Japan Itinerary: Our Two Week, Kid Friendly Japan Guide

This Japan itinerary contains affiliate links which means if you click on one of the affiliate links and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no cost to you. All opinions in this Japan itinerary are my own.

Japan itinerary

Our Route from Osaka to Tokyo

When we travel with our son we take a slightly slower pace than we did before we had kids. If we try to fit in too many activities in the day, it is a surefire way to overwhelm him. So, we usually head out fairly early in the morning (he’s an early riser) right after breakfast and come back to our hotel around lunch time. He’s 4 now so he doesn’t usually need a nap anymore but quiet play time still helps him to recharge his batteries. The in the late afternoon or evening we head out for a while closer to our home base.

For this Japan itinerary we visited Osaka, Koyasan, Nara, Kyoto, Tokyo and Narita. So we didn’t have to double back we flew into Osaka and out of Narita. Our visits to Koyasan, Nara and Narita were just day trips but longer overnight stays would be fantastic for longer itineraries.  Our son enjoys visiting temples and traditional sites, especially if he can have ice cream! He’s also HUGE fan of technology, vehicles and robotics so this Japan itinerary was a balance between the old and the new.

Do You Need a JR PASS for Your Japan Itinerary?

Whenever there is talk about traveling to Japan people of course recommend the JR Pass. The 7, 14 or 21 day JR Pass allows visitor to ride many JR group trains, and buses but there are limitations. It is a good idea to enter your Japan itinerary route into a Japan Rail Pass Calculator like this one (there are others available online as well). We found that for our Japan itinerary we would not save any money getting the JR Pass. We also chose to take the Nozomi Shinkansen between Kyoto and Tokyo and at this time it isn’t covered under the JR Pass.

Days 1 to 3: Osaka Plus a Daytrip to Koyasan

Osaka Castle

The 5 tiered Osaka Castle is the symbol of Osaka and a must visit for anyone coming to the city.

Not only is the castle beautiful but it is surrounded by large grounds and Osaka Castle Park. It is a great place to stretch your legs after a long flight. There are also a fair number of food trucks set up inside the gates as well. You can also find people feeding the pigeons which our son thought was great.

Dotonbori

Best seen at night, Dotonbori is Osaka’s well known downtown area. It is full of great places to shop but most people come to see the brightly colored neon billboards and quirky signs of giant sea creatures which line the canal.

It is also home to quite a few well known restaurants. The lines to get into these restaurants can be incredibly long so it is best to get there early or try your luck at one of the less known places. We ducked into a small ramen restaurant and it was great as well! There are also sometimes free concerts along the canal in the evening. The day we visited we happened to catch Kamen Joshi.

Koyasan – Day Trip from Osaka

The UNESCO world heritage site, Mount Koya is home to more than 100 temples as well as Japan’s largest cemetery Okunoin. More than 200,000 monks have found their final resting place in Okunoin. This incredibly sacred place is also hauntingly beautiful. Green moss covers the grave marker and thousand year old cedar trees tower overhead.

Koyasan is approximately 2 hours from Osaka so it is an easy day trip. In bad weather though, it is best to check that the cable car is still running. We ended up traveling during one of the heaviest snowfalls they had seen in ages and ended up with more excitement than we bargained for!

Other Fantastic Sites in Osaka to Add to a Japan Itinerary

Osaka Aquarium
Universal Studios Japan
Shitennoji Buddhist Temple
Osaka Science Museum

Day 4: Nara Daytrip between Osaka and Kyoto

Nara is close enough to both Osaka and Kyoto to make it a daytrip from either location. We decided to stop over in Nara as we traveled from Osaka to Kyoto. There are places to store your bags in the train stations and at the Nara City Tourist Information Center.

The ancient city is home to some amazing sites such as Todaiji and Yakushiji temples. Nara is best known for the more than 1,200 deer that roam freely in Nara Park. I was a little worried about bringing a very excited 4 year old to see the deer but they were perfectly gentle. Vendors sell crackers that you can feed the deer but expect to get swarmed by a group of deer if you bring out a snack for one.

Days 5 to 8: Kyoto

Kinkaku-ji Golden Temple

As pretty as the Golden Temple is we felt a bit underwhelmed because there were massive crowds. We just happened to arrive exactly when several tour busses pulled up. You enter the gates and everyone must follow the same route shuffling along with the group and leaning over to take photos the best they can. It was just our luck that the sky completely clouded over when we went through. We stopped to grab some ice cream and suddenly the sky was bright blue and the crowds had cleared.


I don’t know if going back in a second time is allowed but I was able to duck back in and get a few more photos.  There isn’t much else to do at the Golden Castle but it is an iconic site so worth the trip. It is best to arrive early or later in the day to avoid the crowds. Or you can try your luck waiting for a break in the tours because as quickly as they come, they are gone just as fast.

Fushimi Inari Taisha

Along with tourists to this popular site, worshipers have been visiting Fushimi Inari-Taisha since around 711.  Inari is the patron of businesses and the god of rice. The shrine is well known for it’s bright orange torii (arches) and fox statues (messengers).

Fushimi Inari-Taisha shrine was so much bigger than I ever expected! We arrived early and made our way to the first set of torii (the red orange arches). Everyone around us was getting frustrated trying to get a great photo. Little did we know that there are pathways all the way up to the top of the mountain with torii galore! We tried to make the two hour hike to the top of the mountain but turned back about 30 minutes from the top. We realized that we were going to have to make it back down with a 4 year old in tow and we were all getting tired. The assent is gradual though and it is easy to explore.

Gion and Geisha (Geiko)

The reason I wanted to go to Kyoto was to try to see a REAL Geisha (or Geiko as they are called in Kyoto). We were successful our second night! You can read more about how we were able to find Geisha in Kyoto here.

geisha
It takes a lot of patience though so we made sure to allot several nights to exploring the Gion which is Kyoto’s famous entertainment district. Even without Geisha, the Gion has many beautiful old buildings and is very atmospheric at night especially in the Shimbashi area.

Kyoto Train Museum

The Kyoto Train Museum is the largest railway museum in Japan with a stock of 53 trains and train cars. It is a 3 story museum with lots of interactive displays and hands on exhibits.


It also has Japan’s largest collection of steam locomotives and for an additional fee you can take a 10 minute ride on one! It is by far the most memorable museum we have visited in Japan.

Other Fantastic Sites in Kyoto to Add to a Japan Itinerary

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
Kiyomizu-dera Buddhist Temple
Nijo Castle
Monkey Park Iwatayama

Mount Fuji

On past trips to Japan we had seen Mount Fuji from a distance on clear days in Tokyo but we wanted to see it more closely. We also had no desire to climb it and how long can you spend looking at Mount Fuji with a 4 year old really? We found the perfect solution! The Nozomi Shinkansen which we had also been wanting to experience goes right past Mount Fuji on the way from Kyoto to Tokyo. You can see Mount Fuji for about half of the trip and the train passes by closely enough that you can get a pretty decent photo.

Days 9 to 13: Tokyo

Odiaba

We love Odaiba! During our visit to Tokyo we visited nearly every day. The Odiaiba area of Tokyo is a man made island which has been developed as a shopping and leisure destination. The Yurikamone elevated train ride across to the island is quite fun itself as there is great views of the harbor and Rainbow Bridge as the train track loops over the water. If you are really lucky, try to get the first seat in the first car for a drivers view!

Once in Odaiba there is plenty to keep you busy for days. Odiaba is perhaps most well known for being the home of the life sized Gundam statue which was taken down on March 5th 2017. A new one will be erected in the fall of 2017 but until then there is still plenty to do and see on the island. At Decks Tokyo Beach you can find a Legoland Discovery Center and Madam Tussauds wax museum. Toyota Mega Web is a Toyota showroom, and museum with attractions including test drives.


Right next door is one of the world’s biggest Ferris Wheels. The National Museum of Emerging Science (Miraikan) where the robot Asimo puts on daily displays is also in Odaiba. The list goes on and on so click here to read more!

Tsukiji Fish Market

The Tsukiji Fish Market really isn’t kid friendly. It’s a busy and active wholesale market and it really isn’t set up for tourists. The famous tuna auctions happen very early in the morning and are limited to 120 people per day who have applied in advance. Danny is a chef though and wanted to at least check it out. After 10 am when the majority of the sales have been finished the public is allowed to enter into the wholesale seafood area. By noon though most vendors have packed up and gone home leaving a very short window of time to visit.


I’m glad we went just to be able to say we have been. The vendors were very nice to us and we were given some free samples as they were cleaning up for the day. The area is wet, messy and there are forklifts and such rushing about so we opted to carry our son on our shoulders. The outdoor market is open to the public any time and is easier to navigate with little ones.

Asakusa District

Nakamise shopping street lines the way through the Asakusa district of Tokyo to Sensoji Temple (Asakusa Kannon Temple). The shopping street is primarily made up of souvenir shops and little snack places. This is where we ended up trying black sesame ice cream! The dark grey color was awesome and the taste OK but it’s not going to end up being on my top 5 list.


At the end of Nakamise shopping street you’ll find Asakusa temple which was built in the 7th century. Kaminarimon (Kaminari Gate) is probably the best known image of this temple with its giant lantern. This is a very popular site so during holidays and weekends it gets incredibly busy. Kannonura Street in Asakusa is also one of the few areas where you may be lucky to spot a Geisha in Tokyo. If luck is not on your side when you visit, Konnonura Street is still a beautiful and historic area.

Tokyo Tower or Tokyo Skytree

There are two towers in Tokyo which you can visit to get a great view of the city. The original bright orange Tokyo Tower is 333 meters high and is the tallest self-supported steel tower in the world with observation decks at 150 meters and 250 meters. The newer (2012) Tokyo Skytree is 634 meters tall and has observation decks at 350 meters and 450 meters.


We chose to visit Tokyo Tower. Though the views at the Skytree are of course more impressive it was the cost that made us decide to visit the original Tokyo Tower instead. To visit the first observation deck at Tokyo Tower it only cost us about $8 USD each, whereas the Skytree was going to cost us about $18 USD each.

JAXA Tsukuba Space Center – Half Day Trip From Tokyo

About a 45 minuet train ride from Tokyo is JAXA Tsukuba Space Center in Tsukuba city. You can join a tour of the KIBO (the Japanese science module for the International Space Station) Flight Control Room and the astronaut training facility. Advanced reservations for English speaking tours are recommended.


There is also a nice Space Dome museum on site. It is small but it has some nice mock-ups of real space equipment.

Other Fantastic Sites in Tokyo to Add to a Japan Itinerary

Tokyo Disneyland
Ghibli Museum
Tokyo Imperial Palace
Sanrio Puroland

Day 14: Narita

Narita Omotesando and Naritasan Temple

A lot of people go to Narita only for the airport. Just by chance we stayed at a hotel one night a bit away from the airport because we had an early flight. Bored and wanting to just get out and walk a bit we were suddenly walking along Narita Omotesando (path leading to a temple).


