I was lucky enough to have been invited to play a ProAm tournament in Maui last November at the beautiful Wailea Golf Club. It was 4 rounds at each of their courses (blue, gold and emerald x 2) teeing off at 7am each day so it gives us plenty of time to vacation in between rounds. Our team consisted of Cory Renfrew (Pro), Scott Walker, Max Kettler, and myself.
The playing conditions were some of the best I've ever experienced. Greens ran true, light fluffy sand in the bunkers, and the fairways were in great shape. One of the most challenging things I faced, apart from the distraction of the beautiful views, was the bermuda grass! It was the first time I've ever played on it and it took a while for me to adjust. I shot 91 (Blue), 80 (Emerald), 87 (Gold), and 86 (Emerald) and although we didnt make any prizes for the team event, Cory Renfrew won the Pro portion of the tournament for the 2nd year running.
The Blue course (Holes: 18 | Back Tee: 6545 | Par: 71 | Slope: 129 | Rating: 71.6) is the original Wailea course designed by Arthur Jack Snyder. It had really fast greens and a lot of the holes were lined by homes, but the good news is the fairways are quite wide...
The Emerald course (Holes: 18 | Back Tee: 6825 | Par: 72 | Slope: 135 | Rating: 72.8) was my favourite of the 3. If it thought the views were great on the Blue course, the Emerald's was even more stunning. Designed by Robert Trent Jones II, I found that this course had the most risk v reward chances.
Lastly, the Gold course (Holes: 18 | Back Tee: 7078 | Par: 72 | Slope: 138 | Rating: 74.5). It played the hardest for me even though I had a worse score from the Blue course (I was adjusting and dealing with nerves ok?! :)) There were a lot more bunkers in play on the Gold and a few more force carries.
If you're trying to decide which one to play on, any of these courses are quite spectacular but Emerald would be my first choice.
The Fairmont Kea Lani
During my time in Maui, I stayed at the Fairmont Kea Lani in Kihei as they were the tournament host. Even though they were in the midst of a renovation to their rooms, there were only a few minor inconveniences. Nothing to ruin a trip or even talk about.
My room had a Garden View and was one that was newly renovated. It was an accessible room so my lanai was ground level which made the room feel even bigger since I was able to step out and have more room to walk around. You get your usual amenities with a few extras: a Keurig coffee maker that is refilled every day, an electric hot water kettle, and a microwave. Since I had really early tee times, having these was a godsend. I was able to make a proper breakfast before I got out to the course.
The Fairmont resort grounds was beautiful. There was plenty of space for every one: a pool for families, a pool for kids, and one for adults only. Located on the ground floor is the market, clothing shop and theatre that had a magic show. The restaurants are also located nearby.
The Polo beach is about a 5 min walk from the pool area past the villas. There, you can rent lounge chairs with an umbrella, and snorkel gear. The first hour is included with your stay.
The Fairmont is really promoting to reduce plastic waste so located throughout the property are water stations. The water is filtered and cold. I really appreciated this amenity and used it many times during my trip. Each of their cabanas also has reef safe sunscreen, cooling lotion (in case you get burned), water and, of course, towels.
For me, Kyoto has the perfect balance of the Old and the New. A place where traditional blends seamlessly with the modern and a feeling I thought I would feel in Athens. During our time in Kyoto, we visited the usual tourist spots: Fushimi Inari Taisha; Kinkaku-ji; Kiyozumi-dera; Arashiyama; Nishiki Market; Nijo Castle; Gion. Each site had it's own charm and beauty and when I go back to Kyoto, I would visit them all again.
Fushimi Inari Taisha
Even though you may not know the name Fushimi Inari Taisha I am sure you've seen pictures of it at least once. It is the spot where you see hundreds vermilion torii gates that line a path like the one pictured below. The torii gates are not the only attraction at Fushimi but it is likely the main reason tourists come here.
