Taipei and the Surprises it brings during your visit. (part 1)

I visited Taipei during the spring season.  It was this country that offered me my first Sakura experience.  Weather was perfect in April.  Not too cold, not too hot.  Sakura blooms in major parks within the city.  Though unlike Japan and Korea where the streets are also lined up with trees that offers scenic views, there are only notable areas for sakura viewing which I hope Taipei will improve on in the coming years.

Day 1 – traveling via Cebu Pacific leaving the country with flight @10:55pm as this was the only flight available from airlines during the time of our travel, Taipei is a 2.5hours direct flight arriving @1:20am in Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport.  We took a bus to the city as the MRT is no longer operating past midnight.  The bus is located at Terminal 2, you will clearly see the queue of people going to Taipei upon exit.  The bus will also display the destination so you need not worry about entering the wrong bus.  Besides, this is the only bus operating at such hour.  Purchase ticket first inside the terminal before heading to the bus.  Please note that the bus’ final stop will be at Taipei Main Station.

Our hotel, The Hotel B7 Journey is located near the NTU Hospital Station so that is our base camp. From the Taipei Main station, it will take around 15 minutes walk and a mere 5 minutes walk from the hotel.  The journey from the Airport to the hotel was tiring but it was not that complicated.  Retired for the night with high hopes for tomorrow’s adventure.

Day 2 – After having our breakfast at the hotel, we embarked on our first itinerary for the day.  As Taipei is connected with MRT, it’s easy to navigate around the city once you have decided what station will be your base camp.  As for us, it’s the NTU hospital.  From our hotel, walked down a park called Peace Park and it’s a delightful route towards the station.

Riding the MRT going originally to Beitou, we happen to see the Taipei Farmers Expo and decided to go down and check it out.  It was not actually in our itinerary but since the supposed destination can also be reached by walking from the Expo location, it’s like hitting 2 locations in 1 stop.  The expo is a must in your list but only if there is one during your visit.  This only happens occasionally.  This is a food haven.  Lots of local food to try.

My Post (15)After some knick knacks, we went to see the Confucius Temple which is near the area.  The temple is well maintained and very quaint.  Peaceful and perfect for meditation.  There is not much tourist in the area so you can get all the kinds of angles you want for your photo op.

My Post (5)After exploring the temple, we went to Beitou for the famous hotsprings.  Thermal Valley is where the boiling hot water lake is located.  Steam literally is emitting from the lake so definitely not suitable for swimming.  From the valley, you will also come across a creek where you can rest for a while as they have benches along the path and the path is lined with trees.

My Post (6)After the hotsprings, we went for the Shilin Night Market alighting at Shilin Station itself.  Just follow the trails of people walking towards the area.  Shilin Night Market is a vast market opens until 12mn.  We went back to the hotel just before MRT closes.  This place offers both goodies and food!  Get your wallets ready for the ultimate food trail of your Taipei visit.  I recommend eating the Sizzling Teppan Noodles….so so good! For goodies, I got some cable organizers and souvenirs for friends back home.

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to be continued….

Taipei and the Surprises it brings during your visit. (part 2)

…continuation

Day 3 – After our long day from Day 2, we retired early for the night as we get ready for Day 3.  We visited the famous Yangmingshan National Park.  This is where my first Sakura experience happened.  From our base camp, we went to Shilin station and from there, took a bus going to the park.  Note that YNP is a big park with different attractions.  Some attractions can be reached by riding bus inside the park.  The attractions are quite far from each location so you better get a map from the entrance to see exactly where you are.

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The Calla Lily Farm – based on the research I made before the trip, this is the reason why Yangmingshan is on the list.  The Calla Lily Farm!  I love calla lilies! This flower is very simple but elegantly looking.  We were lost in the park initially as we thought that we can walk but we’re dead wrong.  We hired a taxi to take us to the farm and asked him to wait for us.  Be ready to experience a glimpse of heaven as these white lilies paved the mountains with so much beauty.