The narrow one kilometer street is lined with old buildings now housing souvenir shops including traditional foods and handicrafts, and restaurants. It twists and turns until it reaches Naritasan Temple (Narita-san Shinsho-ji ). Built around 940 the temple is and grounds are quite large and very popular. It’s a great place to spend a few hours before your flight!

Check out our other Japan Guide on the best places to find cars, trains, robots and rockets here!

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Teaching Tagalog to our Kids, Part 1: Flashcards and Books

This post contains affiliate links which means if you click on one of the affiliate links and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no cost to you. All opinions are my own.


I’m Canadian, my husband is from the Philippines and our son was born in Korea (You can read more about our family’s story here!). We of course want our son to love and appreciate his Filipino heritage and a big part of that is learning to speak Tagalog. By being able to speak Tagalog he will be able to connect with his father’s country and join in conversations with his family and other Filipinos more deeply than if he only spoke English.

Teaching him to speak Tagalog while we live in Korea though has been a challenge. Our son attends preschool taught in Korean and he hears Korean everywhere when he leaves the house. My husband and I speak English to each other and it’s easy to find English books, videos and toys either in Korea or online. Though I have studied Tagalog, teaching it to our son is primarily left up to daddy and it isn’t even his first language.

My husband grew up in Negros Occidental on the border of the Ilonggo and Cebuano language regions. They spoke one language at home and when they went to the market they spoke the other.  When he started school his classes were in English and Tagalog so, by the time he was 6 years old he was using the 4 languages on a regular basis. After college he would go on to learn to speak Japanese while living there for 2 years and later learnt to speak Korean before going to Korea to work. I’ve seen him have conversations with groups of people switching back and forth between 3 – 4 different languages! So while he can speak Tagalog he doesn’t use it often and sometimes he struggles to find the words for things.

We tried using the very effective one parent one language technique in our home. I would speak English and my husband Tagalog but since my husband and I were speaking English to each other we would always forget to have him switch to Tagalog when he spoke with our son. Despite knowing many families in Korea with at least one Filipino parent, we have only been able to find 2 families in our city who were also teaching their children Tagalog. One has left and we have lost contact with the other family. A cultural center in our city offered us free space to hold language and cultural classes for Filipino kids but there was no interest from the Filipino community. We have visited Filipino groceries, sporting events, restaurants and churches to expose our son to Tagalog here in Korea as well but people go to these places to spend time with their friends and so he may hear the language but doesn’t get to practice it much at all.

We realized that we were going to have to collect resources to help us to teach our son. Here are some we have used. I hope they can help your family as well!

Tagalog for Kids Flash Cards

We bought the Tuttle Tagalog for Kids and the More Tagalog for Kids flashcards before our son was even born!  Each set includes 64 cards, an audio CD, a poster wall chart and a learning guide for parents with teaching suggestions. On the front of the card is a simple graphic in color with the word in Tagalog. On the back of the card is the English translation and a couple of sentences using the vocabulary word. The CD includes the pronunciation of the words, sentences and some songs.

            

Before our son could even talk he loved looking through the cards and having us tell him over and over what they said. We visited the Philippines for the first time when he was about a year and a half old and as soon as we got out of the airport he started pointing and excitedly yelling “Jeepney! Jeepney!” He had learnt about Jeepney from these cards. Though they are made from strong paper I would recommend having the cards laminated if possible. We ended up laminating ours and it has made them easier to clean and more difficult to damage. Now that our son is older we can work on the sentences with him.

Books

We struggled a bit to find good books in Tagalog but over the past 4 years more have been showing up on the market. We wanted fun and educational stories for our son but we found that a lot of the available Tagalog books are religious or political in content even for very small children. While this is fine for many families, we wanted to keep the topics more lighthearted when he was very young. Another reoccurring theme in many children’s’ books are balikbayan returnee stories. These are a fantastic resource for children who are learning Tagalog because their families are going to move to the Philippines. In our case I was worried that if our son keeps on reading about how he should be moving back to the Philippines he might feel guilty about living abroad. I might be worrying too much though!

It is possible to get books for children in Tagalog online and at the National Bookstore in the Philippines but at the bookstore the Tagalog selection is far smaller than the English book section.  At two of the National Bookstores we visited in the Philippines the employees didn’t even know where the Tagalog children’s book sections were! My husband and I had to search through all the aisles and show them. It was really shocking!

Here are some of our favorite Tagalog kids books:

Lakas and the Manilatown Fish / Si Lakas at ang Isdang Manilatown

Lakas and the Manilatown Fish / Si Lakas at ang Isdang Manilatown was the very first Tagalog book that we got for our son. The story follows Lakas through Manila town in San Francisco as he chases a magical fish and meets unusual characters along the way.  It is a dual language book. On the left side the story is written in Tagalog and on the right it is written in English so in our family daddy reads it in Tagalog and mommy reads it in English. It is aimed at children age 5 and up but we started reading it to our son when he was a baby. The beautiful illustrations kept his attention and he just enjoyed listening to us. Years later, he still enjoys it. The author and illustrator have released a second book Lakas and the Makibaka Hotel / Si Lakas at ang Makibaka Hotel but we have not had the chance to read it yet.

            

Filipino Friends

The book Filipino Friends has been created in the same style as the classic English language Richard Scarry books. The objects in the illustrations have been labeled in both English and Tagalog. The story is only in English though. Included among the pages are points teaching about Filipino culture, foods and even a simple recipe for kalamansi juice!  We enjoy singing Bahay Kubo together when we reach that section of the book. This book does end up being a balikbayan returnee story but it is so full of fun cultural bits we just couldn’t pass it up!

Tagu-Taguan

The illustrations alone in Tagu-Taguan are reason to buy this Filipino counting book! From sampu to isa the reader travels through the garden counting different insects. This book is a bit too difficult for children who are learning to count to read on their own but is a great book to read together as a family. Our son is an insect and number lover so this book was an instant favorite!

Kokak! Kokak!

We actually have 3 books in this series. “Kokak! Kokak!”, “ Mmmmm… Sarap!” and “Prrrrrt…Utot!” There are others in the series as well by the same author and illustrator. They’re funny little books with simple big graphics and few words on the page for young learners.  They can be purchased online and shipped internationally through http://www.anvilpublishing.com/ We got ours at National Bookstore and will be looking for more the next time we visit!

            

 

Adarna House Books

Adarna House Books have been publishing quality books for newborn to teenaged Filipino children since 1980. The following books can all be purchased through http://adarna.com.ph/ and shipped internationally.  They are also available at the National Book Store in the Philippines

Dumaan si Butiki

The award winning Dumaan si Butiki follows a cute little lizard up and down and around the house. It is a young learner’s board book that teaches locations as the little lizard goes left, right, up and under. It can be purchased online and shipped internationally through we purchased our copy in the Philippines.

Ang Una Kong Alpabeto and Kulay!

These two books are small board books with only one or two words on each page. Ideal for babies, they’re nice first books for little hands.

       

Ang Mabait na Kalabaw

We love carabao (just like lolo’s!) and so any book that features them is a hit in our family! Ang Mabait na Kalabaw is a dual language book with Tagalog at the top of the page and English at the bottom.  The good carabao is a role model of good behavior as he goes about his day. There are items to count on each page as well starting at 1 on the first page and finishing with 13 in the last illustration.

Check out part 2 here: Teaching Tagalog to our Kids, Part 2: Batibot!

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Bagan Travel Guide: Travel Tips for Your Next Trip to Myanmar

This Bagan travel guide contains affiliate links which means if you click on one of the affiliate links and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no cost to you. All opinions in this Bagan travel guide are my own.

bagan travel guide

Much of our trip to Myanmar was focused around trying to find a connection to my family who had once lived there as part of the British Colonies. We visited Bagan though purely as tourists. We have traveled to Borobudur in Indonesia and Angkor Wat in Cambodia but there is something uniquely special about Bagan. There are more temples to explore than at Borobudur and it currently is much less touristy than Angkor Wat. Find some great tips in this Bagan travel guide.

family atop a temple in bagan

Tickets

Before we went to Myanmar we read a lot of posts from people online suggesting that tourists should not buy the entrance tickets to Bagan. The writers offered tips on how to avoid paying and they promised that no one would ask to see your ticket when you traveled around the city.

monks at a temple in bagan using cell phone

It’s still true that you probably won’t be asked to show your ticket. In 5 days we were only asked to show it once. There are now ticket booths before the exit from the airport in Bagan though so skipping out on paying the fee is not as easy as before. You would need some careful planning to avoid it and at a reasonable 25,000 Kyat or $22 USD per person (our 3 year old son was free) it just doesn’t seem worth the effort. We lined up, got our ticket and were out the door in less than 5 minutes.

ananda temple bagan in the mist at sunrise
Pagoda Phya That Gyi at sunrise bagan myanmar
small white temple with flowers bagan myanmar

Temples

Throughout the desert landscape of Bagan there are more than 2000 temples and other religious structures still standing from the 11th to 13th century. Some of the smaller ones can even be found in the backyards of homes with kids playing soccer around them. The atmosphere around the temples is pretty relaxed and visitors can climb up or go into, nearly any that they wish. But these are still places of worship and religious significance for many. Therefore, shoes must be taken off before you set foot on or in a temple out of respect and to help preserve the monuments.

sunrise temple bagan myanmar

Ananda Temple in bagan myanmar

On August 25th, 2016 a 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck Bagan damaging many of the temples. Restoration is underway and looks like it will continue for quite some time to come. With the devastation a bit of a silver lining has emerged for the city. Much of the damage that occurred was actually restoration work from the 1990’s which had been done quickly and not using original materials. As a result, Bagan did not qualify for UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Aung San Suu Kyi has insisted that the process of restoration be taken slowly and under the guidance of UNESCO. Hopefully when the work is done Bagan will be better than ever and will hold the much deserved status!

shwezigon pagoda at sunset father carrying son with manduca baby carrier bagan myanmar

Temples in the mist bagan myanmar sunrise

Getting Around

Getting around Bagan is pretty easy and economical. We stayed in the Nyaung U area which is within walking distance of quite a few restaurants, shops, and some smaller temples.  You will need some sort of transportation to visit the big temples though.

cows and cart in bagan myanmar

Many places rent bicycles for less than $2 USD a day and some accommodations proved them for free. The area is very flat and so it is an easy ride if you set out early in the morning or late in the afternoon. When the sun is high in the sky the city is incredibly hot and options like e-bikes (around $6 a day) or a car with a driver (around $15 for half a day or $35 for the whole day) may be better options. There is even the popular option of taking a hot air balloon ride over the temples as the sun rise!

Many tourist sites recommend that you spend around 2 days in Bagan but we were there for 5 and we left wishing for more time to explore!

