A 10 DAY GUIDE TO TRAVELLING AROUND THE PHILIPPINES.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

I think the Philippines has to be one of my favourite places in Asia now, and I would love to go back in the future to explore areas we didn't get to cover.  The Philippines are made up of more than 7,000 islands and whether you're looking for adventure, tranquility or history; you'll be able to find it here.  After spending a week in slightly more expensive Japan, we went all out at meal times since we could get a 3 course meal for under £15. Here's my guide to spending 10 days in the Philippines.

tea with gi philippines guide

DAY 1 AND 2: MANILA


When we told other travellers we were spending two nights in Manila we were mostly greeted with the same reaction, why? The Philippines has so many beautiful places that Manila doesn't really top the list, but it was the easiest place to fly into and after all the flying we had been doing we didn't want to have to catch another flight the day after to one of the islands. So we took these two days to recharge at the Hop Inn Hotel, finding great places to eat and doing a few more laid back activities.

manila guide

WHERE TO STAY | HOP INN HOTEL 

This place was incredibly cheap, we paid £20 each for two nights and I'd compare this hotel to Ibis Budget. All the rooms are ensuite and modern, have comfortable beds and working Wi-Fi which is all you need really. The hotel is in the Makati area, which is the business district of Manila so you can expect plenty of sky scrapers, malls and fast food chains here.

hop inn hotel

WHAT TO DO


Ayala Museum - Up until this day we hadn't done anything that cultural on our trip, and with the 35 degree sun hitting us outside we decided to go learn a bit about the history of the Philippines. The museum highlights a collection of archeological artefacts  (such as the golden gush etc), a display of indigenous textiles and crafts and 'Diorama' woodcarvings and miniature paintings. There was a temporary display which I found of particular interest, which told the story about the 'Comfort Women' of the Philippines who survived the rape and abuse of the Japanese soldiers during WW2 and how decades later they were still fighting for justice.

Manila Baywalk - We rented bicycles and rode down the baywalk at sunset, and it was definately one of those 'I can't believe we're here all together in the Philippines' life moments. There are a lot of cafes and restaurants in this area as well as live bands, so it's a good place to spend the evening in. 

Fort Santiago - If you want to see some famous landmarks then the most notable is Fort Santiago. A Spanish fortress that was also used as a jail and now a museum highlighting its history and changing architecture.

Escape Room - If you're finding the heat unbearable or find that you have more time on your hands, then there are over a dozen escape rooms to choose from at Mystery Manila at Century City Mall. For some bizarre reason we went for the 'Annabel' themed doll one and from the moment we got into the room we were already shitting ourselves in the dark and would all scream in unison every time there was a jump scare. We were one clue away from completing the puzzle, I think next time we'd choose something where we could actually concentrate on the clues, instead of being scared to go back alone into a room with all the scary dolls. 

Z Hostel Rooftop - This was our first 'night out' after two weeks of travelling and it was pretty chilled and lovely. The Rooftop bar is full of travellers so if you're looking to meet people it's the perfect spot. The drinks were only £4 and the views of the city were breathtaking. Some nights there are DJs playing and others there were live musicians. The duo that were playing when we were there did a great rendition of Michael Jackson's 'Human Nature' which will stick with me. 

WHERE TO EAT


Even though we didn't get up to that much, we made up for it with eating. Manila has a lot of great restaurants and everything is so cheap compared to the UK. 3/4 of these were GF and vegan friendly (since two of my friends have those dietary requirements). 

Corner Tree Cafe - This restaurant has a wide array of vegan dishes (and non-vegan) as well as a bunch of local 'pinoy' dishes. I had the Kare-Kareng Gulay which is a traditional Filipino stew made with garden-fresh veggies and a zesty organic peanut sauce. I did stay a bit hungry, so as soon as I saw there was a salted caramel chocolate torte on the dessert menu I ordered that after. It was a 15 minute walk from our hotel in Makati. 

Le Petit Souffle - This wasn't very cultural of us but we were in Century City Mall and I had been craving mac and cheese for a long time. Luckily mac and cheese with mushrooms and Hungarian sausage was on the menu. I ordered this and a mason jar of cold matcha latte for a grand total of £10.

le petit souffle

The Wholesome Table - This was probably one of my favourite places we ate at during our whole trip. The atmosphere and decor of the place, the attentive staff, the cheap cocktails and desserts all made it a wonderful experience. The menu is so varied and 'healthy' I had trouble decided on just one thing and would have loved to have gone back. I went for the immune booster soup (because I had a cold) which included ginger, turmeric powder, spinach, kale, coconut cream and lots of types of seeds. For dessert I wanted to try something local so had guinumis - a mix of tapioca, gulaman, pinipig, coconut milk, seeds and ice in a jar.