My Post (10)After our heavenly visit to the farm, we went back to Shilin Night Market before heading home.  From the park, we took the bus back to Shilin station so since we are already in the area, we went to buy my son’s cute travel luggage as well as one luggage for me.

Day 4 – This is our last day in Taipei but still got loads of itineraries to follow.  Our flight is not until late night.  We checked out of the hotel early and left our luggages at hotel while we make the most out of our last day in Taipei.  We headed down to Longshan Temple.  This temple has more visitors so a bit chaotic.

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From Longshan, we went to see the Chang Kai Shek Memorial.  The place is huge so it doesn’t matter if there are tourists around.  There’s plenty of room for that coveted photo ops.

My Post (13)After Chang Kai Shek, we headed to Taipei 101 for lunch.  Taipei 101 used to be the tallest building in the world but was outgrown by the likes of Tokyo Skytree and Burj Khalifa.  But nonetheless, this the the tallest man-made structure you can see in Taipei.  After our stint at Taipei 101, we headed to Ximending and went with the flow of youngsters of Taipei.  They call this place the Shibuya of Taiwan.

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The Taipei trip is one trip you should start listing in your bucket list.  There’s much to see, prices are reasonable and attractions are not too crowded.  Get the chance to tell stories about the place first hand.

What I missed, but you shouldn’t:

  1. Elephant Mountain
  2. National Palace Museum
  3. Taipei Old North Gate
  4. Yingde University (from Meteor Garden)
  5. Jiufen
  6. Taroko National Park

More info here.

Here are some random snaps from our trip:

 

Reminders for your Taipei Trip

  1. Filipinos entering Taiwan can have free-visa if they have travelled to countries like Japan and Korea.  Visit their website for more information.  Recently, the visa-free initiative has been extended.  See below:

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2.  Rent a Flytpack before your travel.  It will help you with your internet connection especially if your trip is DIY.20170411_203009

3.  Buy their metro pass – Easy Card.  Can be bought in any metro stations.

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4.  Get your maps at the Airport or in your hotel.  If you don’t have internet while you are roaming around, your travel applications are useless.  Maps comes in handy.

5.  Taipei is a modern city.  Shorts/flips flops are ideal to use.  Be modest when you visit temples though.

6.  People in Taipei can communicate in English.  So don’t worry much about language barrier.

Schedule your visit to Taipei soon!!!

Matteo’s 10th

Each year, my son and I schedules an annual photo shoot in preparation for his Birthday. As i browse thru the net for an amateur photographer, we decided for a “Life in the City” kind of theme and that means involving city sights and locations.

Below are our top 10 snaps for this stint.

  1.  Along McKinley West, as the place is morphing into the next business hub, capture the place before its transformation. At McKinley West Park32699921_10156414304600421_6375970914751741952_n

The shoot in McKinley west was so hot and dry.  We have to stop by a closed road so as not to disturb traffic.  There are guards in the area so we had to ask for permission as long as it’s not disrupting the traffic flow.

2.  What is mine is yours too! This car is going to be our next project, yes? At McKinley West Park.

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We bought our first car in 2017 and I was lucky enough to close this deal.  Since then on, every place I visit, I can comfortably tag along my son.  He serves as my navigator too!

3.  In the middle of the clearing in High Street, along with his favorite suitcase, ready to explore and travel in his white shirt. 🙂 at Bonifacio High Street.

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My son looks like a grown up already.  Tagging along his favorite suitcase, I still can’t believe I am able to bear such an adorable boy.

4.  You may think this is a wall, but it’s actually a giant wooden gummy bear! Cute!

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This location is actually one of the busiest area in High Street.  And he’s game!

5.  While crossing the street towards High Street, He makes his own path, and so is Kofi!

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Kofi has been with us since 2015.  A very loyal love and so clingy too.  We take him with us all the time.  We can even ditch the air-conditioned part of the restaurant (since dogs are not allowed in the area) for the sake of him dining with us.

