Our last minute trip to Kyoto was a tour of temples and food! Originally we had planned to take a weekend trip to Tokyo, but since we had just come back from China, pricing out Tokyo on a last minute weekend trip was turning out to be more expensive than we had bargained for, Kyoto was the next best option, and many of the sights we wanted to see where there anyway. Usually I plan every minute of our trips, from train routes to restaurants. We had only just returned from our fabulous trip in Beijing, so I thought we would just show up in Kyoto and follow the Lonely Planet guides. Here is how it went:
Where to stay:
Kyoto Station is the center of transportation in Kyoto. From there you can take trains all over Japan, busses around the city, subways, and taxis. If your plan is to hit up all of the top tourist sights in Kyoto, your best bet is to stay within walking distance of this train station. Our hotel room was comically small. The Trip Advisor photos certainly didn’t do the size any justice. We laughed about it, equating the size to luxury in a country where you can stay in a capsule rather than a whole room.
WARNING: Japanese beds are hard as rocks and the pillows even worse. When I brought this up to the front desk, they told us that they only had Japanese style bedding, but they could shove towels in a pillow case for me. I decided to just deal.
How to get around:
Kyoto station has numerous information centers that have english speaking assistance. I recommend stopping in and getting a little overview and one of their maps. You can tell them where you want to go and they will tell you the most efficient or inexpensive way to get there. There is no one size fits all form of transit. The trains go where the busses do not and vise versa.
What to see:
The city is full of temples. A quick download of the Lonely Planet App will give you a quick overview of the type of sights to see. If you are only going to be there for a few days you are going to have to prioritize your sightseeing. Luckily, the app will prioritize them for you, and from my personal experience, the app is spot on.
- Fushiimi Shrines: One of the most unique tourist attractions in the country. It is not another temple or old village, the shrines are a completely unique sight with perfect #gramtastic photo opportunities. Additionally, they have street vendors all the way up the walkway to the shrines, so show up hungry! Just about everything you are going to try is around $5, we spent l some $$$ trying everything. Also, if you are not RICH and want to try KOBE there is a steak on a stick vendor that will give you 5 cubes of steak for $40. Compared to the $160 dinner alternatives, this is a decent option.
- Golden Temple, Kinkaku-Ji: As you walk up to the temple there are many places to eat and shop. All quite pricey as the area is very touristy. Once you enter the temple grounds, aside from the hordes of people, there is a peacefulness that opposes the bustle of the streets just outside. In the entrance to the left your can strike a huge bell. Its worth the $5 to do it. You can feel the vibrations of the bell all the way down to your bones! Plus, it makes for a cool video, and bragging rights. You have to buy tickets, which are pretty cool looking. My friend plans to frame them. They are huge with Japanese writing on them, people were definitely taking selfies with the tickets. After you enter the paid area they usher you to the left where you are allowed to take pictures and selfies that have the Golden Palace and the surrounding pond in front of it.￼￼￼￼
- ￼Gold Plated Ice Cream
- Bamboo Grove and Monkeys, Arashiyama: If you take the train to the Arashiyama Forest, you can spend all day walking around a temple, the bamboo groves, and even take a hike up a mountain to see the cage free monkeys. We walked our poor feet right off! It didn’t help that we got lost in the bus station for an hour that morning… but still there was so much walking that we considered taking human led rickshaws near the end of the day. We stopped to have Sushi around 2PM and continued on to the Bamboo Grove and Monkeys after. We thought that we would be able to do this in the morning and do Fushimi in the afternoon, like the paid tours said you could, but we just ran out of time! I cannot imagine how quickly the tours would have gone to be able to fit all of that in one day!
What to eat:
Sushi: The Sushi was actually Sashimi. I have never really been a fan of Sashimi, because I am not really a fan of eating raw fish. On the menu was Unagi (Eel), which I knew I would like, and then Salmon and Tuna. The Salmon came in three different levels of fattiness. I chose the medium fat, which was a good choice for me. I cannot express enough how impressed I was with the Salmon and Tuna Sashimi. There was nothing fishy about it! It was meaty and rich in all the right ways! I don’t believe I will ever eat such amazing Sashimi again in my life, but I think I will forever chase that experience! The eel had some bones in it, which I just chewed through. According to my foodie friends, that came with us, this is common and not a darelication on the chefs part.
Fire Ramen: When we got into the Taxi we showed the driver the address in Japanese and he immediately responded “Fire Ramen?” So this is a common request. When we arrived we had to pull a number… we had about 20#s ahead of us. From asking the people waiting we were led to believe that it should take about 90mins, but we ended up waiting 3 hours. There is nothing around the area. Our ideas was to find a bar and have a couple of drinks while we waited. It’s was cold once the sun went down and none of us wanted to sit outside for 90min, nonetheless 3 hours. All we could find was a laundry mat with heat and free wifi… but none of us were able to access it. So the boys walked over to the 7/11 and picked up some alcoholic beverages. By the time we were ready to eat, we were starving – famished. We came back early and met some Austrialian guys who had some strong views about our president, which made for some interesting international conversation. Not to mention they were high as kites on weed, and openly told us so. It was some seriously needed stimulation for the long wait!
We had to agree to about 5 pages of instruction, sit with our arms behind our backs in preparation for the enormous explosion that was about to happen in our Ramen bowls! Here is the video! It is a super fun experience and the Roman is very good. They actually have 50 selfy-sticks hanging from the ceiling and they take your phone and set the video for you so you can keep the experience forever! Super Cool!
Hot Plate Grill: We tried to go to any of the high rated Kobe restaurants, but ultimately decided that we didn’t want to pay $150 a person for dinner on our last night. We will go back to Japan at some point and try the Kobe, maybe in a different area. So we headed off to a Tempura place that apparently has a sister restaurant in Malibu. Needless to say they wanted $150 per person for some fried veggies, nope. So we walked along some abandoned streets and found a hot plate restaurant with only locals inside. It was run by two older ladies who were busting their butts! The food was absolutely amazing! It ended up being a blessing in disguise. We were able to eat some of our favorite, not so well knows Japanese dishes.
They didn’t take card and we were totally tapped on cash at that point. So the guys had to go walking to find and ATM. They left us there as collateral. We watched as the ladies cleaned up their restaurant, and the husbands showed up just in time! It was hole in the wall restaurant so we were afraid they they might not be able to find their way back.
Fancy KitKats!: At the airport I found out that Japan has special edition Kitkats in all kinds of exciting flavors! Including cheesecake. I bought some for my staff which I, of course forgot on the plane! UGH!!! They also had peach and mint flavors too!