the wholesome table

Hummus Elijah - Hummus Elijah was a stone throw away from our hotel so was the perfect option after we woke up at 1pm and needed food pronto. They advertise themselves as the 'best hummus and falafels in the Philippines' and I can't confirm that as I didn't try them anywhere else, but they were pretty darn good. We all had Elijah's Combo which came with hummus, 3 falafel balls, a small salad, yellow rice and a pita bread - it was more than enough and only cost us £6. 

hummus elijah


DAY 3 TO 5: CEBU


For our time in Cebu we mainly used Cebu Tours to coordinate our tours as it took the fuss out of finding transport and arranging everything separately. You may notice I don't have any suggestions for places to eat here, and that's because most of the tours also had traditional meals included and aside from that we ate in Pizza Hut. When staying in Cebu there are generally two areas to stay in - Cebu-Mactan (where the beaches are) and Cebu City. We stayed in the latter just because all of our time was going to be taken up by tours so we weren't looking to explore the nearby areas.  

cebu

WHERE TO STAY | PILLOWS HOTEL 

As the name of the hotel might suggest, they are known for having 'great pillows'. They were no match for Premier Inn but we were so tired from the days activities that they could have been the best pillows I'd ever slept on. The hotel is 300m from Fuente Osmena Circle and has a gym, an on-site restaurant and all rooms are air-conditioned and have free Wi-Fi.

pillows hotel



WHAT TO DO IN CEBU


Whale Shark Diving - We had to get up nice and early (3am) for this tour and had a 3 hour drive to Oslob, where all the whales sharks like to party. We had a light breakfast near the beach and then waited for our number to be called. You go out in little boats of 8-10 and then jump off to swim with them. We had two whale sharks around us and let me tell you, the first time you go under water and see that massive thing right in front of your face your first reaction will be, AHHHH!!!! They are harmless and just go about their business. You can hire an underwater camera for £10 and one of the guides will take your photos for you, 380 of them to be exact. 

Canyoneering - So, my stupid ass thought we were doing canoeing, so imagine my surprise when after being up and about for 10 hours we were now going to spend 4 hours jumping off cliffs, climbing and doing a lot of walking on slippery rocks. After all, it was probably the highlight of my time in the Philippines. After spending a week in cold Japan, a couple of hours away from technology and thrill and adventure was just what we needed. Our two guides Albert and Rafi were a laugh and made the whole experience fun and entertaining. I don't know what came over me but for that time I thought I was Lara Croft and was brave enough to jump over a 50m waterfall and swing about like Jane and Tarzan. 

canyoneering

Kawasan Falls - This place was beautiful and lunch with a view doesn't get any better than this. A lot of people come here to spend the day as you can swim by the 3 layered waterfall and the whole area is just very pretty and laid back, with crystal clear water.

kawasan falls

Pescador Island Hopping - We had another 3 hour drive to Moalboal for this island hopping adventure and here we got to snorkel to see sea turtles, thousands of sardines and a lot of pretty corals and reefs. We also came across a very cute puffer fish (you're not allowed to pick anything up but our guide did it anyway and handed it over). 

Skywater Park - This 'waterpark' is located on top of JCentre Mall and is made up of your usual park activities - waterslides, climbing nets, jacuzzis and a swim up pool bar. Aside from that, the park opens at night on the weekends with live DJs and barbecues. 

DAY 6 TO 8: PALAWAN (PUERTO PRINCESA)


As soon as we arrived in Puerto Princesa Airport you could tell it was the most popular destination for tourists as the baggage claim area was full of Osprey backpacks, tanned Westerners in flip-flops and there was an aroma of Hawaiian Tropic in the air. It felt good to be out of the city and see a bit more of the Philippine way of life, which of course meant getting 'tricycles' everywhere we went as things were a little spread out.  

palawan

WHERE TO STAY | MARIANNE HOTEL


Marianne Hotel was probably the most 'out of the city' hotels we stayed at and it was good to just be surrounded by nature. The hotel had a restaurant which we ate at every evening and had a complimentary buffet breakfast included. We arranged most of our tours through Marianne when we arrived and they even provided transport services to El Nido (a 6 hour drive).

WHAT TO DO IN PALAWAN


City Tour - Our hotel offered a city sight-seeing tour and since we got there after lunch we thought we might as well do something that didn't require too much planning and hassle. The air-conditioned (thank god) van took us to the Crocodile Farm, Mitra’s Ranch, Baker’s Hill, Binuatan Weaving Center, Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral, Plaza Cuartel and Baywalk. 

