Happy New Year everyone. I wish you all a very happy and prosperous 2019.
2018 was a very busy year for me, especially between October and December, I apologize for not updating my blog more often but life happens. In 2019, I hope to dedicate more time to this blog and share more of my experiences with you all.
To start off 2019, I wish to share my most memorable eats from my trip to Philippines, Japan and Hong Kong in October 2018. To start off, I went to Manila to visit family and attend a wedding where my Dad was one of the "Ninong" or godfather. It was one of the most extravagant weddings I have ever attended in my life and will most likely never again experience. If you have watched the movie "Crazy Rich Asians", this wedding was just like it. Scroll through some Instagram pictures of the wedding (#JarvisandKimi) and read this article or this article, you will understand what I mean! Congratulations Jarvis and Kimi! There were over 1,100 guests in attendance at the reception and one would think that the food quality would suffer. But NO the Manila Marriott hotel did a great job serving consistent and yummy food! It's just too bad that a lot of the older FilChi parents in attendance didn't appreciate the western cuisine as much. But their loss!
Very quickly, the courses were: seared scallop, cauliflower soup with crispy mushroom rangoon, Asian seabass fillet with kumara sweet potatoes, coconut lychee sorbet (to cleanse the pallet), and grilled Australian ribeye with tiger prawns and veggies.
After my short trip to Manila, I headed to Kyoto, Hiroshima and Osaka for 8 days with a very good friend of mine. While there, we ate as much local Japanese food as I could get my hands on! It was a very good thing that we walked a lot or I would have gained at least 20 pounds!
It might have been the excitement of the start of vacation but I enjoyed the food in Kyoto the most out of the 3 places. Don't get me wrong, everywhere we ate at was very good, I didn't have one bad meal in Japan but in Kyoto, everything felt like it was made with more care. I don't really know how else to explain it.
Two of the best meals we had while in Kyoto involved ramen! The first ramen shop we came across was by happenstance. We arrived Kyoto pretty late at night, around 9:30pm and after all that travelling, we were famished. Walking from the subway station to the hotel, we passed a ramen shop that was open until 11:30pm so after checking in and dropping our bags off, we headed straight for it. I don't exactly know what the restaurant is called but their website is found here and is located near the cross streets of Shijo Dori and Muromachi Dori. Doing a google maps search, there is a tag for the restaurant but it's simply called "ramen shop".
The second ramen shop we frequented is called Wajoryomen Sugari (website in Japanese) or on TripAdvisor. The restaurant is only open for dinner and seats about 8-10 people only. The first night we came, we got there at around 7pm and the line up to get a seat was about 45 minutes long. The second night we came, we thought we'd be smart and come 20 minutes before they opened. When we got there, there was already about a dozen people waiting! My favourite here is the tsukemen.
And the last place I wish to highlight from Kyoto is an okonomiyaki restaurant called Botejyu Kyoto. Even though it is a larger restaurant, it is a family run place with excellent food. The type of okonomiyaki they serve is is the Osaka style where everything is mixed into a batter and then cooked as opposed to the Hiroshima style which is layered. We ordered a yakisoba wrapped in omelette and a pork okonomiyaki. Both dishes were prepared in front of us and were very very yummy.
If you are in the Kyoto area, I would highly recommend these 3 restaurants. I know there are a lot of restaurants in Kyoto, especially in the Pontocho area. What are your favourites? Let me know in the comments below and the next time I go to Kyoto, I will try and check them out. In my next blog, I will highlight the restaurants I visited in Hiroshima and Osaka. Until then, Mahalo nui loa.
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 :)
Waikiki is a great area to stay in, lots of places to eat and shop at, the beach is right there, and theres lots of action but it's often so crowded and busy. If I want to be in an area that is a lot quieter with little to no tourists, I stay in the North Shore area of Oahu, specifically the Laie area. Laie is about an hour drive away (2+ hours by public bus) from Honolulu so you definitely need a rental vehicle to get there. There are very few hotels in this area so I opt to stay in a rental home which is the best idea because there are few restaurants in the area as well and you would need somewhere to cook meals unless you want to spend a lot of your time driving around to get take out.
Since 2007, whenever I want to stay in the area, I have been renting a vacation home from a guy named Greg who I found through VRBO. Greg's Laie property is a large house which he has divided into 3 rental units and is conveniently located just minutes away from the Polynesian Cultural Centre.
The first floor unit can sleep 8, it has 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, a large kitchen and dining area and a living room. The second floor unit can sleep 4, it has 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom, a kitchen and eating area, and living room. And lastly there is a separate cottage unit that sleeps 3. The best way I can describe this unit is it's like a hotel room with a kitchen in it, akin to what you would find in a Best Western hotel. The first and second floor divider can be opened up as well if you wish to rent the whole house. It feels like Greg has thought of all the things people would need to make your stay at his units comfortable. He has included a number of amenities like wifi, coffee maker, blender, BBQ grill, almost all the kitchen equipment you need, utensils, plates, a washer/dryer, and even watersport equipment like snorkel gear and boogie boards. You can find all of Greg's rental properties here, he also has a unit in the Kailua area and on the Big Island.