6.  Can I come with you little man? At Bonifacio Global City

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From most of our out-of-the-country travels, we usually take photos while walking the streets.  This one is a classic!  Perfect timing as not people are crossing the street when this one was taken.  Actually, I was just behind crossing the street too!

7.  So, you love that loud red thingy more than Baskin Robbins? Haha at TGIFriday’s Philippines.

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When MK was young, and whenever I took him to High Street, he would usually ran off and go to these red, loud things near TGIF.  Trying to push them so they make a loud sound (annoying really) and it still makes me wonder why the hell did they create these things?  What’s it for? haha.

8. I was at the back while asking him to fix his collar while his picture is being taken. Cool! At Bonifacio High Street.

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I just love the rawness of this pic.  No emotions, just the kind of reactions you would get off camera.

9.  I know how much you love reading books that you thought Fully Booked was a library!

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MK loves books.  He reads and reads.  Browse and browse thru the many books that are up for reading at Fully Booked.  If he could live in a bookstore, I think he will tagging along his pillow.

10.  In one of the stairs often overlooked by people as they moved towards their destination, a good spot to watch people from a little above. at BoConcept.

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A staged pose but still quite the best shot from the lot.

If you would like to have the same concept as a pre-birthday preparation for your child, please do.  it does not have to be a professional photographer, not expensive camera, not grand locations.  Just simple props, familiar locations and acquaintances who had to eye for beauty to capture the snaps will do!  I didn’t even spend so much for this activity to be honest.  And believe me, it’s all fun and memorable!

Don’t forget to have a printed one for the wall!  Send me a message if you need help!

Photographer: JC Dela Cruz

Location: Bonifacio High Street

Charm as Timeless as Vietnam

HCMC offers a unique charm that all visitors from around the world should really experience even once in their lifetime.  The city is a combination of old world and developing world as there are construction here and there but not neglecting the cultural locations.

Our flight for HCMC via Cebu Pacific is at 10:45pm Manila Time and it will take about 2 hours and 30minutes travel time.  There is no time difference between Manila and HCMC.  From Tan Son Nhat International Aiport, we took a cab to the city for US$10.  The ride took 20minutes.  Upon arriving at the hotel, there are still some people roaming around the streets and transport are still very much alive.  We retired for the night to get ready for our first adventure.

Day 2 – Our hotel, Saigon Kiko Hotel, is located in the heart of the busy area Pham Ngu Lao Street.  Only then that I realise that our hotel is just a mere walking distance from Cho Ben Tahn Market which will be discussed later on the following days.  As soon as you are out of the hotel, there is much to see already.  In front of our hotel, there is a park which you can roam around and take pictures.  As we are walking around, we were offered to take a ride around the city via motocycles.  This is something new for us so took the ride around the city.

We were first taken to the bay area.

After the bay area, we were taken to their famous historical post office and met some lovely people in traditional costumes.  Inside the post office, it was indeed amazing.  Be transported back in time with their old charm and feel of the office.  You can also send a post card to yourself or to anyone you know for just US$1.

While riding, you can view the tallest building in HCMC, the Bitexco Financial Tower.  There is an observatory in the building where you can opt to view all of HCMC.

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Bitexco Financial Tower

After the post office, we were taken to a flea market but not much interesting.  Though I did got this beautiful dress at a good deal for my costume collection.

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pardon my son at the background…

We headed down to the City Hall where you can see the statue of Ho Chi Minh.

After our 2 hours ride, we went back to our previous location and decided to roam around the city.  Ate street food and just chill.  Went back to our hotel for tomorrow’s activity.

Day 3 – Our trip for today is a group tour.  I booked this via Klook.  We went to Mekong Delta whole day tour.  Our meet up point is just 1 block away from our hotel so we walked into the location and waited until the tour begins.  There is of course an english speaking guide who gave us a bit of information about what we are to expect with the place.