Firefly Stargazing Tour - We had the best home cooked food here, we all went for 3 rounds. There was chicken and potato stew, a coconut, green been and pumpkin curry, and a whole lot of other yummy stuff. We went out in twos on a rowing boat with a guide to see the fireflies, and it kind of felt like I was on a blind date because the guide asked us 100 questions about our lives. His laser/torch was broken so we only learnt about two constellations in the sky, and then I told the story about how I have beauty spots on my chest shaped like Orion's belt and it must mean that I am the chosen one from another galaxy or something. 

Underground River Tour - The UNESCO World Heritage Site is the world's longest navigable underground river and flows beneath a mountain before emptying into the South China Sea. You enter through a cave and then you're surrounded by natural beauty, flora and fauna. Lunch is included in this as a Philippine buffet.

buffet palawan

Honda Bay Island Hopping -  We visited 3 islands on this trip, the first being Starfish Island where we sadly saw no starfish. It did however give us an hour to take our best 'look at me I'm on an Island' photos. The guide told us it depends on the day and if the starfish choose to come closer to shore. The second place we visited was Cowrie Island where we got massages on the beach, drank coconuts and lay like potatoes on the sand. Finally we went to Luli Island - I slept on a hammock and did my best attempt at gracefully jumping off a diving board. 

honda bay

DAY 9 - 10: EL NIDO


Everyone who I'd spoken to who had been to the Philippines said that if we didn't go to El Nido, we'd be missing out big time. As beautiful as it was, I enjoyed Cebu and Palawan equally as much (maybe a bit more because by the 10th day all islands start to look the same to be honest). We took a 6 hour car ride from Puerto Princesa to get here, and in hindsight we would have probably taken the 1 hour flight as it felt like we were riding in a Flintstones car and we were a tad on the cramped side. Nevertheless it made for a funny story looking back. 

el nido

WHERE TO STAY | FRENDZ HOSTEL 


Despite the name, you can have the privacy of your own room at Frendz Hostel but it still has the atmosphere of a hostel where you can meet fellow travellers and save on accommodation costs. The hostel is less than 1km from Big Lagoon and a 6 minute walk from Caalan Beach or Paradise Beach. There is also a pool and a rooftop bar. 

WHAT TO DO IN EL NIDO


Island Hopping - There are 4 tours that are the most popular in El Nido - simply known as Tour A, B, C and D. We went with tour A which took us to 6 different islands. The Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon, Helicopter Island, Secret Lagoon, Shimizu Island and 7 Commando Beach. I'd love to go into detail about each one, but they all seem kind of a blur as I did this trip over a month ago and after a while everything just starts to look the same. The most memorable one to me was Helicopter Island (which gets its name because it is shaped like, a Helicopter) - probably because this is where we had lunch, and I drank a piña colada straight from a coconut. The Secret Lagoon was also pretty cool except it's not really much of a secret anymore as it was covered with tourists. I would do your own research into each one and see which one is more appealing to you. 

honda bay

If you're staying here for a couple of days, you could also choose to spend more time in one island etc. and do things at your own leisure. As with most of these you also have the option of kayaking, snorkeling and other water activities. 

Zip-lining - If you're looking for some thrills and not just being a beach bum, then try zip lining over Maremegmeg Beach. You'll have a birds eye view of the turquoise waters and palm trees and unlike the zip lining I've done in other countries, at least if you fall you fall in water right? There's quite an uphill walk to reach the start of the zip line, and then once you've done it you can make your way to Las Cabanas beach and spend the rest of your day there.

Go to a beach party - If you have the energy after a day out of activities, then the lively bars on Maremegmeg Beach and Corong Corong beach are great places to have a drink and reminisce about your trip or share stories with complete randomers. 

el nido


Have you ever been to the Philippines? What else did you get up to during your time there?



EATING AROUND BRISBANE, A SHORT REVIEW OF EVERY RESTAURANT.

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Today marks 3 weeks since we arrived in Australia, and after a month of eating like kings in Asia we realised we'd have to eventually start cutting back on our spendings and start cooking. However, there are so many delicious places that we've already come across that we've decided to take it in turns to pick where we eat out each week. As I did with eating around Gibraltar, here is a short review of all the restaurants we'll be visiting during our time in Brisbane, Australia. 


1. Eat Street Northshore 


Where: 221D Macarthur Ave, Hamilton, Brisbane Qld Australia 4007
What: Everything, literally everything.
When: Friday and Saturday (4pm - 10pm) Sunday (12pm - 8pm)
Yum Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

We thought we'd kick off our weekend with an evening at Eat Street markets - where you can choose from over 100 food stalls. I went there craving mac n cheese, and of course with that many stalls I came across an American one had that mac n cheese topped with bacon and mushrooms - que bueno. This place also has boutique shops, live music and a good selection of new and wonderful dessert options; including kinder bueno churros. Since I was too busy munching down my food to take photos, here is a picture of my friends vegan fish and chips which she has bought the three times we've been there.



