Our crazy 5 day Japan Trip Recap - Day 2 Highlights

Fushi Inari Taisha (伏見稻荷大社)

Woke up super early again to explore Kyoto before we head to Osaka today. It's not easy to find a nice cafe this early in the morning, but we found one close to the Inari station. After yummy coffee and breakfast, we were ready for the short hike through the orange gates! The shrine sits at the base of the mountain, and the trails go through the tunnel made by hundreds of orange gates, and there are viewpoints that you can get a nice view of Kyoto. It took us around 2 hours round trip. 
The earliest structures were built in 711, and got re-located in 816, and the main structure you see now was built in 1499. You really don't get to see things this old in the US. The whole city has so much history, and that's what makes this city so beautiful. 

Before we headed to Osaka, we went to a famous chain ramen place called Ichiran Ramen. At the time, the Hong Kong location just opened up, and people in Hong Kong were lining up crazy to try this ramen place. While we were in Kyoto, having a bowl of ramen in Ichiran without a line, and probably more authentic than in Hong Kong. I would say, I won! 

Osaka Castle

After lunch, we took the bullet train to Osaka to see the Osaka Castle. Guai lo really wants to see the Osaka castle, and that's mainly why we made such a short stop in Osaka. The castle is one of Japan's most famous landmarks. Unfortunately, the original castle was destroyed in WWII, so the castle we saw was a restoration. A lot of the original historic structures in Japan were destroyed in WWII, and I found this very pitiful. *World Peace* There are two moats around the castle, and this is my first time seeing a real moat. It's hard to imagine those moats are what's keeping the castle safe back then. With the weapons nowadays, it doesn't really matter how many moats you have, one bomb, and it's all gone. 
The castle itself is very pretty, and we did go inside, which turned out to be a very disappointing experience. We should have done more research before we went to Japan, then we would have known that it's just a museum inside the castle. We were expecting old architecture inside the castle as well, but turned out there's elevators, and TV screens, and all kinds of modern stuff that you would not expect to see in a castle. The park around the castle was very pretty as well! We went there in early December, so it's like the transition of fall to winter, and you can still see some color, as well as bald trees. There are little snack stands in the park around the castle, and we had some takoyaki (たこ焼き) and taiyaki (鯛焼き), which are some of my favorite Japanese street food. <3 Yum!

Then, we were trying to get to Dotonbori for some good food. There's a proverb in Japanese "Dress till you drop in Kyoto, eat till you drop in Osaka" (京の着倒れ、大阪の食い倒れ). Unfortunately, we did not make it there because we couldn't figure out how to get there. We tried to ask for directions from several people, but we just couldn't figure it out. So, we gave up (which I REGRET SO MUCH NOW), and took the bullet train to Tokyo. 



Our crazy 5 day Japan Trip Recap - Day 1 Highlights

God, I miss Japan. This was one of the craziest trips we have done, partly because we didn't plan it out very well but still wanted to see as much as we can. We flew from LA to Tokyo, and flew to Hong Kong from Tokyo. We arrived on an evening, and first thing we did was take the bullet train to Kyoto. (If we have planned the trip a little better, we would have flown to Kyoto and left from Tokyo) Anyways, then we stayed in Kyoto for 1.5 day, then took the bullet train to Osaka, and spent half day there, and then took the bullet train from Osaka to Tokyo. We spent 3 days in Tokyo, and took a super early flight to Hong Kong. We, on average, slept for not more than 5 hours for 6 nights in order to maximize the 5 days we had. It was absolutely crazy, but we saw so much, and it was worth it. I wish I had more time to explore more, and I will definitely go back to Japan one day. 
* Excuse my pictures, it was more than 2 years ago, and I didn't take pictures of everything we saw...... (how could I? Why? I didn't have a blog back then.... I guess....?)

After a long flight from LA to Tokyo, and the train to Kyoto, we woke up at 6am to explore Kyoto. We got some breakfast from a bakery, and got some warm drinks from the vending machines. There are vending machinese everywhere in Japan, with great varieties of drinks, warm or cold. Kyoto is definitely my favorite city in Japan (so far). It is absolutely beautiful, everything was how I imagined Japan would be. All these gorgeous temples, small streets, small houses.... I don't know how to describe it, but it was just..... very Japan!!!! 