Htilominlo Temple hot air balloon bagan myanmar

Hot air balloon crew bagan myanmar

Hot air balloon crew returning after a morning flight

Bagan with Kids

We found Bagan to be really kid friendly! The side streets were quiet and our son joined other kids chasing bubbles and playing. People in Bagan love kids and they went the extra mile to make sure we were all ok. A group of men even showed him how to play a board game during their lunch breaks. Some hotels in the area have swimming pools as well so kids (and adults!) to cool down a bit from the afternoon heat.

board games street men

Going into and around the temples with kids is very easy but climbing up them is much more of a challenge. The many of the steps are very narrow and you have to walk down some of them sideways! We used our Manduca baby carrier to get our son up and down some of the more steep temples. Even then it was a bit precarious. Not all of them are this difficult though and it is completely doable especially if you just take it slow and steady.

temple stairs bagan myanmar

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Our Family in Faraway Places


You may be wondering how a Canadian woman and Filipino man working in South Korea ended up getting married, having a son and traveling all over most of Asia and beyond. It’s a bit of a long story but here is how we got to where we are today!

Family in Faraway Places

Our first photo together

How we Ended up in Gwangju, South Korea

Danny

After two years of living and studying in Japan, Danny had returned to the Philippines and was working for a Japanese company in Cavite. He wasn’t planning on going abroad again but his older sister had paid a recruiter to find her a job in South Korea. Nearly a year went by and the recruiter wasn’t able to find any jobs for women, so Danny agreed to go in her place. He joined the Employment Permit System (EPS), and studied Korean for 10 days. He passed the language test and training programs and in October 2006 he was off to Gwangju, South Korea.

Family in Faraway Places

First Christmas together

Jessica

In 2005 I had finished my university degrees. I had planned on teaching in high crime, low income neighborhoods in Toronto, Canada. My brother and his wife were living in the Middle East and my family encouraged me to try working abroad for a bit. I sent my resume out all over the world with no set destination in mind and was contacted by an art and design university just outside of Seoul. The job was to teach English but I figured it would be a way to combine my degrees in art and education so off I went (I never ended up teaching any art there!).

It was a fantastic job but the program shut down after just the one year. I had enjoyed my time in Korea though and decided to come back for another year. My next job was in Gangnam, Seoul the famous wealthy neighborhood that Psy sang about in the viral video Gangnam Style. The school started losing money though, there was a bunch of drama and I moved in April 2007 to Gwangju, South Korea to start a new job.

How We Met

I went home to Canada for my summer vacation that July. While I was away on vacation a group of Filipino migrant factory workers had started visiting a local expat bar. When I returned in August a group of friends and I went to that same bar to celebrate our friend’s birthday. We walked in the door and I’m told I said something along the lines of “There are a lot of hot guys here tonight, but that guy is mine!” It’s not the kind of thing I had ever said before but I walked right up to Danny and introduced myself.

We danced all night and just before he was about to leave I gave him a quick kiss. Danny was already pretty worried about his English skills and nervous about speaking to the second Caucasian woman he had ever met. The little kiss completely shocked both him and his friends. We completely forgot to exchange phone numbers! The next weekend he returned to the bar though, and we exchanged numbers properly this time. About 4 months after meeting we were officially engaged.

The Course of True Love Never Did Run Smooth

We were young, naive and in love. When I met Danny I knew nothing about the Philippines, or any restrictions its citizens might have. This was the man I loved and I didn’t care where he came from, or how much money he had. Immigration Canada on the other hand did.

We planned on getting married in Canada in August but a month before the wedding Danny’s visa application was denied. As a migrant worker Danny had been sending most of his paycheck home to his family each month and immigration felt that he did not have sufficient funds to visit Canada.

Family in Faraway Places

Getting ready for the wedding

Family in Faraway Places

 

Wedding at the courthouse

Upset but determined we decided to get married in the Philippines instead. Since we were only in the Philippines for a couple of weeks, there was not time to plan anything big. We were married in a courthouse with around 5 witnesses. A $10 wedding dress, his family cooked the food and we all ate in the backyard of Danny’s brother’s place. The majority of the guests were family and neighbors and we had a surprise visit from 2 of Danny’s best friends from college. I wouldn’t have wanted anything else.

Wedding dinner in the Philippines

Wedding dinner in the Philippines

Newly Married Life

Before getting married Danny had lived in a small shared room at the factory where he worked on the other side of the city. I had my own apartment near my school so it just made sense that he moved in with me. He was being asked to work from 8am – 10:30pm every day though. When he got off work the busses had stopped running so it would be a $10 taxi ride to come home. In the morning he would get up and leave by 5:30 am to get to work on time by bus.

At one point he worked 14 or 15 hours a day, Monday to Friday and 8 hours a day, Saturday and Sunday for 3 weeks straight without a single day off. I contacted the labor board about it. They told us that he was only legally required to work 16 hours of overtime a week but we should not say anything to them because if he refused his boss might beat him!

We decided to just see each other on weekends. For 5 months we saw each other Saturday night and Sunday during the day. The arrangement was wearing us down. Danny tried to find work someplace else but couldn’t find anything with better work conditions. We thought that maybe he should just quit his job and go back to school. He decided to continue studying Japanese.

Family in Faraway Places

Newly Weds

We spoke with the foreign students’ department at a local university and they told us that to enroll he would have to take both a Korean speaking and written test. The speaking test was done informally and he passed. He would have to come to the university at a set time and date to do the written test. There was no way his boss would let him have time off work to write the test. He would have to quit his job to take it.

Once he quit his job he would have only about a month to find another job, enroll in a school or leave the country. The university assured us that the written test was only a formality and he would be admitted to the university. With that promise Danny quit his job. (The man who replaced him in the factory lost his fingers in the press machine a month later)

Danny did the writing test and the university told him he failed. They would not let him attend unless he first took Korean language classes from them for an additional $4,000. We felt completely betrayed! They knew we would be in a very difficult position if he quit his job without a backup plan. We didn’t have that extra money to spend and we felt tricked so we decided that he would not attend the university.

With only a month and a half before he would be required to leave the country, we made a plan to change Danny’s work visa to a dependent spouse visa. We contacted immigration and at that time dependent visas in South Korea were not as common as they are now. Our local immigration office wasn’t exactly sure what we needed to do. We were running back and forth to the immigration office and on the phone with them constantly. They kept asking us for paperwork from our home countries which doesn’t exist.

Family in Faraway Places

Weekend chairlift ride up the mountain

We also had difficulty getting through to the Philippine embassy in Korea. I would call and say something along the lines of “Hello, I’m calling to get some information about getting a spouse visa.” The woman on the other end would scream at me “YOU CANT JOIN YOUR HUSBAND IN KOREA!” and hang up. After several tries I called back and quickly yelled “I’m Canadian!” before she hung up the phone. She had thought I was a Filipina wanting to go live with my migrant worker husband who worked in Korea which is not allowed.

We had to leave Korea and come back to get a dependent visa. Our approval from the immigration office came only a couple of days before our flight. We would end up celebrating our 6 months of marriage back in the Philippines.

Before we left I called the Korean immigration office in the Philippines to make sure I had everything I needed. The switch board put me through to an officer and she started to list off things I needed. I paused for a moment as I wrote the information down and then the phone went dead. I called back and the switch board put me through again. I explained that the phone had gone dead. The woman said “I know. I hung up on you because I didn’t hear you.” I had paused for only a second.

She started to list off again what we needed. She said that I needed an invitation letter from my place of work. We had never been told this. I asked her what the letter had to say. Her response: “Just an invitation letter”. But what does it have to say? “They just have to write an invitation.” I could just imagine us going all the way to the Philippines to find it had been done incorrectly!

I asked her if there were instructions in Korean that I could give to my boss. She started to get rude with me. I told her I didn’t understand what was required. She said she already told me. I asked if I could maybe speak to someone else because I was confused. She said I couldn’t speak to anyone else because she had already told me.

She was being very rude and I asked to please have her name. She replied “What’s your name?” and hung up on me. I called again, explained what had happened and they put me through to another person. The first woman had been telling me the wrong information. An invitation letter is only required if you don’t have the visa number and you are applying from the Philippines.

Family in Faraway Places

Christmas together

When we finally got to the Philippines we went to the Korean immigration office. You needed to fill out the paperwork one day and the visa is ready to be picked up the next. It was a madhouse in there and a worker gave us the paperwork to fill out. A pile of 6 papers (3 for each of us) and told us to go fill them out…Except mine were all in Korean! I asked her how I was to fill them out and she just shooed me away. So we asked again and she told us to just ask some Korean.

We asked a woman who was there to do some visa stuff herself and she helped us out. She helped me fill out two forms and then she double checked the title. We were filling out the wrong forms! We were filling out the ones to apply for the visa and we had already been approved back in Korea. The woman who gave us the forms hadn’t bothered to look at our paperwork or listen to what we said when we came in.

So we went back to the front desk and the lady who had been helping us told them that they had given us the wrong form. She then gave us the right form. ONE PAGE! We filled it out, but when we went back to the counter and they told us “You’re too late. We only accept applications for visa’s from 9-11am. You have to come back tomorrow”. Coming back tomorrow would mean that we would have to wait until Monday to get the visa and have to stay in the hotel 2 more nights.

I explained that we had been on time but she gave us the wrong forms. She didn’t care and she left. I was at my breaking point. We asked everyone we could for help, the volunteers, security guards, immigration officers etc. and eventually someone from the visa department. They took the paper and the passport and told us to come back tomorrow. Except for a long wait, we got it the next day without a hitch.

You may think that we were now free from visa problems but that was not the case. We came back to Korea and went through immigration. I went through first and then Danny was to go through. The immigration officer kept looking at his visa. Because I had already gone through they wouldn’t let me come back to help out. For the next 5 years or more he would always go through immigration before me because of this.

The man eventually called me back and asked Danny if I was his mother (possible language problem). We said “no wife”. I showed him that my name on my passport was also on his visa. He looked at it, smiled, laughed and then sent me back out and sent Danny to be interrogated.

They took Danny into another room and I couldn’t see what was going on. There was the immigration officer for pilots and diplomats near where I was waiting and he asked why I was there. I told him that they had taken my husband in for questioning. He asked where he was from. I told him the Philippines. He asked if it was his first time to Korea. I told him he had lived here for two years. He assured me that they were just double checking and not to worry.

In the meantime an immigration officer was looking at Danny’s visa. She then asked to look at his ear. We have no idea why. Then she asked who I was. He told her that I was his wife. They continued to look through his passport for about 20min more. I was out in the immigration area of the airport crying and asking anyone I could to please tell me where my husband was. Finally all the immigration officers came in to where he was. A young officer asked those inspecting Danny’s passport what kind of visa he had. They said “F3”. The officer told them “It’s fine! Let him go through” and that was it.

Now What?

Once we returned home Danny decided that he would study Japanese on his own at home. This “studying” was often turning into hours of video games. We realized that this wasn’t going to work long term so we looked into formal education opportunities again. I asked him what he would like to “be”. This was something he had never had the opportunity to consider before.