2. The Pancake Manor

Where: 18 Charlotte St, Brisbane City QLD 4000
What: Pancakes, salads, and a range of brunch type of food.
Yum Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

When better to visit this place than pancake day? Which is exactly what we did. There were over 15 pancake options on the menu as well as vegan and gluten free options (which kept two of my friends happy). The ambience in here was cool as it used to be a cathedral and I got Harry Potter 'great hall' vibes whilst I was in here too. I opted for a banana and maple syrup combo whereas my friend went all out with blueberries and blueberry sauce.

pancake manor

3. Bourbon Street 


Where: 184 Grey Street, South Brisbane, QLD 4101
What: New Orlean Cuisine
Yum Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

I had high expectations for this place because I'm slightly obsessed with NOLA (even though I've never been) and it had been a hot minute since I last had gumbo. I was left slightly disappointed as I found it was too liquidy and the ratio of meat : rice : soup wasn't quite right. Nevertheless I still ate it all, as it was still a warm and hearty dish. Just didn't compare to the previous ones I've had. My friend had the jambalaya and also said it was average as it was lacking flavour and was simply spicy AF. 

bourbon street

4. Mado Turkish Restaurant  


Where: 1-3/15 Tribune St, South Brisbane QLD 4101
What: Turkish
Yum Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

We're all a bit hummus obsessed in my group, so we decided to head here for my friends birthday on Monday. We had hummus dip and homemade pita to start, and then I had the mixed grill platter as my main and boy was this plate filling. It game with a char grill lamb shish, chicken shish and kofte izgara served with rice, salad and freshly baked turkish bread. I could have probably stopped eating after 1/4 of the plate but I'm not one to leave food on my plate (and then complain about my bloating later). 

mado turkish


5. Spaghetti House 


Where: Little Stanley St & Grey Street, South Brisbane QLD 4101
What: Italian
Yum Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

I love Italian food, I could probably go to an Italian restaurant every day for two weeks and be able to order different things on the menu that I liked. My problem is, I also like snacking so I find it very hard to go from lunch to dinner without eating anything in between and then when it comes to dinner I'm not hungry enough to fully enjoy my meal. Either way, I was in the mood for pasta so ordered the cannelloni with spinach and ricotta. I have to say it wasn't the best one I've tried, I feel like there wasn't a lot of flavour or tomato sauce and you couldn't taste the cheese much. My friend said her carbonara was ok but not the best she'd had either, but my vegan friend was very happy with her pesto gnocchi. Therefore I give this place a fair 3/5 stars. 


spaghetti house


6. Mucho Mexicano


Where:  Shop 15, Little Stanley St, QLD 4101
What: Mexican
Yum Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I probably eat Mexican food twice a year, and I can't remember the last time I ate tacos. When I saw Mucho Mexicano had an 'all you can eat in 2 hours' Taco Tuesday offer for 25 dollars I jumped on board. There were 5 soft taco options available: pulled pork, chicken, fish, sweet potato and halloumi and a black bean, mushroom and tomato salsa one. Surprisingly the fish tacos were quite nice and the sweet potato and halloumi were also up there as my favourite. I managed to eat a total of 6, which was a decent job on my part.

My issue with the chicken tacos (and my friends fajitas) is that they use chicken thigh so they were a bit...chewier than expected. I think you do get your moneys worth if you have a big appetite or like a variety, as they are essentially mini fajitas but you get 5 options instead of one. I'll have to try the margaritas next time I go.

mucho mexicano


7. Zeus 


Where: 13/14 Little Stanley St, Brisbane City QLD 4101
What: Greek
Yum Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I thoroughly enjoyed this. I made the smart decision this time of not eating after lunch so I could really appreciate and enjoy my dinner. You order at the counter here and my meal was brought to me within 15 minutes. I opted for the 'Zeus pita wrap ($13.50)' which was filled with lamb shoulder, slaw, parsley, house-made mustard mayo and eggplant dip and it was delicious, I could have eaten another one. The only reason I haven't given this place 5 stars is because the halloumi fries were a bit bland in flavour (and before you hit me with 'halloumi is bland' I've had much better ones). They also have a gluten free and vegan menu. 


zeus southbank


8. Pineapple Express Cafe 


Where: 9 Portside Wharf, Hamilton QLD 4007
What: Superfood cafe
Yum Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

