Street Food

India - Colorful Kolkata

Just a few of the only women at the Mallik Ghat Flower Market in Kolkata, India.

Just a few of the only women at the Mallik Ghat Flower Market in Kolkata, India.

Talvin Singh - Ananta

Arriving in a new country is always something. Excitement and anxiety, knit together, wake us up after our layover in Bangladesh. A luxurious airport fools us on India. We onboard a taxi, with a rough driver who speaks no word of English - Kolkata, or Calcutta, as it was formerly known, is not a tourist destination. After a short altercation and help from security, we manage to agree on where to go. It’s all in his hands now. 

These taxis rule the roads of Kolkata. The hour-long trip from the airport may have been the craziest ride we’ve been on - the heat, the honking, the language barrier, and everyone on the road disobeying traffic regulations. Welcome to India.

These taxis rule the roads of Kolkata. The hour-long trip from the airport may have been the craziest ride we’ve been on - the heat, the honking, the language barrier, and everyone on the road disobeying traffic regulations. Welcome to India.

The first taxi ride is always something. We don’t quite know where we are yet or how to behave; we can’t do anything but trust a stranger. Cambodia’s was friendly and peaceful; Myanmar’s was prepaid and carefully translated; Vietnam’s was our first ripoff; India’s is an adventure in itself. If the driving was crazy in the Philippines or Vietnam, Kolkata is a mix of delirium, schizophrenia, and sociopathy. No lanes, everyone just fills the holes, swerving to their heart’s content and honking incessantly - the only driving rule I can fathom, honk when I pass you, honk back if you don’t want me to. And unlike in South East Asia, the driving is fast. If I had an inclination to try driving in every country, all hopes are gone now. But our driver is nothing short of a superhero with lightning speed reflexes as he swerves his car around every car and every corner. We’re in a small yellow crappy taxi version of Harry Potter’s bus. 

But India is always something, as we soon figure out. A night at the Sunflower Guesthouse and we’re off to visit Kolkata in only a day. A large breakfast replaces the missed dinner and then we board another yellow taxi. Our first stop is the Flower Market. “Why?” he asks. Maybe a question we should have taken more seriously. 

Atop the Howrah Bridge we took a look down at what we had just walked through. This was just a sliver of it.

Atop the Howrah Bridge we took a look down at what we had just walked through. This was just a sliver of it.

Chrysanthemum garlands on this flower merchant.

Chrysanthemum garlands on this flower merchant.

The driver stops a short walk before the market, maybe ten minutes, but those will be the most intense of our day. Kolkata shows us its poorest side, living on the banks of the river, as we traverse a slum amongst curious gazes. Madie is being stared at intently by the many men. I stay close to her, staring back at whoever spends too long looking at her. Roaming dogs and dirty geese share the puddle of mud on the side, in between trucks and buses on their second or third life. The houses are a single hut, with an open fire sizzling the upcoming lunch.

The Mallik Ghat Flower Market looks much of the same with the addition of bright, colorful flowers, many festively strung together as garlands for ceremonies or celebrations. The environment is hypnotizing; a completely different place than we’ve ever been - we are so far from South East Asia. My senses are on overload, with a million things to see - displays of flowers by shirtless men, large stacks of unsold, rotting ones, bees buzzing about; a million things to hear - tight crowds discussing prices, amongst porters wanting to pass through; and too many things to smell - a mix of flowers, armpits, and fried food.

After breakfast we hopped into a shared taxi to start our day. An older gentleman, eager to translate for us, asked where we were going. “The flower market.” Surprised, he asked what we wanted to do there. “Take photos!” As we learned later, this place is only for the brave. We walked through the railroad and waterside slums into a bustling market unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, where thousands of people sell and buy flowers every day. It’s beautiful, it’s dirty, it’s chaos. And it set the pace for our month stay here.

After breakfast we hopped into a shared taxi to start our day. An older gentleman, eager to translate for us, asked where we were going. “The flower market.” Surprised, he asked what we wanted to do there. “Take photos!” As we learned later, this place is only for the brave. We walked through the railroad and waterside slums into a bustling market unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, where thousands of people sell and buy flowers every day. It’s beautiful, it’s dirty, it’s chaos. And it set the pace for our month stay here.

We walk down the streets, managing to cross safely. Buildings are worn down, sidewalks so filled with stalls we have to walk on the road, amongst the many, many other people. Anywhere we look, we can see a hundred people or more, mostly men - we will learn later that the women usually stay home. The honking is omnipresent, to a point where we get used to it and tune it out. The traffic jam is a sight in itself, with cars filling in every spot to gain a few inches, creating a few additional lanes in the process. I see an ambulance stuck in the jam, a small van with a woman with an IV in the backseat - no room for a bed, it doesn’t look like there’s AC either. I hope it’s not too urgent - no one is moving at its siren. 