We arrived Fushimi Inari via the JR line and as soon as we exited Inari station, the shrine was right there. An alternate train line to get here is the Keihan line which stops a few streets over. It is a nice walk through the streets with small shops.
We decided to go to Fushimi Inari a earlier in the morning to hopefully beat the large tourist groups. When we arrived at 930am, it was already pretty busy but not compared to how busy it got at noon when we left.
Fushimi Inari-Taisha is the head shrine of the god Inari who is the god of rice, tea, sake, fertility, agriculture and of prosperity, and is one of the principle kami (or spirit) of Shinto. The Kitsune, or fox, is believed to be a messenger to Inari.
We spent a lot of time hiking up the mountain and taking pictures in between. There is so much to see and experience along the way, so when you visit Fushimi Inari-Taisha, I would allot at least 2 to 3 hours to enable you to really experience the area and the beauty of Mount Inari. It could be done in a little over an hour but that wouldn't do the place justice. Be warned, the hike up to the top of Mount Inari is like a stair master challenge! We only made it halfway up and according to my pedometer, we climbed 55 flights of stairs!
Kinkaku-ji or the Temple of the Golden Pavilion is one of the most beautiful places I visited not only in Kyoto but in the world. Admission is ¥400 (roughly CAD$5) and worth every penny in my opinion.
After a short walk from the front gates, you see this spectacular scene: (pictured below)
It is not uncommon to see huge groups of school kids on a field trip when visiting Kinkaku-ji, in fact, when we visited, I counted at least 6 groups of 15 kids or more. We spent over an hour alone in the front area mainly because it was so crowded that I had to wait patiently to get good pictures but also because it was so beautiful and serene. There is plenty more to see other than the Golden Pavilion but in my opinion, none are as memorable.
Shirakawa Dori and Pontocho
After a long day of touring the sites and attractions, it is nice to just relax and be brought back in time.
Shirakawa Dori and Pontocho are 2 great places to do just that in Kyoto.
Shirakawa Dori is a small section located in the Gion district of Kyoto. From what I have read in a lot of blogs, this area is often depicted in animes and Japanese dramas because they have kept the old style feeling of the buildings and streets. We visited this area at night and with the real Geishas/Maikas and tourists dressed up as Geishas/Maikos walking the narrow streets, it was easy to imagine being in the old Kyoto days.
Pontocho is a great place to do some Geisha spotting. Similar to Shirakawa Dori, Pontocho is an alley that has been preserved. From what I saw, the shops in this alley are mainly restaurants and clubs but there are a few other stores as well. The street parallel to Pontocho also has a large number of restaurants of many cuisines.
This year's travel adventure was a trip Kyoto, Hiroshima and Osaka, places I have never traveled to before. Prior to this trip, Tokyo was the only Japanese city I have visited and I was very excited to see other parts of Japan.
The first leg of my trip was a 4 day stay in Kyoto. I flew into Kansai International Airport and the easiest and fastest way to get to Kyoto from Kansai that I found was taking the Airport Express train called "Haruka" line which takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes as it only stop about 5 or 6 times. After collecting your luggage at Kansai, go to the second floor and across the pedestrian walkway to the adjacent building which is the train station. There you will see 2 sets of automated ticketing machines, one for the Nankai Electric Railway and the other is for the JR line. If you purchased the JR pass, I believe you need to go into the ticketing office to get it. I didn't buy the pass so I went directly to the automated machines, selected English and bought my tickets to Kyoto. When buying tickets for the Haruka, there are 2 tickets you need to buy and it cost me around 2850 Yen. I believe one was for 960 Yen and the other was for 1890 Yen. Don't lose these tickets as you will need them to enter and exit the train platforms.
One thing that I found extremely helpful when using the various public transportation in and around Kyoto/Osaka/Hiroshima is to get an ICOCA card. Prior to my trip, I read many blogs that weren't entirely clear if the ICOCA card was usable outside of Kyoto and Osaka. I can say that from what I have seen, it is now available to be used all over Japan. The only caveat seems to be that you can only get your deposit back in the Osaka/Kyoto area.