We thought for this weeks food outing we'd pick something slightly healthier since I just got a new gym membership and don't want to start the week by pigging out on a three course meal. Luckily, Pineapple Express was just around the corner from our apartment and have a very unique and delicious looking menu. They have pulled jackfruit nachos and burgers for the vegans, acai bowls and smoothies, protein based meals for the gym buffs, and if you just fancy an english breakfast (with a twist) they do that too. I went for the Black Bowl ($16) which uses activated charcoal amongst other fruit for the blended base, and then is topped with coconut yoghurt (this was delicious), goji berries, kiwi and other fruit. I think I'd definitely like to come back and try some of the other items on their menu. 

pineapple express black bowl


9. Guzman y Gomez


Where: All over Brisbane
What: Mexican
Yum Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

So last week we planned to go out for a fancy dinner, but then found the place we were planning on going to was shut down permanently. So instead, we ended up next door at Guzman y Gomez - a fast food chain. Nevertheless, their burritos and enchiladas are the sh*t so I wasn't complaining. They're so full of flavour, and this time I tried to cut out a few hundred calories by taking the wrap out with a burrito bowl, and it was still tasty and filling.

guzman y gomez


10. Kiss The Berry


Where: 187 Melbourne Street (but there's several around the city)
What: Acai bowls and smoothies
Yum Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

When I leave Australia I think I will probably miss acai bowls the most (and bubble tea) because neither of these things have been established in Gibraltar yet. Kiss The Berry is one of the most popular acai cafes in Brisbane. I got a medium acai bowl of peanut butter & jelly (Blend: açaí, banana, strawberries, peanut butter, raw cacao powder, coconut milk. Toppings: choc buckinis, banana, coconut yoghurt, peanut butter, raspberry bits, cacao nibs.) I could have probably eaten 5 bowls of it because it was delicious. I'd love to go back and try their apple crumble bowl whilst the winter menu is still on!

kiss the berry



11. Cactus Republic 


Where: Shop 30BB/153 Little Stanley St, South Brisbane QLD 4101
What: Mexican
Yum Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

For someone who usually doesn't eat a lot of Mexican food, it's funny how this is the third mexican restaurant on this list lol, maybe I am a changed woman. We used the EatClub app (finds you local discounts) and saw that Cactus Republic had a 20% off discount at the restaurant, so we chose to have dinner here. Me and my friend got confused when ordering so I ended up leaving this place very full and barely walking. I thought we were sharing nachos, but she got tortilla chips so I ended up with a whole plate of them for myself, and ordered 3 soft tacos on top of that. I wasn't that impressed to be honest. I prefer melted cheese to the 'squirty' american cheese they use on the nachos, and the tacos weren't very full and lacked flavour. Mucho Mexicano still take the top spot for tacos.

Cactus Republic

12. Suki


Where: 182 Grey Street - South Brisbane
What: poke bowls
Yum Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Poke bowls are everywhere in Brisbane, yet after living here for 6 months this is the first time I'd actually had one. If you're on a health kick or just eat pretty clean in general, then Suki is a great choice. For $10-$15 you get a bowl that you can either customise yourself by choosing your base (rice, quinoa, salad) and then your protein (vegan options too!) and sauce. I went with the '3's a crowd' bowl which came with tuna, salmon and a whole lot of veg and then added some Kimchi to it. I was still hungry, so probably should have gone for the katsu chicken. Nevertheless still tasty and affordable.

suki

13. Beach House Bar & Grill


Where: Corner of Elizabeth & Albert Street
What: Australian/Pub food 
Yum Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

After 6 months of living in Australia, I finally got round to almost trying a parmy (chicken parmigiana). As I opted for the Hawaiian chicken schnitzel so replaced the napolitana sauce for pineapple. I didn't love Beach House, but I didn't hate it either. The portions were very big and the prices were decent, but I did find the food lacked flavour and oomf.

beach house bar

14. VeganBurgz


Where: 11a/455 Brunswick St, Fortitude Valley QLD 4006
What: vegan burgers (duh)
Yum Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I have nothing against vegan food, I actually like going to places that are catered for vegans because they're a lot more creative with their menus. As the name suggests, VeganBurgz is dedicated to meat free burgers. I got the 'cheesy B' burger where the patty was made out of kidney beans and boy was it filling. I think I'd like to go back and try the 'sweet kale-roline' burger where the patty is made out of sweet potato and topped with kale and onion rings. I love that their buns are made out of matcha too. If you followed my Japan travels you'll know I was having matcha everything. We also got a medium size portion of chips to share and it was more than enough! The only downside to this place was that there is no indoor seating, and it was a rare chilly night in Brisbane when we went.

