And finally, Tokyo

Wow, this was a long time in coming. I apologize for the lack of posts lately and for this one being so late. Work in December and January has been insane and has only just started to normalize. I have another busy weekend coming up, so I wanted to share this post before things get too hectic.

I only spent a couple of days and nights in Tokyo this trip. The photos below are from a few places. I walked through Yoyogi park and checked out Meiji Shrine. I also spent some time in the Harajuku area. I walked through Takeshita street and found a quiet shrine a few minutes away. I wandered through the Omotesando area and through various neighbourhoods. I also walked around near Shibuya station to see Hachiko and the famous Shibuya scramble crossing. There are also quite a few pictures from the Asakusa area, my favourite go-to place!

I hope you have a wonderful rest of the week and a great weekend!! I’ll try to be posting on a more regular schedule once this weekend is over.

What is your favourite place to travel to?

Kyoto bound!

15The next morning dawned bright and early. I packed up my small, wheeled carry-on, slung on my backpack, and walked ten minutes to the train station. One transfer and twenty minutes later and I was walking downstairs into Tokyo station. I had planned to meet my friend at the Shinkansen (bullet train) office to pick up our tickets to Kyoto. I would have preferred to take the three hour journey alone. But she didn’t feel confident in figuring out the ticket system, so I agreed to meet her at 10 AM. Unfortunately, everything that could go wrong for her, did. In the end she didn’t make it there until almost noon.

Once we arrived in Kyoto, we split up and checked in at our separate hostels. She suggested meeting up but I wanted to wander around by myself so I politely declined. We each had different things we wanted to see while in Kyoto. And though we met up a couple of times, I was on my own for the most part and it was amazing. In the days that followed, I used the train system, and a few buses, to travel around Kyoto. Revisiting favourite places and discovering new ones. On the day we arrived, I spent most of my time in the Gion area. I visited Kennin-ji Temple. It was founded in 1202 and claims to be the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto. I also checked out Yasaka Shrine that evening. It’s also called Gion Shrine and is one of the most famous shrines in Kyoto.

My first full day in Kyoto was full of travel! The bamboo grove in Arashiyama was my first stop. It’s one of my favourite places in Kyoto. But to avoid the throngs of tourists, you need to go early. I revisited Okochi Sanso and enjoyed a cup of green tea prepared the traditional way. I also took time to explore Tenryu-ji Temple, the most important temple in the Arashiyama area and a world heritage site. I recommend it and it’s well worth the price of admission to see both the temple and gardens. I took a much-needed stop at Tenzan no Yu onsen to rest up and soak my sore and tired body. It’s an amazing onsen and spa complex in the Arashiyama area.

The next day was just as full! I woke up early and headed to Fushimi Inari. Fushimi Inari is the most important shrine dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. To avoid the crowds you can either go early or late at night. I spent an hour or so climbing up the steps to the top. Then took a brief rest and enjoyed a Japanese snack of strawberry daifuku from a vendor at the bottom. Then it was time to take the train to Kinkaku-ji. Kinkaku-ji, or the Golden Pavilion, is a Zen temple whose top two floors are covered in gold leaf. It was beautiful! I spent the rest of the day traveling to and exploring Kiyomizudera. It was founded in 780 and was added to the list of UNESCO world heritage sites in 1994. Part of it was under construction while I was there. But it was still very impressive. The views you can see from the main building are incredible!

I also had the chance to make an afternoon visit to Nara. It’s a 30 minute trip by Limited Express train from Kyoto (it normally takes an hour). The deer park was beautiful and it was neat to see deer roaming around among the tourists. You can buy special crackers to feed the deer if you’re interested. I also got to see Kofuku-ji Temple which was established in 710. Another highlight was Todai-ji Temple, a famous Nara landmark, constructed in 752. As I was heading out, I discovered Yoshiki-en Garden. It’s named after the Yoshikigawa River. Any foreign tourists gain entrance free of charge. But it’s so beautiful that I’d happily pay admission.