On their way to a field trip just before boarding the bus, these boys spotted Alex and started giggling. “Where are you from? What country??” We realized then that we had not seen any other tourists in Kolkata. 

On their way to a field trip just before boarding the bus, these boys spotted Alex and started giggling. “Where are you from? What country??” We realized then that we had not seen any other tourists in Kolkata. 

Making a delivery on James Hickey Sarani Street.

Making a delivery on James Hickey Sarani Street.

Colorful Kolkata street scenes.

Colorful Kolkata street scenes.

Our first cup of street chai on James Hickey Sarani.

Our first cup of street chai on James Hickey Sarani.

A simple lunch of rice, curry, and tofu for ₹40 ($0.60 cents) and two samosas for ₹10. The food is nothing short of delicious, with a depth in flavor we have been missing. The street chai in a clay cup is the perfect conclusion. We walk through the large park with no one else but a few free horses roaming around, eventually getting to the Victoria Memorial for a nice break from the buzz, with interludes of strangers wanting our picture (and us getting to take photos in return). 

Sweet faces at Victoria Memorial.

Sweet faces at Victoria Memorial.

Another forty-five-minute ride in traffic to visit the Mother’s house, the mission where Mother (now Saint) Teresa did most of her work in the heart of Kolkata, fighting for lepers in slums. We’re happy to be in this peaceful place, learning about someone who cared deeply of unbound love to people, regardless of their religion. A meditative walk back amongst the noise of the city, before a dinner of the famous Kolkata kathi rolls and our first ration of butter chicken masala. We already can’t get enough of the food, at least there’s no beer here to add to our calorie count. At 4:30 am, we already have to leave Kolkata for Varanasi, with already so much experienced in India. This was only day one.


Links

Kolkata has less to offer than the famed cities of India, but it still bears a character worth visiting for the traveler. It is also a good stopover before heading to Darjeeling, which we unfortunately missed. 

  • The Mallik Ghat Flower Market was quite an experience.
  • The Victoria Memorial is simple but holds a nice park worth the trouble for some quiet time.
  • Food-wise, Chicken Tikka Masala and Kolkata kathi rolls should not be missed. We had ours at Nizam’s Restaurant. You can also find delicious street food on James Hickey Sarani Street.

Stopovers in Taipei & Singapore

Raohe Street night market scenes and colors.

Raohe Street night market scenes and colors.

These two small cities have little alike and are not even close on the map. But on our way out of Japan, we decided on five days of hopping from Tokyo to Taipei, to Singapore and finally Yangon, Myanmar. We loved every minute of Japan, and know all too well that the journey back to real backpacking will be difficult. Taipei and Singapore to the rescue (we hope).

We couldn’t get enough milk tea. 

We couldn’t get enough milk tea. 

Taipei

We land in Taipei, quickly taken over by the flair of the new country. How to describe Taipei? For the short version, take China, remove communism and teach English to all, add two ounces of Korea, and one and a half of Japan. Taipei is known for excellent food all around, shopping more than you could ever wish for, and gritty night markets that smell of stinky tofu, blood cakes, and all things cooked over fire. We opt for the food version of Taipei, feeling a little out of place when we pass by the many shops. Noise is up a few decibels; there’s no complicated subway out of the airport, and poverty shows at the train station.

We arrive at Beimen Poshtel near the main station and immediately scavenge for milk tea - the national drink. Lots of rain and wind greet us on the first day; we’re in the midst of typhoon season. A quick nap at the hotel and we’re out to the Raohe Street night market. An inquisitive temple greets us at the front, but we’re here for one thing only: the food. In the span of an hour, we’ll eat juicy pork buns, XiaoMao dumplings, stinky tofu, XiaoLongBao dumplings, chocolate and custard mini pancakes - and will taste everything offered. A stuffed belly puts us to bed.

Taipei has about a dozen night markets, so it was hard to pick just one. We heard Raohe was smaller and had a more local feel than Shilin, so we headed across town to do what we came to Taiwan to do: Eat XiaoLongBao, pork pepper sesame buns, stinky tofu, and more. (And drink as many bubble teas as possible.)

Taipei has about a dozen night markets, so it was hard to pick just one. We heard Raohe was smaller and had a more local feel than Shilin, so we headed across town to do what we came to Taiwan to do: Eat XiaoLongBao, pork pepper sesame buns, stinky tofu, and more. (And drink as many bubble teas as possible.)