veganburgz brisbane


15. Jade Buddha 


Where: 14/1 Eagle St, Brisbane City QLD 4000
What: Asian fusion 
Yum Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I'd been to Jade Buddha before for drinks and a boogie, and it has great views of Brisbane as it's just along the river. Even during the day the views are great, and as expected the place was full of business professionals on their lunch breaks, as it's located in the CBD and they offer $10 lunch specials. I only recently discovered San Choy Bow (great for your low carb days) so when I saw they had this on the menu I decided on that. Although admittedly I should have noted the fact it was listed under 'lighter meals' because I'd skipped breakfast so could have done with ordering the Buddha Bowl like my friend did. Even though it was a light lunch on my part, and if you think about it was essentially lettuce with a bit of protein, it certainly didn't lack in flavour. You could tell it was good quality duck and there was no fatty bits! They also have an interesting selection of cocktails - my friend chose the classic Espresso Martini whilst I had an elderflower based one. I'd love to go back another day and have their Balinese Style Lamb, don't know why I didn't order it in the first place!

* We were invited to Jade Buddha for a complimentary meal and drink for this blog post. 

jade buddha eating around brisbane


 Jade Buddha

Where is your favourite place to eat in Brisbane? Would love more recommendations! 

G


HOW TO PLAN A WEEKEND IN KYOTO, JAPAN.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Following on from our 3 nights in Tokyo, we flew to Osaka airport to continue our Japan trip to Kyoto. As beautiful as Kyoto was, I think it is a trip we should have probably left for March as the cherry blossoms weren't in season yet, meaning that we didn't get to witness the shrines and temples in all their pink glory. That being said there was plenty to see that didn't need the added floral aesthetics to appreciate them. Here's my guide on planning your trip to Kyoto, Japan.

tea with gi kyoto guide


GETTING TO AND AROUND KYOTO


There are several ways to get to Kyoto from Toyko - the quickest and most efficient ways are either taking a bullet train from Tokyo station (prices start at £90) or fly to Osaka airport (around £50). We decided to fly and it was a fairly quick and simple trip, and I recommend flying with All Nippon Airways. There is a Limited Express Haruka train that takes you from Osaka airport to Kyoto station for £20 and the journey time is around 75 minutes. 

WHERE TO STAY IN KYOTO


We stayed at Suzakukan Suzaku Crossing and would 100% recommend it. The apart-hotel was a 5 minute ride (or 20 minute walk) from Nijo station and Nijo Castle. The apartments were decorated in an authentic Japanese design and were clean, spacious and comfortable. They also come with washing machines so we were able to wash our clothes properly instead of doing the whole 'soap and water and hang on the bathroom rail' job. Most importantly, they had good Wi-Fi.

suzakukan suzaku crossing


DAY ONE IN KYOTO


AM - ARASHIYAMA DISTRICT 


We started off our weekend with one of Kyoto's top sights - the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. It's pretty much just a long pathway filled with soaring stalks of Bamboo. The earlier you get here the better as it's one of Kyoto's most visited sites, so it can get pretty busy. In this area you'll also find the Tenryu-Ji Temple and from here you will find the main path to the grove. The main street of Arashiyama is a pleasant walk in itself, as it's filled with lots of quirky little cafes, shops and restaurants. If you're looking to visit a cat cafe the Bengal Cat Cafe is also on this street. For a lunch spot I recommend Arashiyama Yoshimura which serves traditional Japanese food and fair prices and boasts a great view from the seating area.

bamboo grove

kyoto cafes


PM - GOLDEN PAVILION


The Kinkaku-Ju Temple (known as the Golden Pavilion) is Kyoto's most iconic sight - so I recommend going here an hour or so before it closes to beat the large crowds or just as it opens (9am - 5pm). As the name suggestions, it is a temple covered completely in gold leaf. There is also a tea garden in the area, souvenir shops and a couple of statues. To get here, take the 101 or 205 bus outside Kyoto Station and for 230 yen you will arrive outside the pavilion in about 40 minutes. 

EVENING - GION DISTRICT 


If you're looking to spot some real Geisha's then Gion is the place to do so, and the best time to come here is after the sun goes down (for obvious reasons). It's a great area to just walk around and take in the scenery and architecture. Hanami-Koji street is filled with nice places to dine (although they are more on the expensive side), traditional tea houses and machiya houses. Shirakawa Area runs parallel along Shirakawa Canal and is also a pleasant area to walk around. If you do happen to spot any Geishas, try and at least be discrete if you want to take a photo. We saw two but they moved so fast that we just smiled and at them and that was that. To get here take bus number 100 from Kyoto station and you will reach Gion in around 15-20 minutes. 