The next day was my final day in Kyoto. I woke up early and took the bus to the Tetsugaku no Michi, or the Philosopher’s Path. It’s a beautiful path that follows a tree-lined canal. It’s a well-known tourist area, so go early to avoid the crowds. When I was there I only saw two other people! It’s perfect for a quiet, reflective walk. I also walked to Honen-in Temple which is nearby. It was established in 1680 and is especially beautiful in the spring and fall. It was one of my favourite temples. While I was in the area, I also visited Ginkaku-ji Temple. It’s also known as the Silver Pavilion and was modeled after Kinkaku-ji.

After a wonderful trip to Kyoto, it was time to take the train back to Tokyo. I had a few things I still wanted to see in Tokyo before we flew back to Canada.

Next stop: Tokyo!

Starting in Asakusa

20181007_203719The day started early as we flew out of Clark, Philippines at 2 AM. We stopped in Seoul for a few hours. It was enough time to find our next gate, grab a bite to eat, and board the large airliner bound for Tokyo. After a very long day of travel, we finally arrived at Narita International Airport around noon. We cleared customs and immigration quickly. Then headed to the bank to exchange our money into Japanese yen.

As I was learning, things rarely go smoothly or quickly with my traveling companion. We were at the bank for a long time while she got organized. We then headed downstairs to pick up our JR passes and a PASMO card. We discovered a Starbucks along the way and ordered the first of many caffeinated beverages. I wanted to get going as soon as possible. But she wanted to sit in the Starbucks for a little. I couldn’t argue because we weren’t allowed to bring open drinks on the train. Unfortunately that turned into almost an hour before I could convince her to leave.

At this point I was done. I was exhausted from the flight (I don’t sleep well on planes). I had wanted to leave far earlier than we had. I was hungry (I couldn’t find any gluten-free food options in Seoul airport). And I was getting tired of my travel-mate’s passive-aggressive comments. I knew she was as tired as I was. But it didn’t make it any easier to take (don’t worry, the rest of the trip went a lot better).

As soon as we stepped onto the train and claimed seats, I popped in my headphones and shut out the world. We arrived at Asakusa station after an hour-long train ride. Fortunately my hostel was north of the station and hers was south so we parted ways here. I made it to my hostel, checked in, did some exploring, and got dinner.

Asakusa is one of my favourite areas of Japan. It’s located in the northeast part of central Tokyo and has a more traditional atmosphere. If you find yourself in Asakusa, there are a few interesting things you can check out.

Kaminarimon – the first of two large gates leading to Sensoji Temple.
Sensoji Temple – the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo.
Asakusa Shrine – one of the most famous Shinto Shrines.
Nakamise shopping street – a great place for food vendors and souvenirs.
Shin-Nakamise shopping street – a covered shopping arcade with shops and restaurants.
Kappabashi shopping street – a shopping street full of kitchen-related items such as tableware, utensils, appliances, sample food, etc.
Rox department store – a shopping and entertainment complex. You can find pretty much anything you need here and there’s a supermarket in the basement.
Sumida Park – a park with walking paths that stretches along the Sumida river. It’s especially beautiful during cherry blossom season.
Hanayashiki amusement park – a miniature amusement park with numerous attractions and a few rides.

Next up: Kyoto!

Adventures in the Philippines

20180930_152535This year I was able to visit yet another part of the Philippines. I flew into Clark airport to avoid traffic in Manila. I stayed at a nice hostel in Angeles City and met up with a few friends there. Three of us then drove to Baguio City, a trip that takes 3-4 hours depending on traffic.

A few days before my flight, Typhoon Mangkhut lashed the northern part of the Philippines. There had been landslides in Baguio that affected roads and homes. But by the time we drove through, the roads were clear. We still experienced a lot of rain as we drove up the narrow, winding, mountain roads. But conditions were extremely favorable despite the weather.

Baguio City is a beautiful mountain resort town. It’s located in northern Luzon (the largest island in the Philippines) and is called the City of Pines. On average it’s 1540 meters above sea level and has a cooler climate. While I was there the temperatures ranged from 22 to 26 degrees Celsius (70-80 degrees Farenheit). Whereas Angeles City sat at a steady 34 degrees Celsius (93 degrees Farenheit) the few days we were there.