Nishi Hongwanji (本願寺)

This is built in 1951, and it is one of the UNESCO world heritage sites. It was just a beautiful wooden structure. Before you go into the temple, you need to take off your shoes, and it was very peaceful and quiet inside the temple. Besides the different buildings, the garden was gorgeous. We went in December, so it was in between fall and winter, you can still see a little bit of fall color on the trees, and most of the leaves are falling. We went early, so  there are not a lot of people around, and we had the most amazing morning stroll. 

To-ji (東寺)

Another UNESCO world heritage site, and is located not far from Nishi Hongwanji. This is the symbol of Kyoto and originally dated from 826 but was then rebuilt in 1644. The five-story pagoda of To-ji is the tallest wooden tower in Japan, and the entrance into the pagoda is only permitted a few days per year. On the way to the next destination, we went to some tsukemono shops in the afternoon. Tsukemono is basically different pickled vegetables, and they were once made at home, but nowadays, people do not have the time, but it is still vital to Japanese food culture. They have samples for almost all the different kinds of pickles (there are more than 50 different kinds, it's crazy!), and they are all delicious! I never like pickles, because I think vegetables should be eaten fresh, but I have to say, I love those tsukemono. 

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove (嵯峨野・嵐山)

The subway system in Japan is very very extensive, and you can go almost ANYWHERE with it. We took the subway to arashiyama station and spent an afternoon there. There are a lot of little restaurants, souvenir stores, and of course some temples and the bamboo forest. We had lunch, shopped for some souvenirs, saw the infamous Togetsi-kyo Bridge, walked along the bamboo forest path, and another UNESCO world heritage site Tenryu-ji. 

Kinkaku-ji (金閣寺)

Kyoto has too many awesome temples, and we couldn't make it to all of them. The last temple of the day, we were struggling between Kinkaku-ji or Ginkaku-ji, and we went the Kinkaku-ji. The whole structure is covered in gold leaf, and houses the relics of Buddha. 

At night, we went to Gion (祇園), Kyoto's most famous geisha district. It is filled with shops, restaurants and teahouses, where the geisha entertain. We walked around the area, and saw one geisha. We were super excited when we saw her, but she seemed to be in a hurry, so we didn't bother her for a picture. That pretty much concluded our day. It might not seem like we went to a lot of places, but we took our time in each place, and it takes time to go from one place to the next, so I think we did good. 



One day adventure in Downtown Los Angeles

DTLA, short for downtown Los Angeles. It has so much going on all the time, and it also has a lot of good food! People usually focus a lot more on what's going on in the Hollywood and forget about this part of town, which is equally awesome! These are some of my favorite spots in DTLA, and for those of you who are looking for something to do for a day, this might just be the perfect itinerary for you! 
*Tips* Street parking is free on Sundays! 

Before you start walking around, you definitely need some food first! First stop! The grand central market!!! It opens daily at 8am. The market has different vendors, including Delis, Thai, coffee, pizza, baked goods, cheeses, tacos, etc. I am sure you will be able to find things you want to try! There are a couple places that I like in particular. 

1. Eggslut! Besides all the obviously delicious sandwiches with eggs in them, one thing that is highly recommended! The "slut", which is a coddled egg on top of a smooth potato puree, poached in a glass jar and served with toasted baguette. The taste is simple, but so good! 
2. G & B Coffee! I like coffee strong but not bitter, and this place is exactly that. The aroma of the coffee goes right through even before you drink it, and the coffee is so smooth and strong, but not bitter! They have another location in Larchment called go get em tiger, which I have been to, and their coffee is equally good there. 
3. Wexler's Deli! Their Lox Bagel with cream cheese is to die for!
4. Sticky Rice! Awesome thai food, better than a lot of the proper Thai restaurants out there! Writing this makes me want to go there for an early dinner tonight......

Besides all those places above, all the other places are just as good! There is really no bad food there! This is really one place that anyone who lives or visits LA should not miss! 
After you had a nice full meal, right next to the grand central market, there's the Bradbury building, which is the oldest commercial building remaining in the central city and it is absolutely gorgeous. It has this glass ceiling to let the sunlight come in, also an open cage elevator, marble stairs, iron railings, etc. Definitely worth a visit! It is free to go in and wander around, take pictures. 