Fact: The Mekong Delta has 4 islands named after their 4 sacred animals – The Water Dragon, The Unicorn, The Wise Tortoise and the Noble Phoenix.

the first stop during the trip is at Vinh Trang Temple.

After the temple, we headed now to Mekong Delta.  We rode a wooden boat and cruised along the river.  Though the water is not clear, according to the guide, it’s not dirty.  The color is due to the nutrients the river provides that most of the plantations in the area helps in bearing a sweet produce.  Fruits to the main city are mostly coming from these areas.  It’s a short ride to a pomelo plantation to where we had a lovely lunch!

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After our lunch, we headed to the Coconut Kingdom and was shown how to make coconut candy, the main livelihood of the locals in the kingdom.  We also get to try the product.

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Afterwards, we went to small boats and took a ride to the honeybee plantation.  The ride was either scary and calm as the boat is small and there are like 5 in the boat plus the boatman.  We were handed local hats for the ride for a more local feel.

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When we got to the honey farm, we were served with hot tea mixed with freshly harvested honey.  While enjoying the tea, we were serenaded by local singers (singing traditional songs).  According to the guide, the singers improvises their songs even right at that moment they were singing to us.  Since I don’t understand them, I guess you’ll just have to appreciate how they use their musical instruments.

After the tour, we were taken back to the city, while enjoying the scenic route from the bus.  We were taken to Cho Ben Tanh market where we went crazy into buying the you know….the North Face stuff.

This is also where I was able to try the authentic Vietnam Coffee – Iced.

Also, that day, Vietnam is competing with Uzbekistan for the Asian Cup.  The V team lost the game but the feels in the streets is not reflecting the defeat.  People are still celebrating, uplifting the spirits of locals that instead of getting sad about losing, they are celebrating the fact that team was able to play and compete internationally.  These scenes kept our base camp alive and busy even at wee hours.  I was just happy that our room can withstand the noise, otherwise we will have to be up all night!

Day 4 – We are early today as we are traveling to CAMBODIA! by bus.  We made reservations for the bus the day before our trip and waited for the bus to come to our hotel. And this story is to be continued in my Cambodia content.

Random clicks from around the city:

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Random clicks

….and a quote worth trying.

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Saigon at night.

Visit HCMC soon!  click here for the Cambodia content.

Dream of the Ancient Temples and be amazed!

Crossing Cambodia from HCMC by bus is all worth the trip especially if you are taking the day trip.  Lots of scenic places to see while traveling.  We left HCMC at 8:30am with one of those big tourist buses with 2:1 ratio.  Lots of legroom and a reclining features for both back and feet.

Upon reaching the border, the conductor collected all our passports and we were asked to get off the bus for the exit at immigration.  At first, the idea of a stranger holding on to your passport while undergoing immigration checks is terrible.  You are supposed to be holding your passport at all times. It turns out, this is the way it’s supposed to be.  After exiting at Vietnam Immigration, we boarded the bus for a while and then got off again for the Cambodia Immigration entry.  The same procedure, conductor holds on to our passports and pass thru immigration checks.  We were then asked to board the bus and our driver started driving away from the border which made it more suspicious as we don’t have our passports with us.  Until we reached the supposed stopover area for lunch, still we don’t have our passports yet.  When the conductor arrived, one by one, he handed to us our passports and that’s the only time I felt relieved.  I started to look for exchange so we can buy our lunch.  We had the money but the food is…I just got us some bananas and have a decent meal in Phnom Penh instead.

When we reached Phnom Penh, we got off and stayed a bit at the bus station and had to be taken to another terminal to where we are supposed to be riding a different bus.  This is where the disappointment started as the bus became uncomfortable and we had to travel for another 6 hours.  With no decent dinner, few bucks left, survived with just mere water, the ride was no longer enjoyable.  I just want to reach Siem Reap ASAP and sleep properly.

