommodation

I stayed for 2 nights in a cute boutique hotel called Pink Coco Bali and had a phenomenal stay there. I loved the adorable pink décor and the outdoor pool with the plastic flamingos that is illuminated at night. Rooms are around $50 per night, but prices depend on the season. The advantage of staying at PinkCoco Bali is not only is it adorable, but it is also close to the beach and for adults only (no children allowed)! The staff was super friendly, and I was able to rent a bike here for a very cheap price. I loved both the aesthetic and convenience of this hotel, plus I think it had the most beautiful pool on the island. I would happily stay here again!

Thank you for reading the first article in my Bali series! My next article will cover visiting the other Gili Islands and going snorkeling, so please look forward to it.

Chasing Sunsets in Puerto Princesa and El Nido

A timeless sunset at Nactan Beach in El Nido, Palawan.

After spending a lovely four days at the Philippines’s #1 party destination, Boracay Island, I took a plane to to Palawan Island, which was the final destination on my itinerary before heading back to Tokyo. I decided to stay one night in Puerto Princesa and two nights in El Nido so I could explore some of the best beaches on the island. I expected Palawan to be somewhat similar to Boracay with a vibrant part atmosphere, but it is actually much more remote and private. There is a lot of farmland and lagoons in this area making it an interesting place to see. There are some good parties around the Nactan area at night, but during the day it’s quite peaceful. Nactan Beach was my favorite beach to go swimming at because the water was so crystal clear. Getting there is a bit of a journey, but you won’t regret seeing the beautiful sunsets there every night. Not to mention the happy hour specials on the beach are amazing!

Getting to Puerto Princesa & El Nido

From Boracay’s Godofredo Airport, I took a plane to Puerto Princesa Airport which had a short layover in Manila. The one-way flight was about $80 through Air Asia which was fair for the distance.

Getting from Puerto Princesa to El Nido is a bit of a long haul because it takes 5-6 hours by bus or van. I booked a van through 12goAsia for around $12. Fortunately there are a few rest stops and the van is air conditioned so it wasn’t a bad ride at all. Please note that El Nido has an airport too, but it is currently not possible to fly there from Puerto Princesa—everyone in Palawan travels there by bus. However, it is possible to fly to El Nido from other islands in the Philippines so that’s something to keep in mine while planning your itineraray.

I recommend spending at least 4-6 days in Palawan if you want to see both Puerto Princesa and El Nido. If you are short on cash or aren’t up for the long ride between the two, then I recommend choosing the one you like the most. El Nido was my favorite because it had better beaches and parties, but I’m happy that I had the chance to see both!

Honda Bay Island Hopping Tour in Puerto Princesa

I booked a Honda Bay Island Hopping Tour through KKday so I could see some of the loveliest beaches in Puerto Princesa. This group tour was around $30 and included lunch so it was a great deal. The island hopping tour explored 3 islands in Honda Bay which were all about 30-45 minutes away from one another, so it was an easier journey than to my favorite diving spots in Cebu. I would recommend this tour because it is cheap and my guide was super friendly. You get roughly 45 minutes – 1 hour at each beach so you can relax and fully explore them. These islands are quite tiny but have a lot of interesting characteristics.

Please note that the lifeguards are strict about where you swim in Palawan, so there are designated swimming areas on each island. This did not bother me because I was able to cover a lot of ground on each island even with the limitations in place.

Honda Bay’s Starfish Island

Seeing Starfish Island was actually my #1 reason for coming to Puerto Princesa. I’ve been to a lot of tropical countries in Asia, but have never seen so many starfish in the wild before! The tides on this island are usually pretty low so they are easy to spot both on the beach and in the water. Snorkeling equipment was provided on this tour, so I used my GoPro to swim underwater and take their photographs while having the time of my life. These starfish are known as Protoreaster nodosus, but are nicknamed chocolate chip starfish due to pointed projections on their bodies that resemble chocolate chips. I will forever treasure my memory with the chocolate chip starfish on Honda Bay!