While you are walking around between places. you can see all the artwork, murals all around DTLA. 
Next stop! The last bookstore! With bookstores dying out, this is just the most appropriate name for a bookstore. This is an amazing bookstore with a wide collection of used books, records, and artworks. The decor of the bookstore is already worth the visit, and if you like reading, there might be books that you can find here but nowhere else. 
Next stop! The LA central library.  This is just one of the many beautiful buildings in DTLA. A lot of people actually have weddings there! Other buildings include the Walt Disney Concert Hall are also a must-go. (I would really love to see a concert there some day!)

*Not a weekend activity* The art walk! It is a nonprofit organization that supports local artists.It happens every 2nd Thursday of each month. For those who happen to go on that Thursday, strong recommended! First, go to the art walk lounge to grab the maps for the art walk, and hours vary by gallery, range from Noon-10pm. It is a fun experience to see different artworks from the local community.

There is one more thing that would be awesome to do, which is the angels light railway, but unfortunately, it is closed now :( They are currently trying to raise money so that they can operate again! 

After all these walking, time to find a place to sit and chill! Besides all the amazing coffee shops around, there is one other place that will give you a little bit of a view. Echo Park! It has a beautiful lake, with ducks swimming and lotus blooming, it is just an awesome place to chill on a Sunday afternoon. 
Very close by the Echo park, there is Carroll Avenue, a street lined with Victorian homes from the late 19th century. This neighborhood has been featured in a lot of the films and TV shows. The boyfriend remembers watching "Charmed" when he was a kid and really wanted to see that "charmed" house. Anyways, it is a beautiful neighborhood. 

PS. For those who likes to go out at night (I am too old for that), DTLA does have a very active vivid awesome night life! I am not too much of a drinking, clubbing person. I have tried, and it is just not my thing, but for those who like it, instead of Hollywood, DTLA has some great places to go too! Here is some information on that



LA Korean Festival 2015

What should I do this weekend? <- This is always the question on my Mondays! (Something to look forward to and get me through the week T_T)  Last weekend, we went to the annual Los Angeles Korean Festival! Free admission, and as always, the parking can be a little tricky in Ktown, but they offered event parking for $5. And since it is an Asian thing, it is all cash only!!! Just like the 626 market! 

#1 Shopping
They have a lot of small businesses, such as cosmetics, accessories, packaged foods. They happened to be hosting the Korean Small Business Expo this year, so we saw a lot of products from South Korea as well as familiar vendors in LA. For food, there are SAMPLES! Free things always taste better right? We got to try different pickles, ginseng, tea, etc. It was a lot of fun, and we bought some ginseng products for my grandma and some kimchi for ourselves. They also have a lot of cosmetics and skin products, but the problem is they don't speak very good English, and I am not familiar with the brands, so I didn't buy anything. I should have done more research on what's good to get for Korean brand skin products.... oh well, next time! 

#2 Fun
Besides the shopping, they have game booths for kids as well as booths for doing some artwork!! You can paint on a fan or make lotus using paper cups and petals. Not only kids, a lot of adults enjoy the artwork station. They also have price wheel (I got a frisbee), and raffles! I am never lucky enough to win anything, but it never hurts to try!  

#3 FOOD!!!!! 
When at an Asian event, there's no doubt they have delicious food!!! They have a large variety of food, including Korean street food ( korean ricecake, bulgogi, fishcakes, kimchi pancakes, spicy pork over fries, etc) as well as waffles, bobas, the spiral potato thing, etc. I was so stuffed by all those little snacks we bought along the food alley lol They are so good and...... fattening! Time to go to the gym and burn the food off! 

One of my favorite food encounters was the Manjoo. I wasn't even sure what this is at the time, but it looked good and the line was super long, so I decided to try it. (Tips: always follow a long line for food, can't go too wrong) They were sooooo good and definitely worth the wait! They were made fresh, so the cream inside exploded out when you bit into it. I am glad that I got warned by the person who was selling them. And I found this amusing machine that made these little precious cream balls. On the right is a video I took of this awesome little machine. This place called Deli Manjoo is located in Diamond Bar if anyone wants to try those little cream balls. 

This is one thing I love about LA. There is always something going on! If you try hard enough, there is always something fun to do!