Sunday, December 18, 2016

Day 6: Japan (Mount Koya-Osaka)

The next morning, we had our breakfast before we decided to tour around Mount Koya.

Oh ya, I almost forgot to share another tip – before we made our journey to Mount Koya, we made our luggage lighter. Instead of bringing the huge luggage with us, we changed into the smaller bags and left the huge luggage at the luggage locker in Namba Station. It made our journey a lot easier.

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That morning, we had another round of vegan food for breakfast in the dining room with the other guests. After we were done with our meal, we packed our bags and brought them along with us.

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It was raining that morning and the weather was really cold. The first place we went to was Garan temple. It was just opposite the temple we were staying. As we had a tight schedule, we did not go around the place.

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As we were walking towards the bus stop, a bell rang. It came from this huge temple, Kongobuji Temple. As we needed to catch our bus to go to Okunoin Temple, we did not enter the temple.

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Okunoin is known to be one of the most sacred places in Japan and a popular pilgrimage spot. It is the site of mausoleum of Kobo Daishi. To reach there, we had to walk past the Okunoin’s cemetery – the largest cemetery in Japan with over 200,000 tombstones. There are two approaches. If I had stayed another day in Mount Koya, I would have used the longer walking trail. Hence, we used the shorter approach.

This alternative route leads through a more recent addition to the cemetery with modern tombstones by individuals, associations and companies. Graveyard was meant to be an eerie place but, Okunoin’s cemetery gave me a really nice and soothing feeling. I felt calm and serene when walking past it. Even the boyfriend loved it.

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Before we left Mount Koya as a whole, we had our lunch at a restaurant just outside Okunoin Temple. As the  boyfriend was not hungry, I ordered mountain herbs noodle. It tasted weird but it was not all that bad.

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When we finally reached Osaka, it was the very first time for us to get out of Namba Station. We were there for 3 times and always stayed underground. We stayed in an Airbnb unit in Osaka> we did lose our way but we managed to pull it through.

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After settling down, the first place we went was Dontobori, known to be one of the most popular destinations at night. It is a popular shopping and entertainment district but, for us, it is our food destination. If it was not because of my gastric, I would wallop the street food there. 

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Dinner? We had pizzas at Pizza Bar. The environment was okay and oh, it is compulsory to order drinks. Not one drink, but two drinks since there’s two of us.

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We did try the cheesecake at Pablo before we left. I had seen on the net that it seems to be very popular. However, it was not that great – overrated.

The way back to our place is poorly lit but, it was not worrisome because, really, it is safe in Japan.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Japan: Day 5 (Ise-Mount Koya)

As the guesthouse did not provide breakfast, we had asked the host the night before on the recommended place to have breakfast. She recommended us to this 100-year old restaurant. It was neither difficult nor easy to find the place. Our worry was, since it is a 100-year old restaurant, it probably does not have an English menu.

And we were right.

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Anyhow, we managed to pull it through and left Ise to go back to Osaka to make our way to Mount Koya.

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It was a long journey to Mount Koya. We paid extra to take Limited Express (less stops that Local Train) and had to change to a cable car and lastly took a bus to reach the place.

We were staying a night in a Buddhist temple and they provided dinner for that day itself plus breakfast for the next morning. However, the only condition for serving the dinner is you need to check-in before 5.30pm.

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And we reached the temple at exactly 5.30pm!

What to do? They serve dinner either 6pm or 6.30pm.

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To be honest, I love the room. It is the best room for this entire trip. Traditional, yes, and a little bit of modern’s touch.

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Dinner was served in our room. The monks brought the food to us. We were not given a period of them to finish our food. We could just give them a call after we are done. Since it is a Buddhist temple, of course they serve vegan meals for both dinner and breakfast. It was my very first time to have a vegan meal. It was weirdly delicious.

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What happened next was the most interesting story. The temple does not provide private bathroom in each room. It is a shared bath and only operates from 4pm to 9pm. Since we did not have enough time to explore Mount Koya and to make it for the bath, we decided to stay in. Plus, there is a curfew in the temple which is 10pm.

