I say seven because we were meant to have a week in Japan which isnt even enough time but John got bad food poisoning which forced us to move our flight back 1 day. We ended up flying through Bangkok and since we only have 15 hours, we chose to spend a little more than usual and take a last minute deal at Suvarnabhumi Suite Hotel, a 4 star hotel near the airport. Bad Idea. After 4 weeks of beautiful Thai street food (and drinking street food jug water), THIS is the place that gives us food poisoning. Rather ironic!
But our RTW air ticket was flexible enough for us to change the departure date 3 hours before our scheduled departure time (even after we checked in!). amazing! The idiots at the hotel actually charged a higher rate to stay a second night- and on top of it, they conveniently “forgot” how to speak English when we asked to speak to a manager. Let’s just say they got a wordful on TripAdvisor review.
Kyoto night skyline including out hotel- The Tower Hotel
Anyway, we did manage to get to Tokyo the following day and even had a pleasant flight on JAL. We snagged a late train from Tokyo to Kyoto and arrived there just before 7pm. Outside of Tokyo most people don’t speak English in Japan but they are so friendly that we were able to get by with miming which is good because we didn’t have a hotel sorted when we got there. It was dark and raining AND Japan isn’t good at wifi so after asking (I mean, miming) we found a Starbucks and got 10 minutes free wifi which was just enough to make an online reservation (just around the corner, a great deal at the Tower hotel)!
Walking through temple area on the way to Nijo Castle, Kyoto
Kyoto is beautiful and full of UNESCO world heritage sites, 17 to be exact. We spent the day exploring as many as we could, starting with the Golden Pavilion. But on the way we walked through the beautiful temple area – but full of Japanese tourists (above).
The Golden Pavilion
The Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji) was built in 1397 as a retirement villa for Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. His son converted it into a temple. In 1950 an obsessed monk burned it to the ground (it seems this happened alot to various temples we saw on our trip) and in 1955 it was reconstructed to its original design, but the gold-foil now covers the middle floor as well. We enjoyed walking around the gardens – the most peaceful and idealistic we visited in the whole of Japan.
The gardens of the Golden Pavilion
Next stop for the day was Nijo Castle which was built in 1603 as the official Kyoto residence of the first Tokugawa shogun, Ieyasu.
For dinner we wanted something authentic, delicious and cheap so we sought out a ramen place- bought our ticket from a machine and were delivered 2 huge bowls!
The next day we headed south to Kagoshima to meet with John’s cousin Jeremy and his wife, Rie. We stayed with them for 4 nights which was awesome. We learned a lot about the culture, ate some amazing food, enjoyed a couple hot spring baths and did some great hiking. They really took care of us and one evening took us to a 6 course traditional Japanese meal!
At White Bird Peak with Jeremy, the start of our 6 hour hike around the 3 lakes area which ended in at a hot spring bath.
Jeremy showing us around the town on our first day- through the bamboo forest
Rie, Jeremy, John and Me finishing our last of 6 courses.
During one of the days when Jeremy and Rie were working, we leveraged our Japanese Rail Pass to visit Kumamoto Castle, Built between 1601 and 1607, the original building was besieged and burnt during the 1877 Satsuma Rebellion, one of the final stands made by the Samurai against the new order. We spent a couple of hours here and (of course) enjoyed a starbucks before heading back to Kagoshima to meet Jeremy and Rie for dinner.
After 4 great days in Kagoshima, we headed back north to Tokyo. The fast train delivered us over 1500km in about 7 comfortable hours to Tokyo where we met up with our friend Karima, whom we met on the dive trip in Raja Ampat. She took us to a great dinner and ordered us a variety of dishes included some great ramen!
Finally, it was back to our TINY hotel in Tokyo where luckily, we only had to spend a few hours before flying to Kathmandu.