DAY TWO IN KYOTO



AM - PHILOSOPHER'S PATH


Sadly this has nothing to do with Harry Potter but nevertheless it's a pleasant place to spend your morning in. From start to finish, the walk is around 2km and winds around cafes, boutiques and a number of temples and shrines. We were here in February so the cherries hadn't blossomed yet, but from photos it seems like this place is best visited in March/April once they have. When starting the path, you should first set your map to the Silver Pavilion/Ginkakuji (which unlike the Gold Temple, is not covered in silver). It's more on the black side, so I'm not sure where its name came from - i'm sure Google will tell us. *Google says it was given this nickname in contrast to the Gold Pavilion, and because when the moon light reflected on its exterior it gave it a silver like appearance. To reach the Silver Pavilion, take bus 100 outside Kyoto Station to the end of the line for 230 yen. 

silver pavilion


LUNCH SPOT - NISHIKI MARKET 


For a cultural eating experience, head to Nishiki market where you will find dozens of stalls selling snacks, sweet treats and slightly more unconventional delicacies. We played it pretty safe by eating baked potatoes glazed with honey on a stick which were delicious. We then ate at Ramen Sen No Kaze which was recommended to me by Amita and the ramen did not disappoint (it's meant to be one of the best ramen places in town). If you're a picky eater then don't worry there are also pizzerias, american bars and a Wendy's in the area. The market is open from 9:30am - 6pm.   

nishiki market


PM - FUSHIMI INARI 


This place is going to be busy whenever you visit, but as always it's best to go when it first opens or 1.5 hours before it closes. In essence, Fushimi Inari is just a very long trail covered with orange tall 'torii' gates. The trail leads to a forest where you can then trek to Mount Inari, which will take you around 3 hours to hike to the summit and back. If you're feeling particularly generous, you can have your name inscribed one of the gates for the small price of 400,000 yen. We were lucky that there were only a couple of people coming back through the gates on the left, so we managed to snap some photos without the crowd (and then people behind us started forming a queue to get their photo taken instead of barging in) - how polite!

fushimi unari



I really liked Kyoto, I think I'd like to visit again in the future, and spend some time in Osaka too. Preferably when the cherries have blossomed, just because I feel like it would be worth seeing. We found a weekend was enough for us, but i'm sure with more research we could have found more stuff to do with a 5 day itinerary. If you've been to Kyoto, I'd love to know what other things you got up to! 

G


tea with gi kyoto pinterest



MAKING THE MOST OUT OF 3 DAYS IN TOKYO, JAPAN.

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

I'm not going to lie, after a month off from blogging it's been a bit of a struggle to try and find the motivation to start writing again (especially because we have moved around so much last month that the whole trip seems like a bit of a blur). Thanks to my precious google docs and my camera roll, I have managed to recall most of the stuff we got up to in Tokyo. 3 days might seem like a short space of time to explore this massive city, but I think we covered everything we wanted to do before moving on to Kyoto. If you're planning a trip around Japan, these are my recommendations for your time in Tokyo, Japan. 

tea with gi tokyo guide

WHERE TO STAY

There are a lot of districts in Tokyo that are good to be based in - Shibuya, Asakusa, Shinjuku, Ginza or Roppongi. We stayed in Unizo Inn in Asakusa and found that it had good transport links to all other areas in Tokyo, and we were 400m away from Sensoji temple. The rooms were pretty basic and on the small side, but they were clean and had all the basic amenities (and some very nice shampoo and shower gel may I add). 

unizo inn

WHAT TO DO 

I think the easiest way to write this up is to suggest things by area, so that you're not running back and forth on the subway and can just explore each district and move on. 

Asakusa: We got a very authentic traditional Japanese vibe from this district, and was nice to just wander around here and take in everything around us (deep, I know). We first came across Nakamise Dori which is a 250-meter long shopping street between the Kaminarimon and Hozomon gates of Sensoji Temple. Here you can find lots of little food stalls, souvenirs and unique little trinkets.  

Once you walk through this you'll find the Sensoji Temple in front of you and after you've taken your instagram photos and marvelled at its beauty there are a couple of 'activities' you can do here. You can throw a coin into the collection box and clap, pray and ring a bell (I just copied what everyone else was doing). You can get purified by the dragon-themed fountain by taking the ladle of water and wash your left hand, then wash your right hand, wash your mouth, then wash the ladle, and put it back (or just copy what everyone else is doing). You can also get your fortune told for 100 yen, and if you don't like what you get told then you can wrap the paper on a nearby pole, tree etc to leave the bad fortune behind.

sensoji temple

Shinjuku/Kabukicho: I recommend coming here when the sun has gone down so you can properly appreciate all the neon lights and signs. Kabukicho has robot cafes and is also home to the Golden Gai (Tokyo's former red light district). Here you will find over 200 bars, some that only fit 2-3 people in them. Not all these places welcome tourists, but you will see signs outside the ones that do. 