Our second day in the city, after a large breakfast at the hostel (when is the last time I made eggs?) - we head over to Din Tai Fung, the successful franchise now found worldwide. Victor, a photographer friend of Madie who lives in Taipei, assures us it’s still better here. And it is. XiaoLongBao dumplings, sweet potato greens, dumplings in hot sauces, and those fried in a pan - with pork fried rice of course. A little burp later, we’re unsuccessful in finding Little Mermaid, Madie’s new craze since Japan, but stumble upon a French bakery, with a whole chicken baked in a loaf bread. We’ll settle for a classic croissant and go find another milk tea. We meet Victor at night for beef noodle soup, another Taiwanese tradition, spicy pork intestine stuffed with rice, and shaved ice with all the toppings.

Din Tai Fung’s XiaoLongBao dumplings in the making.

Din Tai Fung’s XiaoLongBao dumplings in the making.

Happy and full after dinner with Victor, who showed us where the locals eat!

Happy and full after dinner with Victor, who showed us where the locals eat!

The typhoon comes, and with it we fall back below ground to walk to our hotel, getting lost in the underground. There are incredible subterranean metro malls all over Taipei. We could walk for miles without ever seeing the sun, spending money on the latest fashion. The tourists are here in numbers, from Korea, Japan, and China, to shop. The rest of the island is however seldom visited, and in our short time here, we will not have time for more. Instead, we drink one last milk tea, as we carefully track the weather and hope for no delay for our flight to Singapore. 

Or maybe we should have had a little delay. The take off is the roughest we’ve experienced, as we fly around the typhoon hitting the island, and fall in tall air pockets making a group of ladies scream (and me, piss myself a little). The Taiwanese are used to typhoons, this one is no exception. We make it, four hours flying to Singapore, and are in for another culture shock.

We’ve never seen a place so modern, and with so many efforts in keeping it clean and green. 

We’ve never seen a place so modern, and with so many efforts in keeping it clean and green. 

Inside the cool Cloud Forest biodome, a mere 137 kilometers from the equator.

Inside the cool Cloud Forest biodome, a mere 137 kilometers from the equator.

Singapore

How to describe Singapore? Take a small island on the most southern point in Malaysia, only 137 kilometers north the equator, and create a tax haven. Add strong dashes of Malay, Indian, and Korean - and a ton of money, as much as you can get your hands on, then go ask Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates for more. You’ll get a sort of Asian Monaco, without the casinos. The city is the cleanest in the world (chewing gum not allowed), has the largest inequality gap, and also the highest approval by its population - 90% of them can afford a home on the island. The metro stations will quickly tell you all the languages spoken here - Chinese, Malay, Indian, Korean - but the official language is in fact, English. On a single street block, we were able to visit a mosque, a Hindu temple, and a Buddhist temple.

Downtown is an incredible succession of buildings all more daring and beautiful than the other - one with multiple levels of gardens encased into the facade - the super tree grove at Gardens By The Bay; the famous Marina Bay Sands and its large boat with an infinity pool on top; the art and science museum, modeled after a blooming flower; and two soccer stadiums, one floating on water, the other with a roof opening at the top. Singapore does not disappoint with amazing architecture. The F1 Grand Prix is only a few days away, and most streets are already closed. 

The super grove of solar-powered super trees.

The super grove of solar-powered super trees.

We eat our coconut snack (longing for Hong Kong’s) and make it to the top of the giant boat building, carefully walking to the side (at least I am). Next we visit the Gardens by the Bay and its super trees, of course with another milk tea, and visit the indoor rainforest - an incredible construction only Singapore can pull off. I miss the real rainforest dearly - we feel out of our element in a large, rich city. We’re only an hour away from Bukit Lawang after all.

But Singapore also knows cheap and delicious food. We head over to Chinatown and attempt to eat at the cheapest Michelin star in the world, a mere 2.5 Singapore Dollars for a chicken meal that won a precious star. Unfortunately, at 4:45 pm, we’re already too late and all the chicken is gone. We’ll settle for second best soya chicken of the eatery. A couple juice drinks later, we head back to our capsule and settle in our bed, exhausted from plane rides and food. Tomorrow at the wee hours, we head to Myanmar, an all too different place, a largely under-developed country with civil war, and another culture shock.


Links

  • Taipei is the main city in the island of Taiwan. It has many sights to offer, including historical buildings - but as you saw, we invested our time in the delicious food!
    • Taipei has an excellent subway system, including endless malls if that’s your cup of (milk) tea.
    • Night markets are a craze in Taipei and should not be missed. We decided on the Raohe Street Market, for its reputation to be more local than Shilin.
    • Din Tai Fung restaurants are all over the world now, and for a good reason!
    • Beef noodle soup is a local specialty. We had ours at Yong Kang Beef Noodles, thanks to our friend Victor. Shaved ice is the other great specialty for dessert! Close to our previous spot is 政江號傳統小吃店 (don’t ask).
  • Singapore is greatest in its downtown and in Marina Bay, where you can gaze upwards for hours at buildings and architecture. Not to be missed:

Japan - Kuidaore in Osaka, Ukiyo in Kyoto

On our first afternoon in Kyoto we climbed the small tree-covered mountain of Inari to pass through its 10,000 torii (gates), some of which date back to 711 AD. 