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When I went to explore the bath, I was surprised to learn that it is an open bath! Of course divided into genders. But still..

It was a bit awkward for me but, I was lucky because no one else was there when I was taking my bath. I even dip myself in the hot pool to relax my feet. Unfortunately for the boyfriend, he had to two other men in the bath with him. Well, he was proud to show, well, you know..

Anyhow, it was a great experience and I truly enjoyed them!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Japan: Day 4 (Ise)

After bidding Kyoto goodbye, we headed to Ise, a home to Japan’s most sacred Shinto shrines. It is quite far from the big cities and less crowd. A small town. We used Kintetsu Railway Pass to go Ise from Kyoto. Remember we had 3 free Limited Express rides? We used one of it for this journey – Kyoto to Ujiyamada. We can use the same pass to use the bus service in Ise City – CAN Bus.

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When we arrived Ise, we searched for the guest house which we would be staying the night – Tsumugi-ya Gust House. It was not easy nor difficult to find it. With Google, you could easily find the place. The place is really quiet with less traffic.

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After dropping our luggage, we went into this small random restaurant we found for lunch. When we entered, there was a vending machine on our right – to place our orders. Yes, it was not our first time to place an order using the vending machine but, what made this time different was, there was no English menu at all! The worse part was, there was no picture for us to refer as well. In the end, we placed the orders based on the price shown next to the Japanese wordings.

And the food we ordered were surprisingly delicious!

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After we filled our stomach, the first destination was The Outer Shrine (Geku). It is one of the two main shrines making up the Ise Shrines in Ise City. All signs are in Japanese only. Fortunately, I could recognise some of the Chinese words. Else, we monkey see, monkey do. I did read in one of the pamphlets that we have to bow before and after we enter through each Torii Gate to show respect. Also, before we entered the shrine, we need to clean ourselves at the water place, outside the entrance to the shrine. We watched the locals before we did the cleaning.

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Next was The Inner Shrine (Naiku). It is considered Japan’s most sacred shrine. Its compound is bigger than Geku. In order to reach to the main sanctuary, we had to cross the Uji Bridge, a wooden bridge across the Isuzugawa River. The brige has two large Torri Gates. On our way to the main sanctuary, we stopped by the Riverside Purification Site. The main sanctuary is found at the top of a flight of stone stairs. Photography is not allowed though. To make a prayer, we need to make two deep bows, clap your hands twice, pray in silence and ended with another deep bow.

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We then proceeded to Meoto Iwa, two sacred rocks in the ocean. They are also known as The Wedded Rocks. The large rock represents the husband and the smaller one represents the wife. Both rocks are connected by a rope.

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Due to Ise being a small city and not much of English speaking locals, we missed the last bus to go to Toba City. We had to walk more than 2km to the nearest train station. However, it was already very dark and we could not find the way to to the station from the main road. It was just right there but we did not see the small path to it. So near yet so far. To be honest, I was really scared. I am glad that the boyfriend was calm. Yes, there were cars passing by us but we could not stop any one of them. Or rather, they would not want to stop for us.

When we decided to turn back, we ran into an old lady who was riding a bicycle. I decided to challenge myself with some Japanese words that I learned from watching anime for years. Plus, body language and signs. Fortunately, the lady was able to understand and she showed us the way to that train station we saw from the roadside. I am glad we made it for the next train ride back to Ise City.

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We were really hungry by the time we reached Ujiyamada Station and decided to dine at any nearby restaurant. We came across this dodgy-karaoke looking restaurant. You have your own room, with door closed. Anyhow, the food is great and the service was superb. They had to send a waiter who has the best English proficiency (among them) to serve us. Fun experience I shall say.