Eventually he decided he liked cooking. Our friend found a two year Hotel Cooking and Nutrition program locally. Despite being past the application deadline they let him apply and in March he began his classes. At the end of the year when they held a program wide cooking contest, Danny won!graduation photo

Our First Real Vacation Together

When we first got married we planned on going to Canada the next summer to celebrate with my family. During all the changes for Danny’s new visa, our visa renewal date in Korea had gotten changed as well. When we went to apply for Danny’s tourist visa to Canada we found that he couldn’t get one. For him to apply for a Canadian visa his Korean visa would have had to have been valid for more than 3 months past the month we would have been traveling. His Korean visa expired in August and we were going to Canada in August so it wasn’t 3 months. We could only renew our Korean visas one month in advance so we wouldn’t have gotten our Canadian visa back in time.

Visa Troubles Lead to Vacation Plans!

We were very depressed because we couldn’t go to Canada yet again because of visa issues and decided to use the money that we had saved up for Canada to travel to another country. We chose Cambodia because we had just seen a great Discovery Channel program on Angkor Wat, our friends loved it when they visited and because though I needed a visa to go, Danny FINALLY didn’t! All of our visa troubles lead to the beginning of our travels.

Family in Faraway Places

Visiting the temples in Cambodia

We went for 3 weeks and traveled right across the country for about $20/day including accommodation and food. We stayed in some really interesting places. Some good, and some bad. It was a really defining point in our relationship as this was the first place that we had traveled to together for no reason other than just to travel. That same year I started to study Tagalog (Filipino) and in January I started my Masters in Education with a specialization in TESL online. Danny completed his degree.

To Canada Finally!

The summer of 2010, we attempted yet again to go to Canada. An immigration officer at the Canadian embassy had told us that in the eyes of Immigration Canada, Filipino citizens are viewed as guilty of wanting to stay in Canada illegally until they could prove they were innocent. He would have an easier time immigrating to Canada than getting a tourist visa they said. With that in mind we created our case and submitted a tourist visa application an inch thick…and were finally approved! We renewed our vows in Canada and had a lovely pot luck lunch with many of my family and friends.

Opening wedding presents in Canada

The highlight of the trip (other than seeing family) had to be visiting Niagara Falls. Karaoke (videoke) is incredibly popular in the Philippines. There you can find machines everywhere! Often on these machines they show a background video of Niagara Falls. Growing up it was the only place Danny ever dreamed of visiting and it finally came true!

Family in Faraway Places

Finally to Niagara Falls!

The Next Big Trip

Since I was working on my degree we stayed close to home for the next little while. In July 2011 we made a small trip to Palawan, Philippines. We were talking about starting a family as I finished my course requirements in the winter of 2011. As a reward for all our hard work and as a last trip before we “settled down” we headed off on a trip of a lifetime to Northern India. My grandmother’s family had lived in India for generations as part of the British Colonies and so I had always wanted to visit. We visited Delhi, Varanasi, Arga, Jaipur, Johdpur and Jaisalmer in a little over 2 weeks in February 2012. By March I was pregnant with our son.

Family in Faraway Places

Varanasi India

Family in Faraway Places

Studying Korean drumming while pregnant (We cleared it with our doctor before we went!)

And Now There Were 3

Family in Faraway Places

​Being new parents in a foreign country with no help from our families was harder then we could have ever imagined. Traveling with our son though was surprisingly easier than we thought! In August 2013 when our son was 8 months old, we took our first trip together as a family to Phuket, Thailand.

Family in Faraway Places

Being blessed by a monk in Phuket, Thailand

We wanted to take advantage of infant ticket prices while we could so we traveled to Japan in January 2014 to visit Danny’s sister and her family. That summer we visited Canada in July and later the Philippines in August. We introduce our son to as many family members as we could before his ticket cost would increase when he turned 2. It quickly became clear that rather than ending our travels, our son was contributing to our travels!

Family in Faraway Places

Meeting lolo in the Philippines

Our son grew to be an incredibly active little guy who loves to explore and be outdoors and our life in Korea was starting to feel like it wasn’t the best fit anymore. The air quality was getting increasingly worse each year and we often had to keep him inside. The school system in Korea is also notoriously stressful. We looked at moving to the Philippines but in the end decided against it. If something were to happen to Danny there we would all be in a difficult position.

We then looked at moving to the Middle East but again Danny’s visa issues made it all but impossible. All of the visa problems over the years had made me very worried about what would happen to our family if something were to happen to me or Danny. We ended up choosing to move to Canada where there would be more safety nets. Danny could eventually apply for citizenship which would provide another layer of protection. We made one last big trip together to Indonesia before we would submit Danny’s permanent residency application in March.

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The Last Time is Never the Last

If you haven’t noticed there is a bit of a pattern with our “last big trip” not being our last big trip! There was a mix up at my work in the spring and we weren’t able to submit our application in March 2015 as planned. Having a bit more time in Asia we headed to the Philippines again in the summer and submitted his permanent residency application in August. While waiting for approval we headed to Myanmar to visit the country where my maternal grandmother had been born and grew up.
family atop a temple in baganAt the end of June 2016 Danny’s permanent residency application was approved but he was required to go to Canada to officially “land” before August. There was no way we could pack up a decade of our life in Korea and just go with such a short timeframe so he went alone, officially landed and then came back to Korea. We decided to make the move together the following year and set off on a trip to Vietnam in the summer.

Now that a year is getting closer though it looks like it will be another year. Eventually we do need to move or he will lose his permanent residency so we are trying to visit all the places we still want to visit in Asia. Then, someday in the near future our adventures will shift to North and South America. In the meantime, I guess we are just a family of accidental travelers heading out on our next adventure together.
Family in Faraway Places

Borobudor Sunrise Tour in Beautiful Yogyakarta, Indonesia

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Before we traveled to Indonesia I knew embarrassingly little about the country. I knew about Jakarta because we know some people from there. I had of course heard of Bali but actually hadn’t realized for the longest time that Bali was part of Indonesia. And I knew about the fantastic Komodo Dragons. I had never heard of Borobudur. We came across it while planning our vacation and instantly knew visiting it was going to be the highlight of our trip. Amazing as the 9th century Buddhist temple is, it’s eve
n more amazing at sunrise so we decided to plan a Borobudor sunrise tour.

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Options for Seeing the Sunrise

There are a large number of tours that go to the temple from Yogyakarta which is around an hour from Borobudur. They tend to start off from your hotel around 3:30 am and arrive at 4:30 am at Manohara Hotel within the grounds of the temple. Another option is to stay at Manohara Hotel itself so you just wake up and go. Since we were traveling with our son we decided to stay at Manohara Hotel. He’s an early riser (he was getting up at 4 am most days then) but we thought that waking him up at 3:30 am and then driving for an hour to the Borobudor sunrise tour would be pushing it.

There are also some smaller guesthouses that have been popping up just outside of the temple. If you stay in one of them you can wake up closer to the start of the Borobudor sunrise tour, bike over to Manohara and join the sunrise group. In hindsight, I wish we had done that. Some visitors try to be there right at 6:00am when the gates open and then make their way up to the temple without the sunrise tour. Depending on the time of year, the sun may not be completely up yet and it is possible to climb the temple in time to see the sun rise in all its glory. When we visited, “blue hour” occurred around 5am. Then around 5:50am there was a pastel light of dawn, followed nearly right at 6am by a brilliant orange sky. The dramatic colors only lasted less than 15 minutes though, so on the day we went you would have really had to run from the front gate and then up the stairs to catch it with a 6am start.

Hotel Options

We flew from Bali to Yogyakarta and stayed at the Hyatt Regency for a night. The hotel was a bit beyond our price range for the trip but considering it is a Hyatt hotel, the price (around $70 USD a night including buffet breakfast) was very reasonable. We did have an issue with a double booking that was eventually cleared up when we got back home but we were there for the pool and the pool is spectacular! This was our peace offering to our son for dragging him around to a bunch of temples. There was a huge winding pool in a garden setting accented with buildings in the style of Borobudur.  The waterslide even came out of a temple! There were stone bridges, a basketball net, and even a waterfall. The pool alone is worth the visit!

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The following morning we were picked up by the driver we had arranged to take us to Manohara Hotel. It was pouring rain. Absolutely pouring down and we were starting to feel a bit worried about our sunrise tour. The streets were flooded and it didn’t look like the rain was going to give up any time soon. Our driver assured us though that we had nothing to worry about and that after a big storm, the sunrises were always spectacular.

We arrived at Manohara Hotel and were checked in quickly. The grounds were beautiful and there right outside the dining area was Borobudur in all its glory. It was still raining so we didn’t explore the temple much that day.

Borobudur Manohara Hotel Rain

The hotel itself though was less than spectacular. They have a monopoly in the area and it seems like the owners are taking advantage of the fact. Our bathroom was filthy with hair and dirt everywhere. Our shower had hot water for less than 2 minutes. I’ve since read other reviewers have mentioned this as well so it wasn’t the first time it had happened. The staff acted very surprised and said they would come and fix it but never did. There were ants everywhere in the room. I left my toothpaste out on the counter and when I woke up in the morning there were hundreds of ants covering it. We continued to find ants in our luggage for days after we left the hotel. The food in the restaurant was also overpriced and poor quality. Our stay at the Hyatt outside of Yogyakarta had been cheaper so we were really quite annoyed.

Borobudor Sunrise Tour

The convenience of just being able to roll out of bed and go straight to the Borobudor sunrise tour was fantastic though. We got out of bed around 4 am, gathered our things and met the people coming from other hotels joining the Borobudor sunrise tour at the front desk by 4:30. We were given flashlights, put our son on my husband’s back in our Manduca baby carrier and followed our escort to the temple. There was nearly no light at all as we walked up to the temple but luckily there are railings going along the steps that you can hold on to. 

Borobudur Sunrise tour

It stayed fairly dark for about 15 minutes more until blue hour came and we started to take photos. While there is plenty of room to get a great photo without anyone in it, the light from all the people using their phone’s cameras can get really annoying when you are trying to set up a shot.

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Blue hour faded into a pinkish dawn as we listened to the morning prayers being broadcast on loudspeakers and watched the mist roll through the trees.

borobudur dawn temple statue
mist fog borobudor sunrise tour
We had been up at the top of the temple for about an hour and the sun was quite high in the sky. People were starting to make their way back down the stairs and though it was pretty we were feeling a bit let down. Our driver had promised a spectacular sunrise. Suddenly at almost precisely 6:05 am the sky changed to brilliant oranges, reds and yellows! We were told that it was the most spectacular sunrise they had had in a month.borobudor sunrise tour temple   borobudur temple sunrise tour

The brilliant colors lasted less than 10 minutes but we stayed for another hour just watching and listening.

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Hours

Open hours:  6 am – 5 pm

Cost

Foreign Visitor: 280,000 IDR per person
Domestic Visitor: 30,000 IDR per person

Borobudur Sunrise Tour or Sunset tour (via Manohara Hotel)

Foreign Visitor: 400,000 IDR per person
Hotel Guests: 250,000 IDR per person
Domestic Visitor: 270,000 IDR per person 
Kids 1-5: Free
Kids 6-10: 50% the adult price


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Japan Guide: Where to Find Cars, Trains, Robots & Rockets!

