Our stay in Kyoto was short but sweet. Tobi had actually caught a cold from the cool weather on Miyajima Island the day before so we decided to take it easy. On the night we arrived, we checked into our first hostel stay of the trip – Piece Hostel Kyoto… and having stayed at a few more since arriving in Mexico – we can say it’s been the most spotless one yet! Very minimalist and modern.
The internet connection was great so we called it a night in and caught up on photo editing and blog entries. This blogging business is a tough gig!! There’s always something to write about, photos to download, edit and upload… in between looking up interesting things to see and do.
The next morning, after our blogging night we headed out to see two temples that had caught our interest: Kinkaku-ji Temple and Ryōan-ji Temple, both North-West of Kyoto. If you have a Japan Rail (JR) pass it’s easy to get around on the trains and buses for free (just keep an eye out for the JR lines and JR marked buses).
Kinkaku-ji Temple is famously known as the “Golden Pavilion Temple” – with the top two levels covered in real gold leaf that shimmers in the sunlight, casting a golden reflection on the pond surrounding the front of the temple. A very pretty temple, but expect big crowds if you’re visiting on a weekend or special occasion (for us it was the Chinese New Year weekend). There is a walking path that takes you from the entry, past the temple, around the gardens and then back out again. All very pretty but the crowds can be distracting… it would be so much more peaceful and beautiful early in the morning on a quiet day. Still, the temple was beautiful on its own.
Ryōan-ji Temple (Peaceful Dragon Temple) is best known for its Zen garden, featuring a simple gravel-and-rock arrangement that inspires peace and contemplation. Don’t hate us, but we got so caught up in the cute little moss gardens and tree-covered walking paths along the way that we didn’t even make it to the Zen garden! We passed an area with rocks and thought that was it. Woops! Nevertheless, the gardens were very peaceful and much quieter so we enjoyed some Zen moments of our own.
Shortly after our Ryōan-ji Temple visit we stopped for some ramen on the way back to Kyoto. Yum! Just a cute little place with simple ramen with the option to pick hard, medium or soft noodles and thick, medium or thin broth. It did the trick to warm us up after being outside in the cold for a few hours. Next, we wanted to go and see Kyoto Castle but alas! It closes at 4pm which didn’t give us much time so we went looking for a coffee shop instead.
The place we had in mind was a sustainable, local produce cafe called Shi-Shin Samurai Cafe and Bar that we found on an app. We were convinced it didn’t really exist because when we got dropped off we were literally in the middle of a street full of garages and car repair shops (after doing a quick Google search it does still exist… we’ll have to go back next time). After walking back and forth a few times we gave up and turned the corner to find a nice-looking cafe with some sort of sweet shop and zen garden inside.
The only thing was, when we stepped inside and sat down it felt like we had suddenly landed in grandma’s Sunday tea session. Think high tea at the QVB in Sydney on a Sunday morning! It was so quiet and the middle-aged man sitting next to us was *actually* having a nap in his comfortable plush cushioned armchair! When we realised there wasn’t even free wifi we realised we were probably not in the kind of cafe we were after… but at least we had a lovely view of the Zen garden :)
Any top picks for your next visit to Kyoto? Would love to spend a couple of extra nights here next time to see more sights. Like a trip to Kyoto Castle (you know how we have a new-found love of castles!) and some more of the smaller temples. Tobi’s brother Kenji and his girlfriend Hannah ventured out to Arashiyama (beautiful bamboo groves) and Inari Shrine (picturesque red walking path) which both look amazing for photographs, so they’re both on the list too!
And any top travel tips so far? The best way to make the most of our time and money is to do our research before arriving in each destination. Like looking up where our accommodation is from the station (read: can we just walk it instead of taking a cab); casting our eyes over other travellers’ reviews of key attractions (read: is that day tour really worth it or should we just do it ourselves); and simple things like avoiding tourist trap restaurants that do overpriced mediocre food!
Any top picks for your next visit to Kyoto? Kiyomizu-dera Temple – a temple that sits in the trees and Inari a long trail of Torii (orange gates).
And any top travel tips so far?
Avoid Chinese New Year whenever you can as there was a huge influx of Chinese tourists during the time which made everything take a little longer. Also don’t trust Alice with directions.