Travels in Japan: Kyoto 京都 (October 1, 2017)

Kyoto Tower in Kyoto, Japan (2017)

Kyoto Tower in Kyoto, Japan (2017)

Attraction List

  • Kyoto Tower
  • Kyoto Railway Museum
  • Kinkakuji
  • Nijo-jo
  • Gion-Shion

About 15-20 minutes westward of Osaka, if one takes the shinkansen, is the classical city, Kyoto. Popularized by the stories of geisha and samurai, this city served as the capital of Japan from 794 (Nara period) to 1868 (beginning of Meiji period). Many temples and shrines still stand today and are important relics of Japan’s history.

We spent a day in Kyoto, so we had to pick and choose where we wanted to visit. Upon arriving at Kyoto Station, one can see the modern Kyoto Tower in the distance, rising at 131 meters tall. On a clear day, one can see Osaka from the observation platform in the distance.

Kyoto Railway Museum, Kyoto, Japan (2017)

Kyoto Railway Museum, Kyoto, Japan (2017)

From Kyoto Station, we walked west about 20 minutes to the Kyoto Railway Museum, a must-see for any train enthusiast. Opened in April 2016 by JR West, the museum is considered one of Japan’s best railway museums.

The museum showcases various types of trains from the steam locomotives to the electric trains to the shinkansen (bullet trains). One can follow the walkways underneath some of the trains to see the internal structure of the trains. There are also exhibits of the railway uniforms and tools as well as interactive exhibits, in which one can pretend to be a train conductor or try the train simulator. In addition to the museum, there is a roundhouse with turntables from 1914 that houses some steam locomotives.

After spending a couple of hours here, we exited the museum to grab lunch at a nearby café.

Kinkakuji, Kyoto (2017)

Kinkakuji, Kyoto, Japan (2017)

Once we had our fill, we took a taxi to Kinkakuji, as the subway system in Kyoto was not very convenient. Continue reading

Travels in Japan: Osaka 大阪, Kansai (September 30 to October 4, 2017)

Courtesy of T.Kambayashi (Wikimedia Commons). See https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Osaka_City_Map.png

Courtesy of T.Kambayashi (Wikimedia Commons). See the original page.

After a brief stay in Tokyo, we took the Shinkansen bullet train to Osaka (大阪) located in the Kansai region of Japan; the journey took about 3 hours westward. We had the First Class Japan Rail tickets but had forgotten to reserve our seats in the First Class section of the train. We were lucky that one of the train conductors allowed us to sit in the reserved First Class section, as there were not many people and we were carrying a lot of luggage. The seats were quite comfortable, clean, and spacious. An attendant provided us with some refreshments, snacks, and a wet towellette. The time passed quickly as we made our way to Shin-Osaka station– one of the central Japan Rail (JR) stations.

With luggage in hand, we transferred to the local train line to the newer Bay Area, facing Osaka Bay. The overall train ride took about 45 minutes from the main city center. The hotel we stayed at was Hotel La Raison (now called Quintessa Hotel Osaka Bay as of 2019), a fairly new luxurious, Western-style hotel located in Cosmo Square (train station). The room was quite spacious and comfortable.

The Bay Area of Osaka has many nearby attractions, including Universal Studios Japan, Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, and Cosmo Tower. We were lucky that Hotel La Raison offered a complimentary shuttle service to these attractions (except for Cosmo Tower, which is within walking distance) and to the JR Osaka Station. See the main website for the shuttle bus schedule.

Tip: If you have the Pasmo card, you can use it to travel on the local train or bus transportation system in Osaka. Just remember to add more money to the card as needed.

Shitennō-ji Temple

September 30, 2017

Attraction List:

  • Shitennoji Temple (Tennoji district)
  •  Shinsekai (Tennoji district)
    • Tsuenkaku
  • Nipponbashi district
  • Namba district
    • Dotonbori 

Once we settled down and relaxed for awhile in the hotel, we headed out to the Tennoji district, the older part of Osaka. We first visited the Shitennoji Temple (photo above), one of the oldest Zen Buddhist temples in Japan from 593. Although the buildings were renovated, they still have its spiritual charm. Just beware of the mosquitoes that surround the pond near the side of the temple. Continue reading

Travels in Japan: Tokyo 東京 (September 29, 2017)

I visited Japan with my family for about 7 days (September 29 to October 4, 2017 and October 14-15, 2017). Exploration of the following cities: Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, and Himeji were self-planned and organized based on district (since the cities were too large to explore on our own).