This Japan guide contains affiliate links which means if you click on one of the affiliate links and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission. All opinions in this Japan guide are my own.japan guide
There’s no denying that Japan is the place to go for technology lovers. Our son is a fan of absolutely everything mechanical so on the latest of our family vacations to Japan we decided to plan our trip as a balance between traditional Japanese culture and machines. In this Japan guide find out where to go on your family vacations in Japan to see cars, trains, rockets and robots!


Cars

Toyota Mega Web

In the Odaiba area of Tokyo just across the Rainbow Bridge you can find Toyota Mega Web in the Pallet Town shopping area. The car “theme park” is divided into the Toyota City Showcase, Ride Studio, History Garage, and Ride One.

Toyota City Showcase and History Garage

Toyota City Showcase is free to visit and has on display around 60 of Toyota’s current model cars. A really nice thing about this area is you can actually get inside many of the cars to check them out, even if you are 4 years old and not planning on buying a car for a couple of years! We could have left our son there all day as he dreamed of being a race car driver.

family vacations

On the second floor is the Toyota Gazoo Racing Garage with serval cars from the Toyota Gazoo racing team on display and a motor sports simulator. The simulator allows visitors to play the Playstation 3 game Gran Turismo 6 for free for about 5 minutes. There is a line but we didn’t have to wait more than a few minutes for our turn when we visited. Even though there is a height requirement of 135cm in order to reach the pedals, we were allowed to play the game with our son on our lap.

If you love classic cars you are going to want to check out the History Garage. The first time we visited Mega Web we completely missed it since it is not in the same area as the City Showcase. There are some really nice cars including a DeLorean which made mommy and daddy happy but this area is less interactive so our son was ready to go back to the showcase area quickly.

Ride Studio and Ride One

Ride Studio allows kids to give driving a try in their own kid sized cars. There are several different tracks and cars that kids can try out depending on their age and height. The price ranges from 200 – 300 yen. We visited a bit after 6pm one evening and they let our son try out one of the cars for free since they were getting ready to close up for the day.

Kids under 12 require a guardian’s signature to drive the cars and the rules were quite strict. Our 4 year old struggled to understand the traffic rules and daddy had to stay right with him the entire time on the course to make sure he followed the traffic lights. But he still enjoyed the chance to drive!

Ride One is the adult version of Ride Studio. Adults with a valid Japanese driver’s license or an international driving permit can test drive a vehicle of their choice around a 1.3 km driving course for 300 yen. There are a large variety of cars to choose from but advanced reservation is encouraged.

Other Japan guide places to check out cars:


Trains

Kyoto Railway Museum

The Kyoto Railway Museum was by far our favorite museum! It is a quite new museum that opened in April 2016 with lots of trains on display and to explore as well as interactive exhibits. It is a bit expensive. Adults pay 1,200 yen, teens 1,000 and kids 500 but it was worth every yen. It is the largest railway museum in Japan and you can easily spend the day there.

The 3 story museum has trains on display both inside and outdoors. There is a rolling stock of 53 trains and train cars including steam, diesel, and electric locomotives, Shinkansen, EMUs, DMUs, coaches and wagons. The outdoor roundhouse displays Japan’s largest collection of steam locomotives and for an additional 300 yen visitors can take a 10 minute ride on a steam train.

Ride the Nozomi Shinkansen

Riding the Nozomi train between Kyoto and Osaka was the perfect accompaniment to our train museum visit. The Nozomi is the fastest train service in Japan on the Takaido/Sanyo Shinkansen lines and reaches up to 300km/hour. For a portion of the trip the tracks pass right by Mount Fuji giving a fantastic view for quite some time!

Other Japan guide places to check out trains:


Rockets

JAXA Tsukuba Space Center

To be honest, I think my impression of this museum was influenced by the fact that it took us so very long to get there. It is only about a 45 minute train ride from Tokyo if you take the express train. Make sure you take the express train! If you don’t you’re looking at a very slow train that stops at every station and takes hours. Want to make a guess as to which train we accidentally took?

So, when we got to the museum we were tried and grumpy. We walked into the Space Dome and wondered “Is this it?” The Space Dome is only one large room but it is free and has some interesting items on display.


Our son enjoyed the full sized mockup of “KIBO” the Japanese science module for the International Space Station and insisted that daddy help him to “float” like the astronauts. Kibo alone kept him occupied for about 30 minutes. There is also a full sized rocket in the museum grounds that you can walk around and a nice little gift shop with some astronaut ice cream which we all love.

If you’re in the area it is a nice little museum but I wouldn’t make the trip there a second time with a younger child. Older children and adults though can take part in a guided tour of the KIBO Flight Control Room and the Astronaut Training Facility.  The 70 minute tour includes seeing real-time operations of KIBO which sounds pretty cool! Advanced reservations for English tours are recommended since it is not always available.

Other Japan guide places to check out space technology:


Robots

ASIMO at Miraikan

We visited the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation(Miraikan) to meet one of the world’s most famous robots, ASIMO.  Four times a day ASIMO puts on an approximately 10 minute presentation. He walks around, waves, runs and kicks a soccer ball among other things. We were quite surprised by how smoothly ASIMO moves and expected much more jerky movements. We really wished that the presentation had been a bit longer or that we had been able to see ASIMO up close. After the presentation ASIMO disappears back behind a door. There are a few other robots and/or androids on display at Miraikan as well which you can get more up close with.  They also have a really good gift shop with ASIMO merchandise and all sorts of robots for every ability it seemed.

Gundam at DiverCity Tokyo

Gundam is not technically a “robot”. Gundam are mobile suits which are vehicles controlled in a cockpit by humans. But since this article does not have a “mobile suit” category and Gundam have “robotic” characteristics, here it is!


In Odaiba at Diver City Tokyo Plaza stands an 18 meter, life sized RX-78-2 Gundam…or at least it did until March 5th 2017. The Gundam statue has now been removed and by the first week of April the Grand Nikko Tokyo Daiba Hotel Gundam theme rooms as well as Gundam Front Tokyo will also be closing. Our family has a lot of great memories visiting the Gundam statue. On our last trip to Tokyo we visited maybe 5 times. I remember the very first time in 2014 that we suddenly saw Gundam come “alive”. We hadn’t known about the performances and were thrilled that Gundam moved and had a light show! We are quite sad to see the RX-78-2 Gundam go.


But fear not! In the fall of 2017 the original Gundam is being replaced with a 24 meter RX-o Unicorn Gundam and The Gundam Base Tokyo will be opening as well. We may need to make another trip to Japan to meet this new Gundam!

Other Japan guide places to check out robots:


Are there any other great places we should add to our Japan guide where you can see cars, trains, robots and rockets? How about some other sites to check out awesome technology in Japan? Tell us what you think about this Japan guide in the comments below!

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Should You Swim With The Whale Sharks in Oslob, Philippines?

oslob whale sharks
It’s not an easy question to answer. In recent years there have been quite a few articles and advocates who have encouraged people not to visit the Oslob whale sharks. In order to have the whale sharks returning to the area daily so that visitors can swim with them, feeders give the sharks fish. This has resulted in the whales having an unnatural amount of contact with humans. The artificial feeding behavior has taught the whales to associate people with food. They will now sometimes approach boats rather than staying away from them which can lead to injuries. Injuries can also occur if tourists in the water accidentally kick a shark. 

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The feeding has also resulted in the sharks having less variety in their diet as they spend more time eating the fish that are given to them rather than plankton and such. Some of the Oslob whale sharks spend up to 6 hours a day feeding instead of foraging naturally. In the future, this could end up causing nutritional problems. Additionally, the migratory patterns of the sharks have also changed. The breeding pool of the sharks or the spread of this vulnerable and declining species may be influenced by this. It is hard to say though as the whale sharks are difficult to study and concrete answers hard to come by. Obviously, the best thing for these Oslob whale sharks is to be freely swimming and living the way nature intended.
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Whale shark very closely approaching one of the feeding boats in Oslob

Having tourists visit the Oslob whale sharks is a relatively new practice. Back in 2011 photos of fishermen interacting with Oslob whale sharks were featured in Mail Online. The article was largely positive with conservationist Shawn Heinrich praising the bond that had formed between the sharks and fishermen in Oslob. In other places in the region the same whale sharks were being slaughtered by fishermen. It seems strange that a conservationist would applaud fishermen touching, riding and playing with the sharks until you consider just how bad the slaughter of the whale shakes in the region is.

In 1997 alone around 20 whale sharks were killed in the Philippines to be traded on the Asian market. Others were also killed or harmed by fishermen trying to protect their catch. Around this same time the 1998 the documentary “Whale Shark Hunters” hosted by William Shatner was created for National Geographic. The documentary aimed to highlight the issues surrounding the hunting of whale sharks in the Philippines and to help find alternative livelihoods for the whale shark hunters. This film lead President Ramos to ban the killing of whale sharks and manta rays in the Philippines. The Philippines became one of the first countries in the world to ban the killing of whale sharks.

The ban was a great first step but not all in the Philippines have welcomed it. The sharks can interfere with the catch of the fishermen who already struggle to make a living. Even as recent as 2015 in response to whale sharks and dolphins eating the fish in the major fishing grounds of Tañon Strait, Nelson Garcia, mayor of Dumanjug town in Cebu stated: “I want to kill those whale sharks…Man should be the first to survive, not the whales, not the fish, because we will be violating the Bible. God said, man have dominion over the ocean, the fishes, the birds, the animals, and subdue it. That is the order of God.” Tañon Strait is a rich fishing ground but is also part of the natural migratory path of large marine animals.

Whale sharks also still continue to fetch a lot of money in the Asian market. In China a single whale shark at market can bring in $30,000 USD or more, though the fishermen usually get considerably less than that. About 600 whale sharks a year were killed in just one slaughterhouse in Southern China it was found in an investigation between 2010 and 2013. Then in August 2015 the world was shocked by videos of a whale shark in China (WARNING: Graphic!) being butchered at market while still alive. While the sharks are a protected species in Philippines, China and other countries which do not protect the sharks, share many of these fishing waters as well as the migratory paths of the whale sharks with the Philippines.
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Getting the fishermen and local people to see more value in having the whale sharks alive then dead has been key to protecting them. It is easy to say “It is important for our environment to protect the whale sharks!” but when it interferes with your lively hood and ability to provide for your family the choice is not so easy. Groups have instead been working to educate locals and to set up profitable eco-tourism projects in popular whale shark areas.

Donsol Bay and Oslob Whale Sharks

Both Donsol Bay in the Bicol Region of Luzon and Oslob, Cebu are well known for whale sharks. They have both created tourism industries for their small towns around them. As a result the fishermen who once killed them in these areas now protect the whale sharks as tourist dollars bring in more money for them and the entire community.

The major difference between the two sites though is that the whale sharks are not fed in Donsol Bay. This way there is no unnatural feeding, no increased contact with boats, and migratory patterns are not affected. But it also means that there is no guarantee that you will see a whale shark when you go out in your boat even during the peak viewing season. In the past couple of years reports from tourists started to come out that the whale sharks of Donsol Bay were gone. People were sighting one or no sharks for extended periods of time. This continued for a few years and tourism in the area dropped considerably. Though it seems that the whale sharks have been returning to the area, it is hard to lure people back.