Luili Island

Our next stop was Luili Island, which is another small island with beautiful waters and many tropical fish. The swimming area here was deeper than the shallow waters of Starfish Island, so I enjoyed wading in it and seeing all of the aquatic wildlife beneath the sea. One funny thing I noticed here was a starfish with four legs. At first I was a bit concerned for it, but I later I learned that starfish have the ability to grow their limbs back. I sure wish I could do that too! After swimming for a bit, I relaxed in a hammock before we went to our final destination: Cowrie Island.

Cowrie Island

Cowrie Island was the biggest of the three islands that we explored and had the largest swimming area of them all. This island also has a mini bar that serves frozen cocktails and shakes, so I immediately ordered a Long Island. By this time I was pretty exhausted from swimming, but I did go in the water for a little bit to feed the fish some bread I had bought for them. Watching them scramble to eat it was a fun experience. After the tour was over, I had the tour van drop me off at the bus terminal so I could catch my night bus to El Nido. I recommend buying some drinks for the ride because it’ll make the trip much easier.

Living it up on Nacpan Beach

I arrived to Nacpan Beach around 11pm and checked into my accommodation so I could drop off my things. As I was walking around the beach area at night, I heard dance music blaring down the street so I decided to go check it out. Turns out there is a free dance party in El Nido every Saturday where the locals gather and share drinks with one another. I was invited by a friendly group of Filippinos to join their table so I did and had a fun time talking with them. They even gave me free drinks which was too kind of them. The music the DJ played was a mixture of Filippino songs and western dance music. I heard Eminem at one point and cracked up. One Filippino girl invited me to dance with her and ended up introducing me to her entire family. I really think Palawan has some of the nicest people!

The next day I spent nearly all day swimming on Nactan Beach. This ended up being my favorite beach in the Philippines because it was such a pretty shade of blue and very fun to swim in. In the evening I partook in the happy hour specials and watched the sunset with one of my local friends who rode up to see me off. I was only in El Nido for two nights, but between the dance party and the beach I feel like I got the chance to experience a lot.

Recommended Food & Drink

Since Nacpan Beach is so remote, there are limited restaurants but almost all of the resorts have places you can eat. Since my hotel didn’t include breakfast, I had some cheap toast and eggs at Mad Monkey Hostel which was a good deal. I also had vegan goulash and buy one get one free banana daquiris at Sunmai Sunset Restaurant which was the best meal I had in El Nido. The tropical cocktail I had in an owl-shaped glass was also refreshing. I was impressed with the variety of drinks they had here. On my final day, I had cookies and cream ice cream from a stand located next to Sunmai Sunset. I really wish I could have tried every restaurant on the beach because everything I ate on this trip was satisfying.

Accommodation

While in El Nido, I rented a green cottage at Valine Grace Cottages which is a place that I’ve been looking forward to staying at since I first planned my trip to the Philippines in 2020. Prices start at $25 per night which is extremely affordable. The perks of staying here is it’s right on the beach and very quiet. I was actually the only person staying here and I couldn’t believe that I had the entire place to myself! The downside is there is no wi-fi here and sometimes the roosters and wild dogs barking will wake you up in the morning. However, you can ask for free wi-fi from the Mad Monkey Hostel around the corner from this place so don’t worry.

Final Thoughts

Overall two weeks was the perfect amount of time to explore four islands in the Philippines. I really covered a lot of ground on this trip and am proud of myself for accomplishing it. The weather in November was mostly sunny with minimal rain so it was the perfect time to come. The food was inexpensive and delicious, and I was happy to see there were so many vegan options around. My biggest regret was not seeing the lagoons in El Nido due to the distance from where I was staying. If I come to the Philippines again, I definitely want to see the lagoons and the Coron area because they have beautiful waters. I also wish to explore more culture festivals and music events so I can make more local friends. I am grateful for all of the Filippino friends I made because they showed me amazing hospitality and I will not forget their kindness.