I met up with the rest of my friends once I arrived in Baguio. We spent our time exploring nearby attractions and venturing into Baguio City. Camp John Hay offers treetop adventures, hiking paths, trail rides, a butterfly sanctuary, the cemetery of negativism, Bell House, a secret garden, and plenty of restaurants on site.

We also visited the botanical gardens, Burnham Park, SM City Baguio (a huge shopping mall), and the wet market. Since I was traveling with people who spoke Tagalog, we usually took public transport. It was my first time riding in a jeepney and it was a neat experience. They were originally created from leftover US military jeeps from WWII. We also took a lot of taxis and GRAB rides (like UBER). We found that most drivers spoke a bit of English and we avoided getting too lost.

One thing I noticed about the city was the air quality. When you were near Camp John Hay or out hiking, the air was clear and fresh. But the pollution was more evident when you ventured downtown. If I were to go back, I’d likely pick up a disposable mask. It was one thing I wasn’t used to experiencing in Canada.

Despite many food sensitivities, I was able to try lots of different Filipino dishes. I tried Taho (made with silken tofu, arnibal, and sago pearl) for the first time from a vendor and it was quite good. Traveling with people who spoke Tagalog and Ilocano (the language used in Baguio) was so helpful. They were able to tell me what was in the food and ask questions for me. I went hungry more often than I would have liked. But I avoided getting sick.

I brought easy-to-prepare foods like rice noodles and oatmeal for quick meals in my room. I also brought a lot of protein and snack bars wherever I went. That way I always had something to eat if I couldn’t find something safe nearby. The “Healthy Options” store (found in most SM Malls) has a sizable array of allergen-friendly foods. I stocked up while there.

One of my favourite things about the Philippines is the abundance and variety of fruits. Our hotel had a lovely buffet with freshly-squeezed juices and local fruits. I loved the green mango and calamansi juices best. I also enjoyed fresh rambutan, lanzones, pakwan, buko, and papaya. They were delicious!

I had an amazing time in the Philippines and I wanted to stay for longer. If I make it back again, I’d love to visit Palawan, Ilo Ilo, Corregidor, Davao, and a few more places. If you have any suggestions, let me know 🙂 But soon enough it was time for our flight to Tokyo where another adventure awaited.

Where is your favourite place?

Quick trip overview

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The view from my hotel in Baguio City, Philippines.

I can’t believe it’s already been over a week since my return to Canada. I’m completely over the jet lag but am still experiencing some general tiredness. I’ve spent this last week reluctantly getting back into the routine of work and life. I miss the adventure and exploration of traveling. But my workouts and dance lessons have kept things fun and exciting. I’ve also been reliving the trip by going through and editing photos.

I wanted to share a quick overview of how my trip went. You can look forward to more detailed posts and photos in the weeks to come. Last year I explored parts of Asia solo. This time I traveled with a friend. I’m one of the biggest introverts you’ll ever meet. She’s a gregarious extrovert. We get along well but I can quickly shift from comfortable to overwhelmed when I’m with her. She claimed that she “gets quiet when she’s tired”. Great, I thought, we’ll both be quiet on the flights to and from. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case and she talked as much as she normally does. So I pretty much blocked her out in self-defense. Other than that, the trip went smoothly. We had beautiful weather and were able to make our flight connections without a problem.

In the Philippines we stayed at the same hotels but in different rooms. This ensured I got plenty of quiet. My mornings and evenings were peaceful havens of solitude. This kept me sane and gave me the energy I needed for my daily adventures. Once we met up with our mutual friends, it got even better. Since we had such a large group, we ended up breaking into smaller ones. She was drawn to the boisterous, rowdy group. While I stayed with the quieter one. It was awesome.

In Japan we stayed in separate hostels and had our own itineraries. So for the exception of a few meals and a Saturday afternoon together, we were mostly on our own. It was the ideal situation for me, as I love traveling solo. I’m looking forward to sharing some photos with you once I’m finished editing them 🙂

Hope you have a great rest of the week!