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By feeding the Oslob whale sharks, Oslob is able to guarantee a sighting of a whale shark to its visitors. Seeing a whale shark in a completely natural environment is much more thrilling but when you’ve traveled from far and wide and paid for the experience, patience is hard to come by. As mentioned before though, there are all sorts of problems with this unnatural feeding behavior. The sheer number of visitors to Oslob has also created issues.  In 2014 over 110,000 tourists came to Oslob primarily to see the sharks. Conservation groups have stepped in and regulations have been applied. Tourists are only taken out to the sharks from 6 am – noon each day. Time in the water or boat is limited to 30 minutes. If you plan on going in the water you need to be free from sunscreen to help keep pollutants out of the water etc. Anyone who touches a shark will receive a fine or even jail time.

This does not seem to be enough and suggestions of limiting the number of tourists or stopping the feeding practice have been made repeatedly. They are hard things to put in place though when a guaranteed whale shark sighting means tourists and tourists mean more money for the entire community which doesn’t have many other employment options. The Large Marine Vertebraes Project Philippines (LAMAVE)  is a great organization to check out if you would like to know more. They are working in the Philippines to research and educate, while striving to find a balance between marine conservation, and local community development.

Our Experience
We visited Dumaguete City in Negros Oriental which is just a short boat ride from Oslob so we decided to go and check out the whale shark situation ourselves. We fully prepared to leave if it looked like the whales were being harmed in any way. We stayed in a guesthouse just outside of the town away from the sharks and wished we hadn’t. In there weren’t many restaurants and our guesthouse didn’t offer meals beyond breakfast. Nearly all of the businesses catering to travelers seemed to be around the whale shark viewing area.

s0343844Before we visited the sharks we spoke with some of the boatmen, restaurant owners and other locals. They told us the stories of how in the past many fishermen in the area (or even themselves!) would attack or kill the sharks to keep them away from their catch. Now though they loved the sharks and wanted to keep them healthy and safe. Following the rules and restrictions that had been recommended by outside organizations meant to them that tourist dollars would keep coming into the area. If there are no sharks or the area gets a bad reputation the tourists will go and so will their jobs.

The people we spoke to at the feeding site took their jobs and the safety of the sharks very seriously. It seemed like a well-respected job in the community that many were competing for. Around 300 people work at the feeding site not to mention all the other jobs in the community created to care for tourists. Some mentioned though that they felt that some of the money generated from the whale sharks which was supposed to go into developing the town was being used by other areas in the region instead. I really don’t know about the financial allocations though.

dscf3571-2We decided to go out in a boat to see the sharks based on the positive stories we had been told. We traveled in August and arrived around 7:30 am. There were not many people and so the three of us were sent out in our own boat with 2 staff after the safety briefing. One staff member would keep our boat in place while the other took photos for us (for an additional fee). If you are a strong swimmer you can get into the water to view the sharks underwater though most people stayed in the boats. If traveling with a small child it is best to bring your own lifejacket since they may not have the correct size for little ones. 

s0173699We did not see anyone touch or harass the sharks. The whale sharks did at times though get very close to the boats of the feeders. They may have touched the sides of them. If feeding the sharks is truly necessary (I don’t think it is) it would seem that some sort of alternative could be arranged so that the feeders had no contact with them at all!

We had an incredible experience and feel really lucky to have been able to interact with these beautiful and peaceful sharks. We left with more questions than when we first arrived though. There seems to be no straight cut answer as to how to best protect the sharks. Though Donsol Bay seems to be the clear choice for responsible eco-tourism, I don’t think I would say that you shouldn’t go to see the Oslob whale sharks. The community genuinely appears to want to find a solution that is both beneficial to the sharks but also supports their livelihood. The whales may also have arguably been more at risk when these same boatmen sought to kill them just a few years ago. Rather, supporting groups which actively work to find a balance, and reporting mistreatment or violations when spotted so that practices can be improved may be the way to go. It is clear though, that more can and needs to be done to help protect these gentle giants.

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Hue Vietnam Travel Guide: Tombs, Towers and Tanks

hue vietnam travel guide

Things To Do In Hue Vietnam

Once the national capital from 1802-1945, Hue Vietnam is home to the ancient Imperial City (Citadel) and the tombs of several emperors. The ancient sites around Hue Vietnam are spectacularly beautiful and it was well worth the visit. Learn more in this Hue Vietnam travel guide!

Hue Imperial City (The Citadel)

Emperors of Vietnam once lived in this walled fortress and palace. Much of the structure was damaged or destroyed by battles with the French in 1947 and American forces in 1969 with only 20 out of 148 structures surviving but it still remains an impressive complex with ongoing restoration.

Hours: 8am – 6pm

hue imperial city citadel
hue imperial city citadel

Hue Vietnam Provincial Museum (War Museum)

This small museum doesn’t appear to even get a mention in the guidebooks but if you are visiting the Imperial City next door and are interested in military exhibits it may be worth a quick visit. The museum is in bad repair. The grass hasn’t been cut in ages and there are large holes in the pavement leading down to the drains below. Staff scurried to turn on fans and lights when we walked in like they weren’t expecting visitors. Inside the museum some photos, small weapons and other wartime paraphernalia can be found.

The only reason we visited (twice!) is that out in front of the museum there is a collection of tanks, a helicopter, a plane and other military vehicles from the Vietnam War.  Each vehicle has a plaque with the name of the vehicle as well as the year and place it was captured from. Our son was THRILLED to see a helicopter so close for the first time and excitedly ran back and forth between each vehicle.

Hours:  8:00-11:00 am, 2:00pm – 5:00pm (closed Sundays)

Hue provincial war museum

Hue provincial war museum

Thien Mu Pagoda

Built in 1601, Thien Mu Pagoda is the tallest religious building in Vietnam. This seven story tower is part of the temple complex on Ha Khe Hill just outside of Hue overlooking the Perfume River.

thien mu pagoda

Not only beautiful, the pagoda has strong historical, political and religious significance in the region. In 1963 the Buddhist Crisis in Vietnam saw the Catholic government cracking down on the Buddhists majority (70-90%) in the country and Buddhism. The crisis began when 9 unarmed Buddhist were shot by the army in Hue. Thein Mu Pagoda became a major organizing point for the movement.  In protest of this crackdown and the government’s refusal to meet calls for religious equality, Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc drove to Saigon on June 10th, 1963. There in front of onlookers, reporters and supporters he conducted self-immolation by setting himself on fire.

]Self-immolation of Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức. Photo by Malcom Browne 1963

Self-immolation of Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức. Photo by Malcom Browne 1963

In the background of this world famous image by Malcom Browne the car he drove can be seen. It is presently on display at Thien Mu Pagoda.

Tombs in Hue Vietnam

There are 7 imperial tombs just outside of Hue but the most commonly visited are the Tombs of Emperor Minh Mang, Emperor Tu Duc and Emperor Khai Dinh. We did not have a chance to go to Emperor Tu Duc’s tomb but made it to the other two. When visiting the popular tombs it is best to get there early in the morning before the tour groups arrive or later in the afternoon when they have gone. It can get crowded! We visited Khai Dinh tomb before 9am because there are a lot of steps and we wanted to avoid climbing them in the heat. By 9:30 the tomb was packed with tourists arriving in tour buses. We then went to Minh Mang tomb and even around 10:30 the tour groups were just starting to arrive. Any driver you hire should be able to advise you on what times to go to beat the crowds.  The tour groups seem to have very set roots.

Khai Dinh Tomb

Khai Dinh Tomb took 11 years to build and was completed in 1931. Before his death he visited France resulting in the tomb being a combination of both Western and Eastern styles. Khai Dinh’s tomb is the last of the large imperial tombs in Vietnam.  The dragon sculptures along the sides of this temple were the largest dragons in Vietnam though the Dragon Bridge in Da Nang likely now holds this distinction.

khai dinh tomb hue vietnam

khai dinh tomb hue vietnam

Minh Mang Tomb

The construction of this tomb began in September 1840 but by January 1841, Emperor Minh Mang had passed away. The tomb was fully completed by 1843 under the watchful eye of Emperor Thieu Tri.  The burial grounds include landscaped lakes, and canals as well as beautiful architecture.

minh mang tomb hue vietnam

minh mang tomb hue vietnam

Is Hue Kid Friendly?

hue vietnam

We went to Hue when our son was 3.5 years old. In Da Nang, Hoi An and Hanoi we saw a lot of kids his age and some even younger but in Hue he seemed to be one of the youngest. There aren’t a lot of activities aimed at children in Hue and there are no beach resorts so it’s less appealing to parents traveling with really little ones. It seemed to be more popular with families that had kids 8 years old and up.

That being said, Hue is not unfriendly to kids! Many of the sites are free for younger kids. The Imperial City and Tombs offer a lot of space for kids to stretch their legs and to explore and as a vehicle lover our son really enjoyed the small war museum. We would go out early in the morning and then spend our afternoons in our hotel’s pool or playing indoors in our room. There’s a lot of walking so a good baby carrier that allows you to carry little ones on your back like the Manduca baby carrier can be a life saver if your infant to preschooler is too tired to walk. But short early morning trips, ice cream and swimming pools made Hue a great place to visit with a little one.  If I were to go back through it would definitely be in the winter months! It was 38 degrees the entire time we were there in July!

Getting In And Out

Private Car

We traveled to Hue by car from Hoi An through Da NangHoi An to Hue it is about a 3 hour drive and Da Nang to Hue around 2. The driver can take the route either along Hai Van Pass or through Hai Van Tunnel. At a length of 6.28 km, Hai Van Tunnel is the longest tunnel in Southeast Asia and it can save you between 30 minutes to an hour on your trip between Da Nang and Hue. Hai Van Pass though is much more scenic winding up the mountain and along the coast.  Most drivers and tour buses choose to dive the route along the coast and stop at the top for a break and to enjoy the views. There are shops and restaurants at the top as well.

Cost for a private car:

Around $60-$75 USD

Plane

There are direct flights to Hue Vietnam from Ho Chi Minh City, Dalat and Hanoi. The flights from Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi arrive daily but Dalat only has flights every other day. We decided to drive into Hue and then flew to Hanoi.

It is also possible to book a local bus, train or a tour bus between the two cities. Tour buses seem to be most popular with group tours that are only going to Hue for the day but your hotel should be able to help you make arrangements.

Getting Around

Walking

We were in Hue in July and it was HOT. Even in the evening it was hot so we didn’t walk around too much. They do though have a nice park and walkway area along the perfume river. In the evening little shops and restaurants open up and it’s a lovely place to take a stroll.

walkway along river hue vietnam

bridge across perfume river hue vietnam

Taxi

Taxis in Hue are cheap and your hotel can easily arrange for them to pick you up. When visiting the sites it is quite common to arrange a set price and have the taxi driver wait for you while you visit. This means that many of the taxis you see waiting may not be available.  A couple of times we did not make these arrangements and were unable to find another available taxi despite being in the city. We did not run into any large problems with taxis in Hue but twice we were brought to the wrong end of a site even though our hotel had arranged the pickup.