Before we started our trip, we used Japan Guide and Japan Experience to plan out the attractions and order the Japan Rail Pass— a must-need for transportation in Japan. Also, it is recommended that you purchase a Pasmo Card, an IC card, for paying public train transportation fares. The IC card can be recharged at any subway or public train station in Japan. For navigation and convenience, I highly recommend the Pocket Wi-Fi so that you can have access to Google Maps to get to your destination.

Note: The hotels that are mentioned in this Japan travel log series are Western-style hotels with four twin beds.

Asakusa Station at Night

September 29, 2017 Tokyo Skytree (Oshiage), Asakusa and Ueno

Attraction List:

  • Tokyo Skytree (Oshiage district)
  • Sensoji Temple (Asakusa district)
  • Ueno Station
    • Ueno Hard Rock Cafe

We took an overnight flight on September 28th to Hong Kong and then connected to a flight to Tokyo (東京). We arrived in the afternoon on September 29th at Tokyo Haneda airport. At the airport, we immediately went to pick up the Japan Rail passes and the pocket wi-fi that we rented. Afterwards we purchased the Pasmo card and loaded each card with 2,000 yen.

Tip: Make sure you have enough currency on hand to load the IC card. I guarantee that you will have to recharge the card often. Public transportation is a must when you travel Japan.

View of Tokyo Skytree from Tobu Levant Hotel

We took the train to our hotel, Tobu Hotel Levant Tokyo, in the Sumida district of Tokyo and dropped off our luggage before exploring the area. It was about 4PM when we set out to look at our surroundings to get orientated. The Sumida district is regarded as a peaceful district with traditional bath houses, small shops, and high-rise apartments hide under the presence of the Tokyo Skytree. The Tokyo Skytree is the tallest tower in Tokyo, rising to 634 meters, and often hosts special events as noted on the official website. Continue reading

Toronto, Ontario 2018: Other Delectable Chinese Restaurants Part III

During the week of March 31 to April 8, 2018,  my family and I visited Toronto, Ontario. It was simply a homecoming for all of us. The primary reason for our visit was to celebrate my aunt’s 80th birthday and to gather with family and family friends. The majority of the time was spent in Markham and Richmond Hill; both cities are located in the suburbs and centers of the Chinese community in Toronto. Once again, we enjoyed the delicious Chinese food and noted changes since 2013 (our last visit).

For the remaining days that we spent in Toronto, we tried various types of Chinese cuisine.

Elegance Chinese Cuisine & Banquet 雅景豪苑

On my aunt’s actual birthday, together with our extended family, we went to this Chinese restaurant and tried their set meal, consisting of winter melon soup, mustard steak, Peking duck with thin pancake slices, lettuce and crispy rice wraps with a mixed duck meat and nut filling; soy sauce chicken, stir-fried vegetables with bean curb and goji berries; and eggplant with meat claypot.

The food came elaborately decorated, especially the winter melon soup. The taste was mediocre and the food was saltier than expected (especially the eggplant with meat claypot). We did feel that we were not given the entire Peking duck when they finished cutting the crispy skin from it, judging by the size of the dish that we were given. The best dishes were the winter melon soup and the mustard steak for its flavor. Overall, the food was average at best despite the ornate atmosphere of the restaurant.

Winter Melon Soup

Peking Duck

Continue reading

Toronto, Ontario 2018: Eating Chinese – Hong Kong-style Cafes Part II

Hong Kong-style cafes typically have a variety of dishes on their menus but the most prominent are the following:

  • Congee (rice porridge) with different toppings, such as preserved vegetables, and meats (beef, chicken, fish)
  • Chow mein
  • Fried breadsticks
  • Dim sum
  • Soup noodles (e.g. won ton noodles)
  • Barbecue foods (e.g. roast duck, roast pork, char siu)

We tried two places: Congee Queen and Congee Wong (which translates to Congee King).