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The room was ready for us when we reached the guest house. There were some other guests in the place already. Though shared bathroom, we had a bedroom to ourselves. It is an old Japanese style room where we slept on the tatami. We were really tired that we knocked off after our shower.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Japan: Day 3 (Kyoto)

It was our last day to explore Kyoto – so many places to go but, so little time. However, we did not force ourselves to rush or shorten our visit just to cover all the places.

Since we did not get to walk in the Bamboo Groves, after our breakfast, that was the first place we went to. In my personal opinion, you can spend more time in Bamboo Groves than the Tenryuji Temple unless you love garden.

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We headed to Nishiki Market in time for lunch. But before we went for our lunch, we explored the stalls at the market. I had read from a site that there are a few good stalls that offer delicious food. I had Kyoto-style beef manju bun which was served hot. Yum! Then the soy milk donut – fluffy bite-sized rings. Each bite left me craving for more. Please finish them while they are still hot. Do not be like me – save some for later and they got cold – not delicious anymore. Last but not least, Sawawa thick matcha soft serve cone. Remember to order THICK and not just matcha flavour.

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Our main dish for our lunch was none other than ramen at Ippudo. Since I could not eat too much due to my poor health, we shared and trust me, this is one of the must-go places if you are in Nishiki Market. There are a lot of choices of ramen but we decided to go for the famous classic ramen.

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We went to Owl Family Kyoto after our lunch since it is in the same area. I had been looking forward to  go to this place before this adventure even started. I just love owls that much. We arrived just in time for the next petting hour. It seems they have time slots and reservations are needed. We were really lucky. We were given 50 minutes to pet the owls. However, only the owls that were on duty.

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When it hit 3pm, we decided to  continue our adventure. However, we were torn in between Kiyomizudera Temple or Ginkakuji Temple (Philosopher’s Path). We did not have enough time to cover both places as they are in different directions. The lady at Owl Family Kyoto recommended us to go Kiyomizudera Temple and that was where we decided to go to. We bought our souvenirs there as well.

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When it was nightfall, we left for Gion, where we would be spending the rest of the evening at. We were hoping to run into a Geisha but luck was not on our side this time. Also, Gion was not an affordable place to eat. We almost gave up when I came across this restaurant in a dark alley. Google-d the place and apparently, it is quite famous – Yagenbori Japanese Restaurant.

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It was raining heavily by the time we finished our dinner. We did not have our umbrellas with us and therefore, we decided to call it a day earlier as we would be traveling to Ise the next morning.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Japan: Day 2 (Kyoto)

It was finally the day for us to explore Kyoto! As we were really dog-tired from the day before, we decided to have breakfast at the hotel that morning. It was a really simple breakfast and since I had not gotten used to the food there, I did not eat much.

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We first went to Kyoto Station to get all day bus pass which only cost 500 yen per day. As it will cost 230 yen per trip, it is really worth to get this pass and it can be used for unlimited rides.

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Our first stop was Nijo-jo Castle. It was only the way to Kinkakuji Temple. We decided to drop by just for a while for some photos and continued to our next destination. As it was already lunch time when we reached Kinkakuji Temple, we had our meals at one of the small shops we saw by the roadside – Gold Roll.

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They serve curry rice so, we decided to give Japanese curry a try. To be honest, I was truly surprised that it was really good. It was not spicy, of course, and the taste was flavourful.

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I had seen  a lot of beautiful pictures of Kinkakuji Temple online and they are not as magnificent as you see it right in front of your eyes. It is definitely one of the must-go places in Kyoto.

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I had also read that the matcha ice-cream at Kinkakuji Temple is famous. Hence, I had already set my heart for it even back in Malaysia. It was good but it did not cause any addiction. In my opinion, it is optional whether you want to have it or not. Not a must-have.

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Our next destination was Sagano Scenic Train Station. It is a sightseeing train line that runs a long a river – Hozugawa River. This train bought us through the mountains at a relatively slow pace, about 25 minutes from the station to Kameoka. However, it was not that cheap – 620 yen per trip. Therefore, it is 1,240 yen with return. Still, it was a nice experience. The boyfriend particularly enjoyed the ride even though it was freezing for him as we sat at the fully open car. As it was raining and it was getting dark when we got back to Saga Torokko Station, instead of continuing our destination to Ginkakuji Temple, we took JR train back to Kyoto Station which cost 240 yen.