Private car

We arranged a private car to visit the tombs outside of the city and to take us to the airport. I wish we had used them our entire time in Hue! They were absolutely fantastic and reasonably priced. There are several companies in the area but here are two we had contact with.

We used this company both times. We were picked up on time (actually the driver was early) in a fantastically clean SUV. Our son was thrilled since he had never driven in a large SUV like this before. All 3 seatbelts in the back were working. Our driver was safe, friendly and knowledgeable.  We decided to use the same company when we went to the airport and had the same experience the second time as well.

Website: http://www.stopandgo-hue.com/
Email: stopandgocafetours@gmail.com

We did not use this company but I was very impressed with their customer service. Their reviews on TripAdvisor are also high. We needed to make a last minute reservation and they were very quick to respond. They also have baby car seats available for small children. Unfortunately I was not able to connect to the internet at our hotel in the evening and when I finally got through to them they were fully booked for the time we wanted to visit the tombs. They offered us a discount if we would go later in the day or offered to take us the next day instead. We were short on time though and wanted a very early start to beat the heat so we went with a different company.

Website: http://www.tourfromhue.com/
Email: tourfromhue@gmail.com

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Geisha in Kyoto, Japan: How to See a Real Geisha

Our First Night Looking for Geisha

On our most recent trip to Japan our main goal was to finally make it to Kyoto because (if we were very lucky) I wanted to see a geisha. The exact number of geisha currently working in Japan is not known but it is estimated that there are about 1,000 with the highest concentration in Kyoto. There are about 100 geisha and 100 maiko (geisha apprentice) working in Kyoto.

We booked a hotel near the Gion, Kyoto’s most famous entertainment district where most geisha in Koyoto work. My plan was to go out to the Gion each of the 4 nights we were in Kyoto to just sit and wait and hope to catch a glimpse. Unfortunately our hotel was not as close to the Gion as we had thought.

The first evening we were just too tired and we had an early morning so we didn’t end up making the trip to the Gion. The next night we were too late. Every article we had read had mentioned that we should be in the Gion area around 5:45pm if we wanted to catch a glimpse of a geisha heading to work. Our son had had a late afternoon nap though and we had been given strange walking directions to the Gion.

We found ourselves in the Shimbashi area well after 6pm. It was eerily quiet with only a handful of people walking around. As we walked through the small alleys and side streets you could hear a low murmur coming through some of the glowing doorways as patrons behind the curtained doors enjoyed their meals. On the far side of the Shirakawa river canal large windows allowed us to get a peek into some of the expensive restaurants and clubs.

geisha

Shimbashi side street

We then made it over to Hanamikoji Dori. The famous street is less pretty than the Shimbashi area but we had been told that we would have a better chance spotting a geisha there. It was very clear when we arrived though that all the geisha were already at work. If we wanted to try to see one, we would have to wait until their parties ended later that night or try another day.  We made our way over to Yasaka Shrine and then called it a day.

Yasaka Shrine

Our Last Chance

We didn’t make it back to the Gion until our last night in Kyoto.  We took a taxi right to the intersection of Hanamikoji and Shijo Dori and started our search by around 5:20 pm. We slowly made our way down towards Gion Kobu Kaburenjo theater (Gion Corner) where visitors can take in traditional performances by maiko for a fee. Looking this way and that, we carefully checked each alleyway. There were kimonos everywhere! We knew before we arrived though that most women we saw in kimono would be tourists. Daily kimono rental is a very popular tourist activity and some places will even make you up to look just like a geisha. There was a lot of “Is she? Is she?” as we walked along. A real giesha or miako is on her way to work though when you spot them in the Gion and so they will not be on the street chatting or stopping for photos.

geisha

NOT real geisha

When we made it down to Gion Corner we weren’t exactly sure what to do next except head back the way we came. There was a large group of tourists waiting at infront of Gion Corner and we thought maybe they were waiting there to see some geisha arrive. When their tour guide joined them though they moved along. Further down the street I saw 3 or 4 men with cameras looking down an alley. These men were not tourists. They were middle aged Japanese men wearing business casual and though they were discrete, they didn’t fit in to the fast and noisy crowds around us.

We decided to check it out. There was a middle aged woman with them. I regret that I never got her name. She spoke a little English and we started to chat about where we were from. They were also waiting for Geisha and the photographers asked through her what kind of camera I was using. I replied “Nikon D90”. They all whispered between themselves “Ah! Nikon. Nikon. Nikon.” while nodding. I felt a bit like Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade. Apparently I had “chosen wisely” and was now part of their group! The woman told us to wait there for about 5 more minutes and then we should move on to the street near the famous Ichiriki Chaya teahouse.

Seeing Geiko and Maiko

I don’t know where she came from but suddenly she appeared! I wasn’t exactly sure what to do. There are signs throughout the Gion reminding visitors to respect and to give the geisha working there space. Some locals in the community even volunteer to patrol the Gion to watch that overly enthusiastic visitors do not act like paparazzi.

geisha

Sign in the Gion

I stayed well back until our guide said “Get in there!” and nudged me to the front of our group. The beautiful geisha in front of us stopped only for a second, looked directly at us, gave a small smile and then as quickly as she appeared, she was gone. “Is she a real one?” I asked. “Yes” our guide replied, “a geiko”.  While “geisha” is the more commonly used term internationally and in Tokyo, geiko is the term used in Kyoto and other parts of western Japan.  I didn’t cry when we saw her but I was embarrassingly close to it and in awe. She was dignified and beautiful!


We quickly headed down the street to wait near the historic 300 year old Ichiriki Chaya tea house.  A menacing looking doorman stood in front. Entry is by invitation only and if the doorman doesn’t know you, you’re not getting in. Our guide instructed us to watch for people who were delivering food to the tea house.  If you see food being delivered you know that there is going to be a party there that night. More food likely means bigger party. The guests arrived in advance and would be listening to musicians playing before the geiko and maiko would arrive about 10 minutes before 6 o’clock.  We looked every which way and peeked in every taxi going by but we were informed that if they did come by taxi, it would only be in the black ones.

Ichiriki Chaya tea house

Unexpectedly in the alleyway across the street down the side of Ichiriki Chaya a maiko appeared. Taking tiny quick steps she made her way down the walkway…and then disappeared! I was looking right at her. I don’t think I even blinked a moment but right in front of my eyes she completely disappeared. Our guide explained that the maiko I had just spotted had arrived early and so she was hiding until she could make a more appropriately timed entrance to the party.

geisha

It was now very clear to us who were geiko and maiko and who were just tourists in costume. The kimono of a geiko costs thousands of dollars. Some are even worth an entire year’s salary! Even from a distance you can see the difference in quality. The kimono of a maiko is colorful, elaborately patterned and has long sleeves. A geiko’s kimono is simpler. Maiko style their natural hair and wear beautiful hairpins whereas geiko wear wigs. Maiko usually have some skin on the back of their necks that remains without makeup but geikos usually wear makeup right to their hairline. The collar of a maiko’s kimono is red but a geiko’s is white. And so on.

geisha

Maiko with her assistant


Around 5:45pm there were suddenly maiko appearing regularly. While we waited we saw two taxis with several maiko in them go by but resisted the urge to chase them down. We saw about 5 maiko in total go into Ichiriki Chaya. The maiko who had disappeared in the alleyway also suddenly reappeared out of nowhere and made her way to the tea house. They all moved so quickly. In the changing light conditions of the dark street with lamps I would just get my camera set when she would move to another area. They were all exceptionally hard to photograph! Some would give a small glance towards the camera but most didn’t.


Since we visited in February there weren’t as many tourists on the streets as there are during more busy seasons. We luckily didn’t see anyone swarming or harassing the maiko as they made their way down the streets. There were two tourists in Kimono who stood in the alleyway taking photos with their cell phones as a maiko made her way towards us. The photographers who we were with chastised them for getting in the way of the “real” photographers and for bothering the maiko with their cellphones. I also have a series of photos where you can see two men trying to take a selfie of themselves with a maiko and her assistant in the background. When they pass the men you can then see the men in the next few photos following and giggling like school girls. The look foolish but nothing paparazzi like.

Then suddenly at 6pm on the dot the action stopped. Our guide though told us to wait around a bit longer. If more food was seen being brought into the teahouse around 6:30pm it would mean that there would be more guests and more geiko and maiko arriving around 7pm. This was not the case that night. Shortly after 6:30 we all said our goodbyes and each person seemed to go in a separate direction. I’m not sure exactly who that woman was but she was a wealth of knowledge. The photographers with her took me under their wing. I should have asked but I was just so excited about the moment. With their help though and a whole lot of luck, our Kyoto dreams of seeing a geiko came true.

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15 Must See Amazing Ancient Temples Across Asia


There really is no place in the world like Asia that can make you feel just like Indiana Jones on an adventure searching for lost treasure! Hacking your way through jungles, crawling across deserts and battling secret societies…well maybe not quite but the ancient temples found across Asia are absolutely amazing! We’ve compiled a list with some fellow travel bloggers of 15 amazing ancient temples in Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand that you really should check out. Be sure to click on the links to find out more and to check out the contributor’s websites!


Cambodia

1) Banteay Srei

Contributed by: our3kidsvstheworld

ancient temples

There are so many amazing temples in Siem Reap the obvious ones being Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm. Our amazing tuk-tuk driver (contact details on my blog) took us to a different temple about an hour from Siem Reap called Bantaey Srei. This temple was built in the 10th century and dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva.

Banteay Srei is a lot less intact then the previous temples mentioned but the intricacies that set this one apart is the delicate cravings on the structure. It is believed that this temple was built by a female and the carvings were also completed by females. This makes this temple quite unique.

The temple is also carved from a red sandstone, so it appears very different from the main temples and likely the reason it has not stood the test of time like others produced from stone.   I think it is definitely worth visiting even just to view the delicate cravings and you get to take in a lot of the country side on the way out to the temple. 


2) Ta Prohm

Contributed by: Not Another Travel Blog

If you visit any temple in Cambodia, after Angkor Wat of course, make sure to visit Ta Prohm. Famous for its use as one of the locations in the Tomb Raider film, it's the most atmospheric and impressive temple we visited in South East Asia. Part of the jungle and yet still a recognisable temple structure, its narrow winding corridors, towers of stone and inner sanctuary make it a brilliant place to spend a couple of hours.

Trees intertwine with the stone work and create whole new structures of their own, adding an even more unique and mystical sense to the temple than you'd expect. Dating back to the late 12th / early 13th century the ruins of Ta Prohm are included in the world heritage list in their own right. Keep your eye out for the hidden ‘stegosaurus’ carving on one of the inner walls – did dinosaurs roam the temples of Angkor or is it a case of mistaken identity? These amazing jungle ruins are an incredible sight and are included in the park admission price so there's no excuse not to pay them a visit on your trip to Siem Reap.