Congee Queen

This is a restaurant franchise that has multiple locations throughout the Toronto suburbs. It is a great place to go for every meal of the day, if you fancy something simple. My family and I have eaten at this restaurant a couple of times but at different locations. This time we ordered fried Singapore-style rice vermicelli, wonton noodle soup with shrimp dumplings, ride noodle breadsticks, roast pork rice, Chinese donuts, house special congee, and stir-fried snow pea leaves.

Wonton Noodles

Continue reading

Toronto, Ontario 2018: Eating Chinese and Aunt’s 80th Birthday Banquet Part I

During the week of March 31 to April 8, 2018,  my family and I visited Toronto, Ontario. It was simply a homecoming for all of us. The primary reason for our visit was to celebrate my aunt’s 80th birthday and to gather with family and family friends. The majority of the time was spent in Markham and Richmond Hill; both cities are located in the suburbs and centers of the Chinese community in Toronto. Once again, we enjoyed the delicious Chinese food and noted changes since 2013 (our last visit).

Ocean Seafood Restaurant 東海海鮮餐廳

We visited this restaurant with our family from Canada to celebrate my father’s and my other aunt’s birthdays on March 31. We tried the set meal for eight people consisting of steamed fish, roasted duck, shark fin soup, garlic crab, stir-fried vegetables with eggplant and mushrooms, and fried yi mein (or e-fu noodles). Overall, not too greasy and salty. The fish and duck were very flavorful and tender.

Steamed Fish at Ocean Seafood Restaurant

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Aunt’s 80th Birthday Bonanza on April 1st

My aunt’s birthday bonanza was held on April 1st. Family members from both of my parents’ sides came to celebrate. Continue reading

TRAVEL: Hong Kong 2015 (September 26-30, 2015)

Nightfall on Harbour City

Attraction List

  • Nan Lian Garden and Nunnery
  • Ocean Terminal and the Peak – View of Victoria Harbour (day and night)
  • Avenue of the Stars (Tsim Sha Tsui)
  • Hong Kong Museum of History

After visiting Macau and Lantau Island, we spent a few more days in Hong Kong. We last visited Hong Kong in 2010, so this entry is more of an update of the attractions one can visit.

Nan Lian Garden & Nunnery

Nan Lian Garden and Nunnery is a classical Chinese garden built among modern sky rises in the Kowloon district. As you pass through the gate, the left side houses the Chinese Timber Architecture Gallery, which houses models of historical sites from China.

Nan Lian Garden & Nunnery

The rest of garden is built in a circular fashion allowing one to take a pleasant walk under the trees and admire the flora and birds. At the center, there is a Tang-style pagoda with a red bridge leading up to it. The overall attraction is worth visiting if you enjoy viewing Chinese architecture.

Nan Lian Garden & Nunnery

Nan Lian Garden & Nunnery

Victoria Harbour is the iconic view of Hong Kong. The best views are from the Ocean Terminal and the promenade along Tsim Sha Tsui. Continue reading

TRAVEL: Lantau Island 大嶼山 and Tai-O 大澳, Hong Kong (September 25, 2015)

Lantau - View from Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car

Lantau Island (大嶼山)

  • Ngong Ping 360
  • Po Lin Monastery
  • Tian Tan Buddha
  • Wisdom Path 

Ngong Ping 360 is one of Hong Kong’s newest attractions. The cable car takes you from the terminal in Hong Kong to Ngong Ping Village in Lantau Island, allowing an aerial view of the lush verdant landscape surrounding the bronze Tian Tan Buddha. At Ngong Ping village, you can explore the various attractions: Walking with Buddha and Motion 360.

Ngong Ping 360 Village

Nearby you can ascend several steps to the Tian Tan Buddha surrounded by various deities presenting offerings to the Buddha.

Lantau - Road to Big Buddha

Big Buddha's Deities & Their Offerings

Erected in 1993, the Tian Tan Buddha, according to the Hong Kong Tourism Board, faces north toward mainland China. The statue is modeled after the sculptures found in the Longmen Grottoes, which date from the Northern Wei to early Tang dynasties. Continue reading