To get one of these cards, look for one of the automated ticketing machines for one that dispenses the ICOCA. The price of the card is 2000 Yen (1500 Yen available for use, and 500 Yen is the card deposit). To reload the card, you can go to any convenience store like 7-Eleven or Family Mart and tell the clerk you wish to do so.
You can get the 500 Yen back when you return the card at the end of your trip but there is a 220 Yen service charge. If your load amount on the card is less than 220 Yen, then it will take the balance as the service charge and you still get your 500 Yen back. One good thing about the card is the balance on the card is good for 10 years, so if you intend to return to Japan within that time, you don't need to return the card at all.
The Court Hotel Kyoto Shijo was the hotel we chose to stay in during our time in Kyoto. Overall, I would agree to the 3 star rating for the hotel. It provided us with everything we may need while there and even had a laundry room if we needed to wash our clothes. One thing disappointed me was that we booked a non-smoking room and they did not have any left when we checked in. Luckily, the room wasn't too smelly and the next day when housekeeping came, they did a steam vacuum to the room and the smell was virtually gone.
The room we got was a standard twin(standard) room. Amenities included in the room were the usual bathroom items, sleeping robes, hot water kettle, tea and cookies (replenished daily), and slippers. The bathroom has the usual Japanese toilet complete with heated seat and bidet. But with all Japanese hotel bathrooms, it feels like being in a cruise ship. The one thing missing from the room is a safe which it seems like isn't included in a lot of Japanese hotels.
The hotel is very centrally located and a bit outside of the busy section of Kyoto. The Nishiki Market and shopping district is only about a 15-20 minute walk. The Gion district is about another 15 minute walk past that. Kiyozumi Dera is about a 45 minute walk (but be warned, its a bit of an uphill trek on the latter half of the walk). To get to Nijo Castle, it is an easy 15 minute walk from the hotel. To get to Arashiyama (the bamboo forest and the monkeys at Mount Arashi), its an easy 10 minute walk to the Shijo-Omiya station to take the Keifuku Line which is an above ground light rail tram to the Arashiyama station. I will talk about the sites I visited in upcoming posts. :)
There is a lot of restaurants close to the hotel as well as a Family Mart and a Fresco (supermarket). I would recommend this hotel but if you want to be closer to the shopping district, then I would definitely recommend the Hotel Sunroute chain which we stayed with in Hiroshima and Osaka (more on this later as well).
That's it for now, stay tuned for the sites that I visited while in Kyoto. For now, Mahalo Nui Loa :)
One of the things to do after a long day of touring is to hang out in the Pub Street area. The sign above is located on the corner of Street 11 and Street 8 and the Pub Street area extends about 3 blocks in every direction. Here you will find many restaurants and cafes as well as food carts and bars which come out at night. It gets pretty crazy here once the sun sets in Siem Reap!
One of my favourite restaurants in the Pub Street area is Khmer Kitchen Restaurant which has 2 locations that are quite close to each other. I ate at the newer location which is right on the corner of Street 9 and Hospital Street and is 2 levels. The menu is extensive with Khmer and Western dishes costing anywhere between US$3 to US$7. I loved this place so much that I came here 3 times during my 5 day stay in Siem Reap! The two dishes I would recommend are the pumpkin curry and the eggplant with minced meat.
Walking on Pub Street after dark, you will find a lot of street vendors peddling various food items from fresh jackfruit to fried bugs. And when you get even later into the night, the bar carts come out with music and drink specials.
There are 3 markets all within a 10 minute walk of Pub Street. The Siem Reap Night Market and Kru Khmer Old Market Shop mainly sell souvenir items like paintings, silk, clothes, carvings, keychains, etc. The Psar Chas market, which is also known as the Old Market has the same items as the other markets but in the morning hours until around 1pm or so, they also sell produce, fish, and meats. Bargaining is expected at these markets but unlike the markets in Hong Kong or Turkey, the prices they gave weren’t that inflated to begin with (maybe about 20-25% higher).