India

3) Badami Cave Temples

Contributed by: Go Beyond Bounds

The Badami cave temples in the Karnataka state of India are a remarkable example of rock-cut architecture dating back to the 6th century. The magnificent rock cave temples carved from the colossal sandstone cliffs are amazingly manmade. The temple complex consists of 4 temples which have beautiful carvings of Hindu divinities on walls and pillars of the hall leading to the sanctum sanctorum. The first temple is the oldest one and is dedicated to Lord Shiva, the second and the third are dedicated to Lord Vishnu and the fourth is dedicated to the Jain Tirthankaras. The temple area offers an awe-inspiring view of the Agastya Tirtha Lake which has few more temples which can be visited through a neighboring village. There is also an archaeological museum in the village which houses some of the interesting artifacts of the history of the Chalukya dynasty who built the splendid rock cave temples. The nearest airport is Belgaum (150 km) and is around 450 km from Bangalore.
 

4) Ellora Caves

Contributed by: The Travelling Slacker

Ellora Caves were were built between 6th to 10th century. Originally there were more than 100 caves although only 34 are open to public now. Different caves are dedicated to Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain sects. The crowning glory of Ellora is the Kailashnath Temple (Dedicated to Lord Shiva) at the cave number 16. It is a massive temple. The sheer size and intricate details inside make it hard to believe that it has been cut out of one single piece of large rock!

It is believed that these caves were developed over several centuries under the aegis of different dynasties. That is why, caves dedicated to different religioins came up, depending on the preferences of their patrons. These caves were in use till the 13th century but they were gradually abandoned with the Islamic conquest of the subcontinent. However, they have managed to survive several centuries of neglect and now they have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
 

5) Shree Meenakshi Temple

Contributed by: Backpack Adventures

There are so many temples in India that I doubted whether it was worth it to make a detour to see the Shree Meenaksi temple in Madurai. According to the Lonely Planet it was, but in India it is easy to get an overload of temples and having to sit 3 hours in a bus to see another one seemed a bit unnecessary. Yet, being relatively so close to this masterpiece and not going also seemed a bit of a waste, so I went. And I was so glad I did. The Shree Meenakshi temple is not just a temple, but a whole complex full of life.

I calculated to be inside for maybe one or two hours, but ended up spending almost my whole day there. This is maybe the only temple with an actual shopping bazaar inside including food stalls. Thousands of people come here every day to celebrate the major events in their lives. Marriages and new born babies. It’s busy and families gather in the hallways for pick nicks. The temple complex is huge and every corridor offers something new and surprising. Still, after several visits to India, this is my favorite temple. 


Indonesia

6) Borobudor

Contributed by: Family in Faraway Places

The Buddhist temple Borobudor in the Java region of Indonesia is located about an hour from Yogyakarta. It is believed to have been completed around 825 CE though there is no record of who built Borobudor or why it was originally built. The site was abandoned around the 14th century though and over the centuries was covered by the jungle and ash from the nearby volcanoes. The story of the great monument lived on in local stories and was rediscovered by Lieutenant Governor-General Thomas Stamford Raffles around 1814.

Probably the most popular way to see Borobudor these days is to go on a sunrise tour. For an additional fee, guests are able to enter the grounds of the temple around 4:30am before it is open to the public. You make your way up the stone steps in the dark with a small flashlight to guide you. As we waited for the sun to rise we listened to morning prayers being broadcast as fog wound its way around the coconut trees below. Blue hour faded and then suddenly the sky was a brilliant yellow. Absolutely magical!

7) Tanah Lot

Contributed by: Travels with Carole

Located about 12 mi. from Denpasar, the expansive 16th-century Tanah Lot temple complex is scenically set atop an offshore rock.  It is one in a chain of seven sea temples along the southwestern Bali coast, each established within eyesight of the next.  This one is spectacular at any time of day, but morning light is said to provide the best photos.  Sunset is also good for photos, but bus-loads of tourists arrive then and the rock is in shadow.  The best way to watch the sun set is fortified by a cold beer or fresh coconut water at one of the bluff-top cafes.  Souvenir stalls are plentiful, and hawkers offer interesting items as you walk around–I was especially impressed with the kites.  The temple name translates as “small island floating on the sea.” Unfortunately, though I did explore the area surrounding the temple, I missed going into the temple itself.  The solution to that is a return trip in the future, at which time I also plan to visit the other six temples in that chain.  


Myanmar

8) Mingun Pahtodawgyi

Contributed by: Getting Stamped

When traveling around Asia there are tons of gorgeous temples but some of the best and my personal favorite are in Myanmar. On my 2 weeks in Myanmar itinerary, we spent 2 days in Mandalay in which we hired a private driver one day to bring us around. About an hour drive from Mandalay is the temple of Mingun Pahtodawgyi. Construction of the Mingun Pahtodawgyi temple was started in 1790 but intentionally never finished. In 1839 a huge earthquake hit causing the massive crack running through it. That crack is what stuck out to me, and as soon as I saw a picture of this temple I knew I had to make the special trip out there. The temple is still used today with both locals and tourists visiting it daily. There is no other temple in Myanmar and it's special in its own way. Def put Mingun Pahtodawgyi on your temple bucket list.  


9) Shwedagon Pagoda

Contributed by: Foodie Flashpacker

Having spent so much time in Asia you can start to experience temple fatigue. You feel like they start to run together and if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. When I first laid eyes on the Shwedagon Pagoda I was immediately relieved of any previous temple fatigue. It’s truly the most stunning temple I’ve ever seen.

The temple is located in Yangon, Myanmar. Historians and archaeologists agree that it was built between the 6th and 10th centuries. However, legend has it that it was constructed more than 2,500 years ago which would make it the oldest Buddhist stupa in the world.

The stupa is nearly 100 meters tall and appears to be solid gold, which is actually brick covered in real gold. The crown is covered in more than 5000 diamonds and nearly 2400 rubies. This makes the huge shimmering pagoda a truly impressive site.


Sri Lanka

10) Anuradhapura

Contributed by: RandomTrip

Anuradhapura is one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka, and a must-visit place if you ever visit this amazing country. It is believed it was the capital of Sri Lanka from the 4th century BC until the 11th century AD. So you will be admiring some buildings and ruins older than 2000 years!

It's home of some amazing Buddhist pagodas, from which I highlight the one in the picture, Jetavanaramaya. This big pagoda is supposed to host a piece of the belt of Buddha. It was covered by jungle until 1981, where the restoration work began, which has not finished yet. It is the tallest Buddhist stupa in the ancient world, the 2nd tallest non-pyramid building in the ancient world, and the biggest brick structure in the world

The other amazing place of Anuradhapura I would like to highlight is the Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi, a sacred fig tree which is said to be a branch from the historical Sri Maha Bodhi tree in India, where Buddha achieved enlightenment. It is the oldest living human-planted tree with a recorded planting date (it was planted in the year 288 BC)


11) Sri Dalada Maligawa (Temple of Sacred Tooth Relic)

Contributed by: 5 Lost Together

Most world travelers wouldn't recognize the name of Sri Dalada Maligawa temple in Sri Lanka by its official name.  Located in UNESCO world heritage site Kandy, the temple is better known for what it houses: a tooth of the Buddha.  Generally referred to as the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, this temple attracts both Buddhist worshipers and tourists.  While the outside of the temple is rather ordinary, inside you will find ornate carvings and statutes and lavish hallways.  The main attraction of course is the tooth relic, in which you can only see the casket it is contained in.  Go during puja (3 times a day) to experience the reverence cast on the tooth and this temple and preferably with a guide who can explain the history of the temple.  You may not understand the puja, but the beating of the drums, passion of the worshipers and sizable crowds create a dizzying atmosphere.  After experiencing the frenzy of the puja and getting a glimpse of the tooth casket, relax and enjoy the picturesque lakeside setting of the most important temple in Sri Lanka. 


Thailand

12) Prang Sam Yot – The Monkey Temple

Contributed by: Jonistravelling.com

Prang Sam Yot, AKA the Monkey Temple, is one of the coolest ancient temples in Thailand. It's located in Lopburi, a former Thai capital just a couple of hours by train from Bangkok. The temple dates back to the Khmer era and is the headquarters for a massive gang of monkeys who patrol its grounds in search of food. If you're carrying food or even just rustling a plastic bag, you'll soon have company. There are also many other ruins in Lopburi, including temples and palaces. The monkeys don't just stick to the temple either — they roam the streets, climb through windows and cross roads in massive convoys. It's an entertaining place to visit and can easily be combined with a trip to Ayutthaya. You could visit both as a long day trip from Bangkok but it's better to spend a few days in this area. This lets you explore early in the mornings and late in the afternoons and escape the heat and day trip crowds.
 

13) Si Satchanalai Historical Park

Contributed by: Surfing the Planet

The Si Satchanalai Historical Park is a less known annex of the Sukhotai Historical Park, but a must-visit place when you are in Central Thailand. It is found at a 2 hour bus drive from the latter. Si Satchanalai was founded in the 13th century as a second center of the Sukhotai Kingdon and the crown price used it as residence in the following centuries. The ruins of Si Satchanalai might be less spectacular than those of Sukhotai, but you have a good chance to visit them almost on your own in a more rural and somewhat mysterious environment.

When you get off the bus coming from Sukhotai, you can rent a bike to explore the area with a map included. Some of the most important sights to visit are Wat Khao Phanom Phloeng, a temple on top of a small hill with great views and Wat Chedi Jet Thaew, which resembles a lot to the Sukhotai temples. The most charming part of the Si Satchanalai Park is Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat, an impressive temple with several sitting Buddha statues.  
 

14) Sukhothai historical park

Contributed by: Grabbing Life by the Balls

Sukhothai Historical Park, which encompasses three different sites in the ancient Thai capital, is a hidden gem.  About half-way between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, it receives only a small fraction of the visitors of better known temples in SE Asia. The central site, which is the most extensive and impressive, is easy to explore on foot or by bike, with few crowds.  The temples were built in the 13th and 14th centuries and the site includes over 190 ruins.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and costing only 100baht (less than US$3) for a day pass, Sukhothai is better value than the Angkor complex in Cambodia will ever be.  Renting a bike from one of the vendors across from the ticket booth is the best way to get around, and only costs 30 baht for the day (less than most hotels charge).  Insider tip: Be there on a Saturday night when they light up the main temples with candles (included in your day pass).
 

15) Wat Maha Tha (Ayutthaya)

Contributed by: Gamin Traveler

The Wat Maha That or Temple of the Great Relics is located in Ayutthaya's city center – a temple built during the 14th century (1374 during the reign of King Borommaacha). The temple was a residence of Thai Buddhist monks and was burnt in 1767 during the Burmese War. In 1935, Wat Maha That was registered as part of Ayutthaya World Heritage Historical Park, and in our opinion, a definitely must-see when you are traveling in Ayutthaya. You can visit it even if you're in Bangkok. The trip is around one hour and a half from the capital by train. People like to see and take pictures to The Head of The Buddha in a tree trunk with roots growing around. Apart from it with, the complex is really interesting to walk around and has been very well conserved. The visit can last around an hour.


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