Overall, the Philippines is a great destination if you enjoy warm weather and being on the beach! If you are unsure if you’ll like it, then I recommend traveling to Phuket in Thailand first to see what you think. Thailand has more sightseeing than the Philippines so it is a great place to start if you’re new to Asia.

Thank you for reading the final article in my Philippines article series! This two week trip was a blast and I hope to continue traveling like this so long as I can. My next article will be about going to an Autumn festival in Japan. Please look forward to it!

Finding Paradise on Boracay Island

After spending a relaxing weekending in Manila, I decided to fly to the Philippines’s #1 getaway and party destination: Boracay Island. Boracay is a small island located in the Western Visayas that boasts beautiful beaches and and arguably the best night life in the country. The majority of travelers stay on the main beach strip, known as White Beach, that is lined with restaurants, bars, and shopping centers and is always bumping. Most accommodations on White Beach are fairly priced, and the shore is just a few minutes by foot away. However, if you would like to book a more private accommodation, you can look into hotels further north of White Beach where less tourists flock. I decided to stay on White Beach to get the most out of the party life!

Getting to Boracay

Please note that getting to Boracay is a bit of a journey and there are no airports on the island. You need to fly to either Godofredo or Kalibo Airport, then take a taxi to the northern ferry port to sail to Boracay. Fortunately most hotels will offer a travel package that includes the taxi and ferry fare from the airport. I recommend flying to Godofredo since it is much closer than Kalibo (fortunately most roundtrip Air Asia tickets from Manila are under $50). Either way, the trip is worth it because Boracay is one of the most beautiful islands in the Philippines and it’s very easy to make friends there.

During my first night in Boracay, I mostly went swimming on White Beach and drank Long Islands under the sunset. My top recommendations for bars with a club atmosphere are Epic and OM. Some locals invited me to a place called Exit Bar where all of the drinks were under a dollar. The liquor quality wasn’t the best but it sure was a great place to drink cheap! Most bars are open from 10am – 3am or later, so no matter what time you feel like going out there is something to do. This is by far the best party island I have been to in Asia, besides Koh Phangan in Thailand. I liked Boracay better because the beaches were prettier and there were less tourists here. I would definitely come back here to try more drinks if I had the chance!

Island Hopping

On my second day in Boracay, I decided to book an island hopping tour through KKday. This group tour was only $12 which was a killer deal. Please note that you can book tours from various agencies on the island when you arrive, but they may be more expensive than if you reserve online in advance.

The tour included the following points of interest plus a free lunch:

  • Puka Beach
  • Balinghai Beach
  • Snorkel at Coral Garden
  • Crystal Cove Island
  • Lunch at Tambisaan Beach

Besides White Beach, Puka Beach was the best beach I went swimming at. Since it is located at the northern tip of the island, the waves are much stronger, but I loved how remote and private it was. The coral garden we went snorkeling at was also beautiful and I was happy to see that it was in healthy state. We only had 30 minutes to snorkel there, but I enjoyed seeing all of the aquatic wildlife because the visibility underwater was amazing.

Crystal Cove Island was also a treasure because it had two beautiful caves you can explore. I enjoyed taking a break from the sun and wading in the cool water there. Getting around the island is a bit of a hike, but I enjoyed working up an appetite before lunch!

The lunch at Tambisaan Beach was a bit disappointing because they only had prawns as a pescatarian option, so I mostly ate prawns and rice. Fortunately after this we headed back to central Borcay so I could eat some vegan food on the beach! Overall I highly recommend this tour, just be aware that your lunch options are pretty limited if you don’t eat meat.