I am so happy to have had the opportunity to cross Angkor Wat off my bucket list. The feeling you get when you walk the halls of the centuries old temples and being able to marvel at the magnificent structures built by the Khmer empire first hand is truly an awe-inspiring and humbling feeling. If you ever have an opportunity to visit Angkor Wat, do so.
- Mahalo Nui Loa.
I booked my tour with Siem Reap Private Day Tours who I found through TripAdvisor where they received many good reviews including mine. I opted to spread out my touring through 3 ½ days so my itinerary was very relaxed. We often started a little bit later in the morning, around 9:00am and ended at around 3 or 4. For me, this was perfect as we didn’t have to travel too much from site to site. We were able to stay longer in each site and I was able to take hundreds of pictures at different angles and was even able to wait out tour groups for shots so that it seemed like I had the whole place to myself.
In Cambodia you are required to have a certified tour guide to bring you inside the temples/ruins or you can explore on your own. If you hire a private tour company to take your group around, most of the drivers are not certified tour guides and you may need to hire a separate one. I strongly recommend doing so as each temple/ruin has its own unique history and may not be captured in a travel book. Siem Reap Private Day Tours is able to arrange one for you in your preferred language. Just advise them at the time of booking.
The main Angkor Wat temple is as magnificent as the pictures portray it to be. The complex is about 400 acres big, and give yourself plenty of time to explore it all, you will not be disappointed. We arrived at 5 am to watch the sun slowly rise and illuminate the 5 towers of Angkor Wat in a gentle orange and pink glow. Do not pass up the opportunity to climb the main tower of Angkor Wat. The views you get at the top is not something you want to miss.
Apart from the main Angkor Wat complex, my favourite sites that I visited are Ta Prohm, Bayon, Banteay Srei and Neak Pean.
Ta Prohm was featured in the 2001 Action Adventure film Tomb Raider starring Angelina Jolie. While not a very large complex, the main attraction are the trees that have started to grow out from the walls and buildings. In many areas, you see the complex weave of tree roots, climbing all over the walls of the structures. When I visited Ta Prohm, my guide suggested that go during the regular lunch hour and go while the large tour groups were eating lunch. Because of this suggestion, there were maybe 12 -15 people in the temple complex instead of the usual 100+. We took extra time exploring the ruins and examining the carvings that are all over the place.
Bayon is a very mystical place. There are 2 walls on the main floor of this complex that have very intricate carvings that tell the story of the Khmer of old. They appear to show people doing everyday life activities and as you move down the wall, the scenes start changing to show mythical or historical battles during times of the Khmer Empire. In the terrace area above, you see numerous smiling stone faces on the towers. Some say the faces are a representation of King Jayavarman VII and others say that those are the faces of Buddha.
Banteay Srei is a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva and is one of the temples that is outside of the city of Siem Reap. You need to travel about an hour north to get to it and if you only had time to do one temple that is outside the immediate area of Siem Reap, this should be it. Banteay Srei is built primarily with red sandstone which, depending on the light of the day, will give the buildings a very rich reddish, and pinkish hue. There are very intricate carvings all over the walls of each building and statues that still stand intact after years of being exposed to the elements. Thinking back and looking at my pictures, I would have loved to have been in Banteay Srei during sunset, the colours must be absolutely amazing.
Neak Pean is a temple built on a manmade island on the manmade lake Jayatataka. It is believed to have been a hospital of sorts and the central pond inside Neak Pean is said to be a representation of Lake Anavatapta in the Himalayas whose waters are thought to cure all illnesses. The temple area itself isn’t too big but it is still a neat place to visit. It’s amazing how they were able to make these lakes and temples without modern machinery. It must’ve taken years and hundreds or even thousands of people to do it.
Join me as I celebrate life through travel, food and photography.
I will only send out newsletters once a month or so. I promise not to spam