 

We reached Siem Reap at around 11pm.  A tuktuk was already waiting for us and took us to our hotel which was far off from the center.  Though I am pretty sure that when I searched for this hotel, it was near the city center.  I was wrong.  Though to my surprise, the hotel upgraded our room from Deluxe to Family room and it was a pleasant surprise.  Thank you Le Chantou Boutique Hotel!

 

We also asked our tuktuk to take us to somewhere we can eat decently.  The driver took us to Pub Street and it was only that time that we had our dinner!

 

Retired for the night for a big day the next day.

Day 5 – We started our visit to the infamous Angkor Temples a bit late as we have our own tuktuk ride which I rented for US$45 for the entire day to which it also includes our tuktuk ride from last night from the bus station to our hotel.  We agreed that he take us to 3 temples for the day, take us to local night market, have dinner and take us back to our hotel afterwards.  Angkor is a vast temple.  You will need at least 2 days to explore all the temples and we don’t have that much time.  Besides, the ticket price to see the temple is around US$37 per head!  So steep to see the famous ruins.

 

Our first Temple – Ta Prohm Temple

The temple is a square-shaped temple with 5 enclosures but basically a flat structure. This temple is the shooting location of the movie Tomb Raider by Angelina Jolie.  This is where the famous tree is growing in one of the enclosures which gives the place an eerie feel.  Each of the walls of this temple is carved with different shapes and images.  The place was undergoing massive restoration during our visit but there are areas where you are allowed to visit.  There are 4 entrances to the temple but only 2 Gopura (entrance) are working during that time.  You can enter 1 gate and end up in another temple when you exit the other gate.

 

Temple 2 – Bayon Temple

This temple features the smiling stone faces on the top of each towers surounded with ruins.  You are actually allowed to climb some towers to get closer to the stone faces but you’d need to brave the heights and the tourists coming from all directions.

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This temple has an amazing entrance.

 

And some good spots for capturing the sun and the smiling stone faces!

 

After exploring Bayon Temple, our guide already instructed us to wrap it up so we can catch the sunset in Angkor Wat – our 3rd Temple.

Temple 3 – Angkor Wat

This is the Angkor’s entrance.

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Walking all the way to that stairs is the temple’s enclosure (which I initially thought is the main temple already).  Took some photos from this area.

 

As we moved towards the inner part of the enclosure, this is what lies after it.

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From here, you can see one of the 3 towers which is the signature structure of Angkor.

A closer look of the main temple.

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The place is just amazing.  Minus the people roaming around, you can actually get a more intimate viewing of the temple from its side.  Here is what it’s like inside the temple.

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All our time visiting the 3 temples were enough for us.  Though we only get to see 3 of the many temples, we are fortunate enough to visit the most famous ones.  We saw the sunset from the temple as well which was all serene and beautiful.  The ancient ruins gives that peaceful feel that makes you wonder how the place looks like during its days of glory.  At this point, I can only imagine.

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Sunset at Angkor Wat

As we are about to leave the temple, we happen to see these locals in their traditional costume.  Another photo opportunity of course!

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Ended the day with window shopping at the city and dinner.  Took at dip at our hotel’s warm pool until we dream away towards our last day.

Day 6 –  It’s our last day and I have not set any itinerary for today.  Just roam around the city, kill time while waiting for our flight schedule.  We went for a massage and relaxing time at the center.  Tried street food, went to dine in a local restaurant and had coffee.

 

Went back to our hotel, took our luggages and headed to the airport.  And back to reality!

Siem Reap is ideal for 1-2 days trip.  If you are doing the IndoChina backpacking, you can schedule Siem Reap for 1 day and head towards Bangkok.  It would have been lovely if I considered Bangkok as the third destination for this trip however, we’ve visited Bangkok separately.

Book your Siem Reap trip soon!