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We had our dinner at The Cube Gourmet Street which is located on the 11th floor of Kyoto Station. There are few restaurants there, ranging from cheap to expensive. After our dinner, we went to hunt for my luggage as my luggage broke down when we first reached Japan. We ended up buying one at this random street when we were supposed to go to Nishiki Market. Why supposed? Nishiki Market was already closed when we reached there. We found out that it is only opened until 6.00pm. Hence, we walked into a cafe to chill before heading back to our hotel to call it a day.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Japan: Day 1 (Kyoto)

It was finally the trip that both of us were really looking forward to. We had bought the flight tickets one year ago. Researched and planned this trip for over a year as well. And yes, been looking forward to this trip for over a year.

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We were supposed to leave Penang and reached Japan on the same day. However, due to flight changes by AirAsia, as usual, we had to stay extra night in Sepang. To be exact, two extra nights – a night when we flew from Penang to KLIA2 and another night when we flew from Japan back to Malaysia. Of course we stayed at Tune Hotel on those extra nights. Though the room is small, it is enough to sleep just for one night.

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It was a 6-hour flight from KLIA2 to Kansai Airport. When we landed the airport, we headed to Kansai Tourist Information Centre to get the necessary transportation passes. Our trip consisted of 3 nights in Kyoto, 1 night in Ise, 1 night in Mount Koyasan and the remaining nights in Osaka.

Therefore, we bought Kintetsu Rail Pass Wide which provides five consecutive days of unlimited use of local, rapid and express trains with up to three rides on limited express trains on Kintetsu Railways. Additionally, it includes airport access with return whereby these trips can be made outside the 5-day period. Also, we can use this pass for unlimited bus rides in Ise. Though it cost us 5,860 yen each, it was really worth the purchase. For our trip, below are the suggestions to use the three rides on limited express trains:

  1. Osaka-Namba to Kyoto
  2. Kyoto to Ujiyamada (Ise)
  3. Ujiyamada (Ise) to Osaka-Namba

We also bought 2-day Osaka Amazing Pass which cost us 3,000 yen each. It provides unlimited use of subways and city buses within Osaka City for two consecutive days. Additionally, there are free admission to some tourist attractions which can help to save our expenditure.

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As the railway from Kansai Airport to Osaka-Namba was operated by Nankai Line, we had to use the vouchers to change to tickets at the ticket counter. As I did not know how to use the limited express ride at that time, we used local train where we had to make a change once for us to reach Osaka-Namba. Fortunately we asked a local for help. Else, we would not know that we had to change to another train at one of the stations.

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As it was already dinner time when we reached Osaka-Namba station, we decided to get a quick bite. We came across this restaurant – Nankai Soba. To be honest, I was really amazed by the technology in Japan. There is a vending machine for you to place an order. A freaking vending machine! Fortunately they have an English menu available for us to place our orders.

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Moving on, we used local train from Osaka-Namba to Kyoto which took us a few hours as the train stopped at every station. What we could have done differently was to use one of the three limited express rides to bring us to Kyoto faster.

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As we were wiped out, we decided to take a cab, just once, from Kyoto Station to our hotel. Again, I was amazed by the technology – the passenger’s door is an automated door! You do not have to open and close the door yourself. I was really impressed by how Japan wanting to provide convenience to its people. The next amazing thing was at the hotel. We normally make payments at the counter when we checked-in. However, this hotel, you have to make payment at a machine! Kakkoiii.. Anyhow, as expected, the room was really small but it was comfortable enough for us to stay for 3 nights.

Since it was already late night, we did not go anywhere but to call it a day for an amazing day the next day. Therefore, stay tuned for my next post!