Mermaid Swimming

A popular activity/photo opp on Boracay Island is mermaid swimming with a rentable tail. The tail has two flippers inside which makes it possible to swim in deep waters. When I arrived earlier this month, there were two shops that offered it. One was a small Korean-themed cafe on White Beach that offers fin rentals for photos only. The price was around $13 dollars for this activity. The place that I booked was the Mermaid Swimming Academy in D’Mall which was further up the main road. This shop offers both photos and a private swimming lesson that I wanted to try. The price was $35 dollars for this class, but I was able to wear the fins for much longer. My instructor, Megan, was very kind and taught me different strokes. I ended up hanging out with her later that night because she works at Epic too. If you have never tried this activity and are interested, then Boracay is the perfect place because it’s so relaxed!

Food Recommendations

Due to its tropical atmosphere by the ocean, there is no shortage of fresh fruit and fish on Boracay, plus the restaurants on White Beach have cocktails galore! I was delighted to see that a number of restaurants included vegan options too. Please note that some of the food here is pricey due to it being located in a resort area. To find the best deals, I would walk up and down White Beach in the morning and read the chalkboards that list happy hour specials in front of the shops you want to try. I was able to find some killer deals, like buy one get one free drinks before 8pm and rainy season specials. If you befriend the locals, they can help you find great places too.

Nonie’s

Out of all of the restaurants in Boracay, Nonie’s was by far my favorite! The cocktails and entrees here are to die for. The first time I went here, I had a tempeh bowl with banana pancakes and their award winning ube liquor cocktail. This was hands down the best meal I had in the Philippines because all of the ingredients were on point. I came back here another day and tried a tuna quinoa bowl with some vegetarian siopao and the taste was out of this world. The cocktail I had with coconut shavings in it really complimented my meal too I really wish I would have had time to try everything on the menu, because everything I ate blew my mind. Vegan restaurants in tropical locations rarely disappoint.

Café Maruja

Café Maruja is a mermaid-themed coffee shop and restaurant located on White Beach with amazing décor. I loved the boat-shaped bar table, the neon lights, and the floral seat designs, not to mention the mermaid-themed cups and silverware. I had rose coffee and an acai bowl here for breakfast one morning, and also tried a poke bowl one of the nights after I went swimming. Though a bit pricey, the food here has generous serving sizes and is pretty good. I would still say that Nonie’s is better, but this was my second favorite spot and a great spot to people watch.

Ice Cream & Yogurt

While walking back from the island hopping tour, I found a coconut ice cream place called Coco Mama’s that served coconut ice cream out of a shell. I really liked how refreshing it was. I also found an avocado ice cream shop near Nonie’s and had to try it out. Just like the place I went to in Manila, this stand had absolutely delicious avocado frozen yogurt topped with fresh pieces of the fruit. On my last day, I found a shop on White Beach that serves smoothies in a bottle! You really can’t go wrong with any dessert you order here because all of it is worth trying.

Accommodation

Since I love little island huts, I decided to book one with a single room at Roy’s Rendezvous. I loved this place because it was 5 mins away from White Beach by foot and had hammocks on the balconies of the huts. The average price of these rooms are $40 per night which I think is pretty fair because it includes breakfast too. I stayed for 4 days and 3 nights which was more than enough to see the entire island. The staff was extremely accommodating and helped me book my taxi and ferry ticket back to the airport in advance. I would highly recommend this place because it’s quiet at night too.

Overall I had a fantastic stay with sunny weather and minimal rain. The only thing that was annoying was all of the vendors that tried to sell me things while I was walking from the beach to my hotel, but I expected as much here. It’s important to note that in 2018 that Boracay was closed due to the destruction of ecosystems by tourists, but it reopened the same year with an entry restriction. The island has a capacity of only 55,000 people (and over half are residents) so I would recommend booking your stay here at least a month in advance, especially if you go during the high season.

Thank you for reading my Borcay article. I hope you have the chance to go here and enjoy the nightlife too! My next article will be the last of my Philippines article series and will detail my experience in El Nido. Please look forward to it!