Discovering Japan Endlessly – Kyoto Part

Kyoto is a dream destination in Japan.  Before, i used to think that Kyoto is Tokyo but forgive me for the serious error in perception.  These two cities are different and far away from each other.  Though both offers unique charm that you simply can’t resist to discover.

From Osaka, it will take more than an hour to reach Kyoto via the the Keihan Line.  We are still using the Kansai Thru Pass from yesterday so we are still entitled to unlimited train rides excluding JR Lines.  Osaka to Kyoto will cost around Php600 to Php700 with multiple transfers from our home base Taisho station.

Our first stop is of course the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine.  From the entrance itself, we are greeted with the Torii gates full of locals and tourists alike.  And of course, by Hello Kitty……

….and the array of food from both sides leading to the shrine!

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As we approach the entrance, more and more tourists roam around the place.

You will have to walk a series of stairs towards 2 Torii gates before reaching the main shrine.  What you notice about the people visiting this place is that everyone is very disciplined when it comes to taking chances in every photo ops.

The Fushimi Inari shrine is a must visit.  Eventhough the crowd is tough, you’ll just have to endure.  And with the many tourists walking inside the shrine, it’s difficult to snag that peaceful and stolen shot of these Torii.  This shrine is where most of the businessman come to to worship the god Inari.  Each of the toriis are donated by these businessmen carved with Japanese characters I don’t have a clue what is.

But I managed to get a clear shot inside the pathway without photobombers.  The lantern add up the peaceful feel of the place.

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The pathway leads up to the top of a mountain so it’s a long but easy walk as the pathway is already concrete.  We no longer went to the top most of the mountain and went on a different route to see this.  In here, you can refresh yourself with the cold water from the mountain, or make a wish using these wooden palettes with Kitsune (Foxes) drawing.

Before leaving, we also managed to have a snap with 2 locals in their kimonos.

Should you want to visit the shrine, come dressed in Kimonos for the a more closer feel of the place.  I would advise though to do it during spring or winter as it can get uncomfortable dressed in kimono during the summer.

Our next stop is the Tofukuji Temple which is a bit far from the station Tofukuji.  Still managed to reach it by 10minutes, the place has less tourist around so we got all the best shot we can get.

The walk back towards the station is also pleasant.  You will surely enjoy your walks and will never notice the distance.

Once again we got on the train to our next stop – Sanjusangendo Temple.  Again, this is going to be another walk from the station near a busy street.  Upon reaching the temple, I got to know that there is an entrance fee which is pricier that the others and one thing, you can’t take pictures inside.  So, I told myself, what’s the point?  This temples houses 1,000 statues that looks like below: (photo not mine)

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photo from Pinterest

It would have been great to see this, but to not have a photo of it is a miss.

After Sanjusangendo, we now went to other side of Kyoto (literally) and went to see the famous Bamboo forest.  Before reaching the forest though, you will have to walk towards the Togetsukyo bridge which has stunning views.  I can only imagine how amazing this place is during the autumn as the entire hill is full of trees (but still in green colors).

As we race with the sunset, I thank God for this beautiful view.

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The walk towards the forest is a bit far from the bridge.  As we came from the other end of the attraction, we still enjoyed the sceneries around it.

From the entrance of the forest, you can never be lost as the influx of visitors are visible.  There are directors from the pathways so just follow those signs.

From inside the forest, exit towards the river to get a closer look.

From the river, we headed towards the train station now riding the monorail, still using our Kansai pass.  Before you board the train though, go to this small entrance on the side of the station and you will find the Kimono Forest – a lighted pathway in the shape of cloth racks.kimono

From the monorail, we went to our last stop at Gion District.  Unfortunately, I ran out of battery already so I wasn’t able to take any more pictures.  Something to look foward to next time I visit Kyoto again.

So, an entire day will not be enough to explore Kyoto to be honest.  I missed a lot of attractions so next time, allot at least 2 days to go and see the other ones with equally stunning sceneries and memories to offer.

My next part will be our Nagoya adventure which you can read here.