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!

On holiday – Day 24

24

And if travel is like love, it is, in the end, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.
-Pico Iyer