Spending a day in Morioka City, Iwate

The quiet shopping streets of Morioka City in Iwate Prefecture.

After spending the night at a hot springs resort on the lake in Akita Prefecture, we decided to take a road trip to the very last of the 47 prefectures of Japan on my travel list: Iwate Prefecture. Iwate actually has the lowest population density of all prefectures on the main island of Japan (Honshu), so you’ll definitely feel like you’re in the countryside if you travel here. Taking advantage of the country roads, we decided to stop at a farm and one of Iwate’s nicest museums, Ishigami-no-Oka, before spending the night in the largest city named Morioka. Traveling to all 47 prefectures of Japan has been extremely rewarding, and though Iwate felt a bit less exciting than other cities I’ve been to, I’m very happy that I had the opportunity to visit.

Koiwai Farm

Koiwai Farm is a very tranquil ranch with animals, various dairy products for sale, and a fantastic view of Mt. Iwate. This farm is located between Akita and Morioka City, so we decided to stop here first because it was on the way to our hotel. Before even checking out any of the attractions, we bought some creamy vanilla ice cream because it was fresh and delicious. We mostly spent our time walking around the fields and gazing at the mountain in the distance, but it was fun to see all of the activities you could do here. One of the most interesting nature spots of Koiwai is a sole cherry blossom tree in it that’s ideal for photography in the spring, but unfortunately it wasn’t in bloom this season. What’s also interesting is that you can sign up for lessons on how to milk a cow! During certain times of the year there are festivals and illuminations, so be sure to see what’s in season when you visit.

Address: 36-1 Maruyachi, Shizukuishi, Iwate District, Iwate 020-0507
Entrance Fee: 800 yen

Ishigami-no-Oka Museum

Since I love art and nature, Ishigami-no-Oka Museum was the perfect destination in Iwate for me. Boasting a huge flower garden and abstract sculptures of animals with aerial views, this is a great place to enjoy a stroll and do photography. My favorite piece of art was the seahorse-like creature that looked like it was eating grass from a funny angle. I also liked the bear that was seated at the observatory point. What makes these kind of open air museums so unique is how the light and shadows hit the sculptures, and also how the surroundings change as the seasons change. I would love to come back and visit this museum again during another time of year if given the chance.

Address: Dai 10 Chiwari-121-21 Itsukaichi, Iwate, Iwate District, Iwate 028-4307
Entrance Fee: 500 yen

Exploring Morioka

Morioka is much smaller and more rural than what I initially imagined it to be, but here are some of my favorite recommendations in the city. Please remember that some businesses and attractions may close early since this is the countryside. One of my biggest regrets was not having enough time to make it to Jodogahama Beach because it was over two hours away from the museum, but I’ve also seen a lot of pretty beaches in Okinawa!

Morioka Castle Site Park

Since Morioka’s Castle Site Park was walking distance from our hotel, we decided to check it out before dinner. However, unlike Akita’s Senshu Park, there was sadly no castle here anymore because it was demolished in 1874 with the end of the samurai area. But the area that remains is quite lovely and you can see a nice pond and views of Morioka City by ascending the stairs here.

Food & Drink Recommendations

About 10 minutes walking from the park, I found an amazing vegan restaurant called Karakoma. I ordered a vegan teishoku set served with beet soup, brown rice, and an assortment of vegetable dishes and it tasted beyond amazing! They also have organic wine and vegan desserts. If I was more hungry at the time, I would have ordered more dishes, but what I had was filling enough!

Before calling it a night, we decided to head to a cocktail bar called esprit for some sweet drinks. I ordered a tiramisu cocktail and a White Russian. As you can expect from a bar like this, the quality was top notch and the drinks were just as good as the vegan meal I ate before. I really hope this bar gets more recognition because it clearly deserves it!

Accommodation

We stayed in Hotel Ace Morioka because it was centrally located and around 5000 yen per night, but I would not recommend it because the rooms were tiny and smoky. I would look at non-business hotels for a better stay because this one landed a bit below my standards.