Shibuya: The first thing we did when we got here was rush to Starbucks across the worlds biggest crossing (simply known as the Shibuya Crossing) because it was pissing down with rain. You do get a great view of the intersection from the Starbucks cafe, and I ordered a matcha latte and matcha waffle so it did make the experience slightly more cultural. 

Here you'll also find the statue of Hachiko the famous dog that waited everyday for his guardian to come home from work, even after he died. If you want to find out more about this before your trip and make it a bit more sentimental, watch Hachi: A Dogs Tale. There is a pleasant walk to get to the Meiji Shrine which was dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken.

meiji shrine

If you've watched the film Lost in Translation (or Shawn Mendes music video for Lost in Japan) there's a popular scene where Scarlett Johansson is wearing a pink wig and singing karaoke in a booth with Bill Murray. You can do the same thing at Karaoke Kan and if you ask for their specific booth, you get some great views of the city. We had a blast doing this, it only cost £15 for an hour and it included a drink, costumes if you wanted to borrow some and a private booth, so I could scream I'M OFF THE DEEP END WATCH AS I DIVE IN as loud and off-tune as I wanted to. 

Harajuku: Here you will find everything cute, quirky and unique that is Japan. We head to Takeshita street which was lined with a lot of pink. The street was lined with harajuku fashion shops, stalls selling a large variety of crepes, and themed cafes.

harajuku

We spent half an hour in a Shiba Inu dog cafe (be warned it smelt like feet in here) but the dogs were very cute. There were also Owl Cafes, Bengal cat cafes and other aesthetically pleasing cafes too to get your bubble tea fix.

dog cafe

A 15 minute walk from this street you will find the Kawaii Monster Cafe - which is probably aimed at children in terms of the quality of the food, but it's definitely an experience. The place is an explosion of colour and there are live shows everyday, and here you can find colourful spaghetti, pink burger buns and french fries paired with an array of colourful sauces. If you're planning on going in the evening then I recommend booking in advance through GetYourGuide or Viator.

monster cafe


Roppongi: This is the 'Mayfair' of Tokyo and there are a lot of rooftop bars here too. We didn't find there was a lot to see during the day but that it became buzzier and full of life in the evening. If you also fancy a change from Japanese food there is a great gluten free and vegan pizza place called Pizzakaya here. 

Fuji: Whilst you're in Tokyo, I definitely recommend taking a day trip to Mount Fuji. We paid £45 which included pick up from Ueno station and drop-off (1.5 hour journey), and we visited 3 locations. We couldn't actually go to the 5th Station (entrance to the mountain) as it had been snowing and so the roads were too slippery, but we did get great views of Fuji from Kawaguchiko lake and Oshino Hakkai. The Oshino Hakkai village was very cute and there were a number of little shops scattered around, where you could also buy white strawberries, and we got some matcha ice-cream cause we were matcha obsessed that week.

mount fuji

GETTING AROUND 

The journey from Tokyo Narita airport to the centre was pretty straight forward. When you exit after arrivals, opposite you will see a counter for the Keisei Skyliner train which will get you to Keisei Ueno Station in around an hour and a half for around £20. 

The subway/train system was a tad more confusing as there are different companies running the subway and you need a new ticket for certain lines/stations. So your best option is to buy the tickets as you go along or get a return if you're just going to one location and back. Most single journeys were under 300 yen (£2). 


TIPS FOR TOKYO, JAPAN

  • Don't walk and eat - it's considered rude, so if you buy something from a stick etc at one of the food stalls, stand on the side and eat it instead. 
  • Line up when waiting for the subway - this is probably something we should adopt in the UK instead of everyone trying to get on to the central line at Waterloo like cattle. When you get down to the subway you might notice that there's be people lining up in an orderly fashion to get in to the train. 
  • Carry more cash than you usually would, because we found a lot of places were cash only. There were also machines around the city where you could slip in your GBPs and get yen in exchange. 
  • Start your days early. I mean I'm sure when we all travel we're out of bed earlier than usual, but things tend to shut early in Japan so to avoid disappointment (and bigger crowds) try and be out of your hotel by 8:30am. 
  • Cross your fingers if you want to say no (like this 🙅🏽 and yes like this👌🏼), because shaking your head doesn't have the same meaning here. 
  • Make use of all the toilet button functions. 

Obviously there is a lot more to do and see in Japan than what is on this list, we also came across a lot of shrines just by wandering around (but truth be told I can't remember the names of a lot of them). 

Have you ever been to Tokyo? What did you get up to on your trip? 

G


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