Adventures & 7 travel tips

japan-1432144_1280This time last year I was preparing for my first foray into Asia. You can check out my posts on the Philippines and Japan part 1, 2, and 3 if you’re interested. I loved both of these places so much that I’m going back again later this month. This time I’ll be traveling to a new part of the Philippines instead of staying in the Clark/Angeles City area. I’ll be there for two weeks. Then I’m heading back to Japan for a week but spending most of my time in Kyoto with a short trip to Nara.

I’ll be traveling with a friend which will create a different dynamic than last time. We’ll likely stick close in the Philippines as we’re spending time with mutual friends. But I’m hoping she’ll branch out on her own once we reach Japan. On the plus side we’ve rented separate accommodations so I can get the quiet I need each day.

Here’s a short list of things I need to remember for this trip. Hopefully it can be helpful to others as well.

1. Seek quiet
Schedule in quiet time throughout the day. For me it’s in the morning and evening. I also keep a pretty early bed time so I’m feeling my best in the morning. I search for parks, gardens, and temples to explore if I need a break. I also leave open places in my schedule. This allows me to head back to my room if I need to. Or to randomly explore if the desire arises.

2. Observe
I love people watching. To soak in and absorb the unique sounds, scents, chatter, colors, and culture. You can learn so much by observing, picking up local customs simply by watching. And while I love taking photographs. I always make sure to put the camera down and just enjoy the experience.

3. Unwind and reflect
At the end of each day I pull out my travel journal and write for a while. By writing out my thoughts, feelings, and experiences, I can process them. It helps me wrap up and package the day’s events so I can look forward to what tomorrow brings.

4. Come prepared
I bring a few things to make my life easier. This includes a good book, headphones, an eye mask, and a portable battery charger. If you have any food allergies/sensitivities make sure you research safe things/places to eat. Also look up things to do, tours, local customs, etc. I find being mentally prepared ahead of time helps reduce the amount of stress I feel once I’m there.

5. Prioritize your needs
Getting the quiet time you need is super important. But so is taking care of yourself physically. Stay hydrated and get enough to eat. I bring lots of snacks because it’s not always easy to find gluten-free options. Ensure you get enough sleep so you can enjoy your trip and avoid getting sick. Check in with yourself throughout the day to assess how you’re feeling and make adjustments as necessary.

6. Accept your nature
Plan your itinerary based on your energy. I want adventure but I also need solitude. Choose a few awesome things to do. Then play the rest by ear. Or choose an attraction then explore the area. Wander along alleyways and check out what’s around that next corner. You never know what you may find. And don’t feel guilty if you can’t do everything.

7. Embrace the uncomfortable
Accept you’re in a new and different place. Revel in it, enjoy the differences. Take in the unique smells, tastes, and let the experience flow over and around you. It’s okay to feel out of place. Stepping out of your comfort zone can be terrifying but the rewards are incredible. One way I like to do this is by staying in a hostel (in a private room). I can get the quiet I need. But I can venture into the social spaces when I want to connect with others.

While I’m away I’ll be sharing travel quotes with photos from my trip last year. If there’s anything you’re interested in seeing from the trip (videos, introvert-friendly attractions, suggestions, etc) let me know.

Hope you have a great weekend!

Adventures in Japan – Part 3

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Day 6

It had been nearly a week of rainy, overcast weather. But when I looked outside this morning, I saw the bright sunshine and decided to visit the Meiji Shrine. I explored the area for an hour or so, drew my fortune, then headed back to Takeshita Street and Tokyu Plaza in Omotesando for lunch. I spent the rest of the afternoon in Yoyogi Park enjoying the warmth and sun. It was a laid back day and I definitely needed the slower pace.

Day 7

Today was an early day. I woke up before everyone else, checked out of the hostel, and headed to Tokyo Station. I reserved a seat on the Shinkansen with my rail pass, bought an ekiben (train bento) for lunch, then headed to the platform. The journey took less than three hours and I arrived in Kyoto in the early afternoon. I found the hostel with ease (with a map) and checked into my room. After settling in, I walked around Kyoto with a fellow traveler from Germany. We got back around 8 pm, I had supper, then headed to bed.