This ends my adventure of exploring all 47 prefectures of Japan, but fear not! I have plans to still stay in the country and explore various culture festivals and other things I have yet to experience. I will likely be revisiting many of my favorite prefectures, like Kyoto and Osaka, again this year and look forward to what the future brings. My next trip is coming up in about a week and will be in the Philippines! Please continue to look forward to more exciting adventures from yours truly.

Revisiting Kinkakuji and the Latest Aesthetic Gourmet Experiences in Kyoto

Kinkakuji, also known as the Golden Pavilion, shines beautifully in the scorching summer of Kyoto.

It’s been over three months since my last article, but I happy to announce that I have safely returned to Japan and am officially off my work hiatus now! Over the last few weeks I was preparing for the 20th Anniversary of Nagoya’s World Cosplay Summit (which I will cover in another article), but this latest article series will document my recent adventures in the Kansai region, starting with Kyoto.

Since Kyoto and Nagoya are relatively close by shinkansen, I decided to spend two nights at a business hotel in Shijo after the final day of the Summit and revisit some of my old favorite places. One temple that I haven’t seen in over 6 years is Kyoto’s Kinkakuji that was recently under construction, so I decided to visit it while hitting up some of the most delicious vegan and dessert shops in town.

This article will cover my top summer picks for Kyoto (2022). Please be aware that the heat is intense during August, so it is recommended to drink lots of water and limit your exposure to the sun.

Kinkakuji

Kinkakuji is one of Kyoto’s most famous temples due to its shining gold leaf architecture and the beautiful pond it overlooks. It used to be the former place of retirement for the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, but now serves as a symbolic landmark of Kyoto. Around the temple are various gardens with statues of prominent Buddhist figures and a pond that is said to never dry up. Kinkakuji holds a lot of history as well of lore, so if you have ever studied abroad or gone on a group trip to Kyoto, this place is probably at the top of your itinerary. I first visited this temple during my study abroad trip in 2013, then again on a trip in 2016. I am happy that 6 years later it is just as beautiful and well-preserved as I remember.

There are city buses that go to the entrance of Kinkakuji directly from Kyoto Station for a mere 230 yen, so it’s pretty easy to reach. You may also be interested in checking out Ginkakuji (also known as the Silver Pavilion) which is a short bus ride away, but in my humble opinion it’s not as pretty as the gold one!

Address: 1 Kinkakujicho, Kita Ward, Kyoto, 603-8361
Entrance Fee: 400 yen

If you are curious where I rented my yukata, please see my previous kimono and yukata rental article.

The Latest Aesthetic Gourmet Experiences in Kyoto

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

Egyptian Noodles at Pelgag

Pelgag is a Japanese owned “spice restaurant” that serves delicious ethnic food and alcohol with organic ingredients. Their dishes are made with a lot of exotic herbs and spices that the owner discovered while traveling through Central and South America as well as Asia and Europe. Though there are many unique things on their menu (including vegetarian and vegan options), I was most interested in the Egyptian Noodles because I had never tried them before. The noodles had the texture of ramen and tasted similar to Pad Thai which made me feel nostalgic of my days in Thailand. I was happy to have such a delicious vegan meal during my first night here and also ordered a glass of organic white wine to go with it. If you like curry and spicy food then you will most definitely enjoy this restaurant!

Choco Mint Ball with Creamy Foam at Atelier de Godiva

From early summer to fall of this year, Atelier de Godiva located in the Daimaru shopping mall of Kyoto has a very special mint chocolate menu! This chocolate mint ball that I ordered is filled with mint cream that you can drink through a chocolate straw. Now that’s what I call aesthetic food! I like the concept of food and desserts being served in bowls that are fully edible because it helps eliminate plastic and paper waste in addition to being delicious. I am excited to see what other seasonal menus this store introduces, because you can only order this at the Kyoto location!

