Five days in Japan and we were already into our 3rd city. We used the Japan Rail Pass to get to Kyoto. Kyoto is more like Japan's cultural capital. It has a rich history as compared to other places in Japan with a particular culture and character. Numerous temples, streets tinted with the colours of kimonos and traditional Japanese cuisine are just some of the things make up this popular city. We spent three days here and even managed to snag in a bit of Nara. Clearly three days are not enough if you want to see each and every thing here, however, its good enough to see some major ones. Oh! And just to be clear - April in Kyoto is packed with tourists ... probably because of the cherry blossom season. Its impossible not to have photo-bombers unless you wake up at 6am!
At first, we even had trouble finding a hotel here as most of them were full. To our luck, Hotel Hokke Club Kyoto popped up on Agoda one fine day and it was just a 2 minute walk from the main railway station. Pretty awesome eh? If you intend on spending three days in Kyoto, make sure you tick these places off your list:
1) Sanjusangendo Temple - This temple dates back to the 13th century and is well-known for its 1001 life size statues of Kannon - the Buddhist goddess of mercy. We walked into a narrow, long hall filled with statues covered in gold leaf. Each of them had a different face and 40 arms. They say that if you look hard enough, you'll will find your face on one of the status! There's a fee to enter and photography is prohibited inside.
2) Fushimi Inari Shrine - A Shinto shrine lined with thousands of bright orange Torii gates. Be prepared to be mesmerized by rows and rows of gates as far as the eye can see! Ridiculously crowded during noon though.Don't expect to be the only person in your photo. There are a lot of food stalls around the temple.
3) Arashiyama Bamboo Forest - Unlike any other forest, this one is lined with thick bamboo trees. The air is cool and the sun peeks through the lush forest. Visit early to avoid crowds.
4) Kyoto Station - Here's one station every tourist would probably pass through but would never go around discovering it. It has a very futuristic design and is especially beautiful at night. Besides an underground shopping mall, this station has a skyway and an observatory deck thats free to enter. Another interesting thing is their long staircase with 171 steps studded with 15,000 LEDs that creates amazing lights shows for each season. We witnessed a cherry blossom show.
5) Kyoto Tower - A long tower with an observation deck situated right next to our hotel. It looked beautiful at night. We were happy to admire it from the outside.
6) Gion - An old district lined with traditional style houses, tea-houses and shops. Gion is also one of Kyoto's main geisha districts. However, I didn't spot any !
7) Yasaka Shrine - So, we visited most of the temples during the day. By the time we reached this one, it was past sunset and we didn't want to make a second trip. This shrine is located close to Gion district. What I loved most about this place besides the illuminated lanterns was the Maruyama park. This park is popular during cherry blossom season. People were literally dining under hundreds of cherry trees.
8) Nishiki Market - A long, narrow market with more than 130 stores. On the day of our visit, we skipped brekkie so that we could go around sampling different kinds of food. Expect stuff like fried liver and sea cucumber!
9) Higashiyama District - Another popular geisha district in Kyoto with paved slopes decked with restaurants, tea-houses and souvenir shops. I still didn't spot any geisha!
10) To-ji Temple - This was the second 5 storey pagoda that we visited in Japan. It was 1200 years old and looked magnificent at night. There were a few more buildings within the temple grounds, however, we didn't visit them.
CHERRY BLOSSOMS - One of my favourite spots to view cherry trees in Kyoto was Maruyama park. It looked gorgeous at night.
Another place we saw them at was Keage Incline ... an old, abandoned railroad track. I'm sure that there are plenty of other places too, and if you have more time in Kyoto you can definitely go around exploring more.
GETTING AROUND - Getting around in Kyoto was relatively easily. We used a mix of subway and trains, and a taxi twice. For the subway, we brought a day pass and for trains we had the JR pass. A day pass works best if you're planning to visit many places on one day. There are buses around Kyoto station to take tourists to all the major sites, however, we didn't use them. Depending on your budget, you can decide what suits you best.
Until next time! x
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