Day 8

As I was only in Kyoto for two full days, I wanted to make the most of my time there. I got up early and walked to Kyoto station, grabbing a coffee and onigiri on the way. After a short train ride, we arrived at Fushimi Inari. Beautiful orange temples and torii gates decorated the landscape. It’s located on a small mountain and you can walk all the way to the top beneath an unending line of orange gates. It’s quite the experience and quite the challenging climb. But it was the perfect start to the day and the quiet coolness of the forest is calming. Introvert tip: go super early or at night to avoid the massive crowds. I explored Kyoto Imperial Palace and Nijo Castle after that. I made it just in time for the last tour of Ninomaru Palace, complete with gorgeous artwork and nightingale floors! Then a quick supper and time for bed.

Day 9

To avoid the crowds, I took the train at 7 am to the Arashiyama bamboo grove. Very few were there that early. It was an incredible experience to walk among the towering bamboo in solitude and reflection. I also quietly explored the neighborhoods, and many shrines and temples. I also recommend checking out Ōkōchi Sansō. It’s a villa that was owned by a well-known Japanese actor. But for a small entrance fee, you can enjoy a steaming cup of matcha in a cute tea house in the midst of a beautiful garden. I then walked to Monkey Park Iwatayama nearby. It’s a steep climb, but well worth it to see the Japanese macaque monkeys and the view at the top! In the evening I headed to the Gion district for delicious sushi. Then I spent a few hours exploring the quaint side streets to catch a glimpse of a geisha or maiko. Walking the narrow streets really feels like you’ve stepped back in time.

Hope you have a great weekend!

Adventures in Japan – Part 2

 

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Day 3 

It was another overcast day. I grabbed an umbrella on my way out and walked to the train station. I arrived at Shibuya Station around 11 AM (after a 40 minute ride) and walked around to find the Hachiko statue. I walked across the famous Shibuya Crossing and did some window shopping at Shibuya 109. Then ventured out into the surrounding area, grabbed a coffee, and explored lots of cute shops. Shibuya is extremely busy even when it’s raining. Sidewalks were packed and a ceiling of umbrellas bobbed overhead. I headed back to Asakusa a bit early for dinner and to unwind.

Day 4

Harajuku is well known for it’s cute, quirky, and unique shops and fashion. I took the train to the Omotesando Station and started my day at Tokyu Plaza. It houses several shops, cafes, and a Starbucks with a unique outdoor seating area. I then walked to Takeshita Street to explore all the unique shops and adorable cafes. The atmosphere is quite unique and I definitely recommend checking it out. I had a quick lunch, then walked around Yoyogi park, which is also quite close. I stayed in the area until after the evening rush, hanging out at a coffee shop overlooking a busy street and people watching.

Day 5

I headed to Akihabara a bit early, right after the morning rush had ended. Huge signs and billboards advertise anime, video games, and maid cafes, so it’s an easy place to find. I browsed a few shops and tried my hand at gashapon. It’s a fun place to explore, especially if you’re a bit nerdy/geeky like me. Then it was time for lunch. I stopped at Tokyo Station for a delicious lunch of gluten free ramen at Soranoiro (at Tokyo Station Ramen Street), which I totally recommend. Then I walked over to the Imperial Palace, making it just in time to tour the Imperial Palace and grounds before closing time. The rain held off, making this afternoon one of the most enjoyable so far.

How’s your day going?

7 more introvert travel tips

20171020_144846Last year, I shared a post: 5 introvert travel tips. Today I’d like to share another 7 tips I found helpful when travelling in Japan. I spent a lot of time in crowds. Most of this was due to the high population density of Tokyo. I also visited several popular tourist attractions. As an introvert, this was a huge challenge. Here are a few things that helped me avoid total burnout on my trip.

1. Take time to unwind.
At the end of every day, I spent at least an hour unwinding at the hostel. I’d spend that time writing in my journal, planning out the next day’s journey and train schedule, and doing some light reading. I’d also do laundry, take a shower, and send emails. Slowing down my pace helped me recharge from the day’s activities and helped prepare me for sleep.

2. Head to bed early.
I love staying up late and exploring at night. But most of the time, I went to bed early. This was to ensure I got a full night’s sleep and would wake up refreshed the next day. It’ll also help with the next point.