Peach Cloud Cakes at Kumonocha

One of the latest trending cafés in Kyoto is this tea and cake shop called Kumonocha in Higashiyama that serves cloud-shaped cakes with various drink pairings. You can choose to order a hot matcha latte with a cloud pattern or an iced one with a beautiful green gradation with the cake as a set, or purchase them individually. I was delighted to see they were selling both peach and matcha flavored cloud cakes when I arrived, so I decided to try to peach one! Both the cake and the tea suited each other very well, and I thought it was unique that they served them to you in a wooden basket. Be sure to check the outdoor area of the store if you have the chance because there was a beautiful lantern and windchime display when I visited.

Cloud Parfait at Piu

Because one cloud dessert clearly wasn’t enough for me, I decided to try a cloud parfait at a small cafe near Kinkakuji called Piu. This parfait was unique because it mainly consisted of ramune-flavored jelly instead of ice cream or yogurt, but with the granola at the bottom, it still undoubtedly tasted like a parfait. The macarons and the while chocolate on top was definitely a nice aesthetic touch and I loved eating whatever the clouds were made of. I would recommend this to people who like ramune-flavored desserts. In addition to sweets, Piu also serves pastas, pizzas, and cakes so I would check it out if you go to Kinkakuji like I did!

Vegan Hot Pot at Vegetarian Cafe Ren

Even though the weather was scorching hot, for some reason I still felt like eating hot pot during this trip just for something different. Finding places that serve hotpot sets that are 100% vegetarian is usually very difficult, but Cafe Ren near Kinkakuji has a delicious miniature set! I especially loved the mushrooms and the fried tofu that was included in this meal. The red bean rice also complimented the flavor. The portion size was perfect for me so I would recommend this place to my fellow vegetarians, but it’s probably better to come here during the winter!

Goma Noodles at Gomacro Salon

Because I was craving noodles on my last day in Kyoto, I decided to stop at Gomacro Salon and try their noodles basked in a sesame paste-based rich soup. What I like about this dish is you can balance out the level of spice by adding sesame oil and more goma paste with condiments at your table that you can choose for no additional cost. What is pictured is the summer dish with seasonal vegetables, but the menu changes every season. I would like to come back in the winter and choose their black goma soup as my base next time! In addition to noodles, there is curry, rice, and salad sets you can choose from. I really like how healthy and organic everything was here. The goma paste was also very filling!

Bonus: Porco Rosso & Sugitora

As I was waiting for the bus to Kyoto Station, I noticed a funny Italian restaurant called Porco Rosso, and I can definitely see the resemblance to the movie! Though it was closed during the time that I went, I would like to come back and try it again for the meme.

I also visited this adorable parfait place called Sugitora that has takeout tiger gelato! I tried the mango flavor because of course the matcha flavor was already sold out. It tasted so refreshing! I would like to make a reservation for one of their more elaborate parfaits in the future!

Accommodation

Every time I travel somewhere in Japan, I look at the best deals on Booking.com because I have a Genius discount. This time I stayed at a business hotel with a public bath called AB Hotel that was 5000 yen for 2 nights which was a killer deal. During previous Kyoto trips I used to stay closer to the Kamo River so I could go running there as a morning workout, but this time prices there were more expensive likely due to more people traveling this year. I decided to choose an accommodation that was about 1km away from the river and it turned out to be cheaper. This hotel was quiet and easy to relax in so I would recommend it, but also don’t be afraid to shop around!

Thank you for reading about my wonderful experience in Kyoto! I will never forget all of the delicious food that I tried this time. In my next article I will be talking about my top recommendations in Osaka, so please look forward to it!

Wandering through Neon Aesthetic Paradise in Naha

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

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

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

Stem Resort

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

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

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

DMM Kariyushi Aquarium

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

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

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

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

Vegan Omurice and Falafels at Ukishima Garden

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

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

Accommodation

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

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