The main reason I stay in Laie is the secluded beach that is less than 100 metres away from Greg's. Kokololio Beach Park is one of the best beaches I have been to in Oahu and is missed by a lot of tourists. I think this is because people mainly see the park area when they are driving along Kamehameha Highway and don't think to stop in. There have been days at a time (on weekdays) where there would only be around a dozen people or less on the beach during the day and some of these people are locals who fish off the beach. During the weekends, the park gets very busy with the locals so I tend to stay away from the beach on those days and do my touristy things in town at that time.
The beach is about a kilometer long and the waves don't get too big so it is quite nice to swim in. For kids, there is an area called "Alligator Rock" which has a very calm pool area with little to no waves affecting it. When you enter the beach area from the path near Greg's property, you will see the rock formation directly to the left and it will look like a partially submerged alligator. These rocks form a natural break from the waves and create a calm pool area. I like to snorkel around this area until I feel more comfortable to go out to the other side of the rocks.
If you are starting to feel bored of vacationing in the Waikiki area, I highly recommend staying on the North Shore especially in the Laie area. It will give you a taste of local Hawaiian life and your vacation will be completely different than what you've had in Waikiki. Next up, I will list some things to eat and do near the Laie area.
-Mahalo Nui Loa
Apart from the obvious (the beach and shopping), there are a lot of fun things to do in the Waikiki area. Some activities can be pretty pricey, like shooting guns, and others can even be cheap and educational, like the zoo. Here are my top things to do while in the Waikiki area.
I am an animal lover and I also love taking pictures of wildlife, so the Honolulu Zoo gives me a great opportunity to take shots of animals that I normally wouldn't see in nature. The zoo is located on the eastern side of the Waikiki area in the Queen Kapiʻolani Park.
The zoo is spread out in a 42 acre piece of land within the park and house over 1200 animals including elephants, tigers, crocodiles, exotic birds, giraffes, and many many more. Whenever I visit the zoo, I am in there for well over 2 hours since there is so much to see and do. There are scheduled talks that takes place throughout the day but I personally haven't gone to one of those so I don't really know what goes on in them. I like to explore the zoo on my own and take as many pictures as I can. My favourites are the tigers and elephants, oh my! (sorry I couldn't resist), and fennec foxes. I spend most of my time in those areas trying to get as many pictures of these magnificent animals. The zoo also has an eating area with a concession stand type stall, a number of vending machines for drinks that are spread out near the public washrooms, and a gift shop near the entrance.
One thing that I have noticed is if you wish to come to the zoo, try to do so in the morning or late afternoon. If you come during lunch hour, you may not see too many animals since a lot of them are sleeping or hiding in the shade since it can get quite hot out.
A free activity to do at night in the Waikiki area is to watch some native Hawaiian dance. The Kuhio Beach Hula Show is an outdoor show held on Tuesdays and Thursday, at around 6:30 pm (6:00 pm in November to January) weather permitting of course. The show is on the Kuhio Beach mound on Kalakaua Ave and Uluniu Avenue behind the huge banyan tree which is very hard to miss.
There are no seats around the stage and space is definitely limited. I got there late one night and I had to stand in the beach since all the spots around the stage was already taken by people who planned ahead! I was still able to get a pretty good view of the stage area and since people who were closer to the stage were sitting, it was pretty unobstructed. I was able to take a couple videos of individual dances and have uploaded them to my Youtube channel.
A not so cheap activity that is fun to do is to shoot guns in Waikiki. In the past, I visited the Royal Hawaiian Shooting club which was on the 4th or 5th floor of the Royal Hawaiian Mall. Last year, I noticed that the club's doors and windows were boarded up. I initially thought that was because of the extensive renovations they were doing to the mall. But doing a search today, it seems like the club has closed its doors permenantly. But not to worry, there is another gun club in the Waikiki area for your shooting needs, the Hawaii Gun Club. They have 2 locations, one on Royal Hawaiian Avenue (the Hawaii Gun Club) and the other on the western side of Kalakaua Avenue (the Waikiki Gun Club). I have only been to the Hawaii Gun Club location many years ago and I remember it being fairly tight in there. I also remember there being a pretty good selection of firearms to shoot but pricing can be pretty high.
These are just some of my top things to do in the Waikiki area that doesn't involve the beach or shopping and I know there are a lot of others as well. What are your favourite things to do? Let me know in the comments below. I'm always looking out for new adventures.
- Mahalo Nui Loa
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