3. Visit places early.
I visited many popular tourist attractions. But I was able to avoid the insanely packed crowds simply by going early. I visited Arashiyama (the bamboo grove) at 8 AM and it was almost empty! Of course I also had to leave even earlier to get there, but it was totally worth it. Getting to wander through the bamboo grove was so much more awe-inspiring because I wasn’t bumping elbows with hundreds of others.

4. Start your day quietly.
Take your time getting ready for the day. If you have to be somewhere at a certain time, give yourself lots of time to get ready. This reduces stress and anxiety so you aren’t rushing around last minute. If you’re able to pack your bag and pick your outfit ahead of time, do so.  That way everything is ready to go.

5. Bring music.
When things start getting too overwhelming, music can be a lifesaver. It gives you something to focus on and blocks out the surrounding noise. I find that music can also help calm me down if I’m starting to get overwhelmed.

6. Stay hydrated and fed.
Always bring water and snacks with you. Especially if you have food allergies or sensitivities. A hungry introvert is a cranky one. You may not have control over your environment. But you can prevent yourself from feeling even worse. I always carried a ton of protein bars, beef jerky, and dried fruit with me.

7. Seek out quiet.
This isn’t always an option, but try to find a quiet place. Find a washroom, search out a quiet bench, or walk down a quiet alley (only if this is safe to do). If you can’t find a place to recharge, figure out a plan of action. Do you need to get away now? Go for it. Can you last for another 10 minutes or more? That’s great. But above all, don’t feel guilty if you have to leave earlier than planned. It’s so important to take care of yourself.

Do you have any travel tips?

Adventures in Japan – part 1

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Ever since I was young, I’ve wanted to go to Japan. I’ve always had a great love for Japanese culture, music, and food. So getting to finally experience it in person was incredible. I’ve watched lots of videos on things to see, good things to know, and helpful phrases for tourists. But the experience of being there was better than I had imagined. It actually rained most of the time I was there, so if the pictures appear a bit grey, that’s why 😉

Day 1

I arrived at Narita airport, cleared customs and immigration, then exchanged my money. Then it was time to take the train. I took the escalator downstairs and picked up my JR rail pass (which would be activated later). I also purchased a PASMO card. You can buy individual tickets for each trip, but it’s far easier to swipe your PASMO or SUICA card each time you need. You can also reload your card with more funds if they get low. I then asked the information desk which train I needed to take to get to Asakusa (the area I was staying in). She told me which train to take, which track I needed, and the arrival time.

The trip to Asakusa took about an hour. The train was completely silent, despite the fact that it filled up quickly. I got off at the right station, pulled out my map, and tried to figure out where to go. A friendly businessman saw me looking confused and pointed me in the right direction. If you see a police box, or koban, they’re also happy to help you out. I made it to the hostel, checked in, and spent the next hour or so making up my bed, unpacking, and unwinding. I wandered around a bit that evening, but was pretty tired and went to bed early.

Day 2

I was still in recovery mode the next day, so I decided to stay in the area and explore Asakusa. I walked over to Senso-ji (the oldest temple in Tokyo). I started at the main gate and wandered down Nakamise-dori. It was full of vendors selling everything from kimono to freshly roasted chestnuts. People were milling around, taking photos, and enjoying the atmosphere. Many dressed up in rental kimono and were taking photos of themselves in front of the temple. Getting to soak in the atmosphere was amazing!

While I was there, a businessman asked if he could practice his English with me. I wasn’t in a hurry, so I agreed. He then gave me a guided tour of the temple, explaining some of the history and background of the area. I got to try omikuji (random fortunes) while I was there too. For 100 yen (about a dollar) you can take a small wooden box, shake it, then pull out a long wooden stick that has a symbol on it. You find the drawer with the corresponding symbol and pull out your fortune. I got a “normal/good” fortune on my first go. But if you draw a bad fortune, you’re supposed to tie it to a nearby rack so it won’t come true.

We parted ways and I continued exploring. I found a couple of other shrines nearby and a gluten-free bakery. I then walked to Sumida park, and sat quietly on a bench with a coffee, enjoying the view of the river. It was a lovely recovery day. The next day I planned to figure out the train system and head to Shibuya!

How was your weekend?