On our first afternoon in Kyoto we climbed the small tree-covered mountain of Inari to pass through its 10,000 torii (gates), some of which date back to 711 AD. 

Bonobo - 7th Sevens

We’re on a short flight from Shanghai to Osaka, Japan. China has a strong character, and it started to weigh on us. We enjoyed it as much as other countries, especially its food, culture, and grand sights, though it was not always welcoming (not unlike the streets of Paris). As with other border crossings, we try to reset, remove feelings of the last country and preconceptions of the next, but this time it takes a bit more effort; there’s more to erase, past and future. We have high hopes for Japan and its culture, knowing it more than other countries we’ve been to. Me, from my early childhood days watching anime in the morning (Club Dorothée is deeply ingrained in me) to all the Murakami books I’ve devoured the past ten years, and more recently, all the mangas filling the long bus rides of our travels. Madie, studied Japanese for three years in high school (おはよ ございます、 さかはら せんせい!).

The beautiful Osaka Castle, surrounded and protected by several large moats, gates, and bridges. This landmark played a major role in the unification of Japan during the sixteenth century, and was level one of Alex’s Pokémon Go adventure.

The beautiful Osaka Castle, surrounded and protected by several large moats, gates, and bridges. This landmark played a major role in the unification of Japan during the sixteenth century, and was level one of Alex’s Pokémon Go adventure.

Osaka

It is a common theme that we don’t know anything about anywhere. As soon as we land, we’re hit by the food kingdom that is Osaka. The airport arrival has a flurry of renowned restaurants. We start the day with tonkatsu, to fill Madie’s heart. The Japanese language and deep bows welcome us warmly. The giggles come back to her face - this is a good sign.

It’s a complicated train ride to town, setting the pace for what will be an amazing twelve days in Japan. I feel out of place. My clothes are dirty; I’m stinky, sweaty, and hairy; we’re the only ones with giant backpacks. The train and subway crowds are orderly. Most men are in black or deep blue suits with white shirts. Women are coquettish, pretty and simple. We walk through Osaka’s business district for two kilometers. The hotel is nice, classy even. Kimonos, the smell of cigarettes, and a toilet with too many buttons wait for us in our tiny room. We thank credit card points for letting us visit Japan. At $80 a night for the cheapest place we could find, we could not have afforded it any other way.

We didn’t know much about Osaka when we booked our tickets, but it has quickly stolen our hearts with its food, its people, its pace, and its scenic river walks. (Alex said it reminded him of Lyon.) Here’s a much busier side of town, albeit still charming at golden hour.

We didn’t know much about Osaka when we booked our tickets, but it has quickly stolen our hearts with its food, its people, its pace, and its scenic river walks. (Alex said it reminded him of Lyon.) Here’s a much busier side of town, albeit still charming at golden hour.

It is a love affair with Osaka, or rather a one-night-stand - a passionate fling of indulgence and decadence. We find a few blog posts for restaurant tips and decide to explore the city following its best plates, bowls, and skewers. The airport started us with delicious tonkatsu, our first traditional meal with all the fixings. Dinner is a variant of ramen we’ll never find again, with a richly flavored paste sitting at the bottom of the bowl. (Close to tsukemen, but not a broth.) Pastries for snacks, one after the other, few rivaling the best bakeries in France. “That’s what a Cronut should taste like,” Madie will boldly exclaim, deeply falling for the Little Mermaid pastry shop. After a mandatory visit to the Osaka Castle, and a first Pokémon GO adventure (it was fitting to start there), we eat sushi at a small hole-in-the-wall recommended by Migrationology, find takoyaki, fried octopus balls, and matcha green tea ice cream to finish off. We take a short break of 90 minutes, strolling in the shopping district, amongst the bright colors of pachinkos and fake food stores. We’re back on okonomiyaki, bonito flakes twisting around, then walk another 15 minutes for yakitori - in a restaurant known for using all parts of the pig (and yes, we had all parts). Our first 36 hours in Japan, we already hit six food stops. The pounds we lost in the past four months are back and then some. But we’re happy. And desperately full. I catch a couple more Pidgeys and fall deeply asleep feeling like a Snorlax.

Our yakitori chef behind the grill. Loved the feel of this place... Old wood, sake bottles, and smoke permeating the air. 

Our yakitori chef behind the grill. Loved the feel of this place... Old wood, sake bottles, and smoke permeating the air. 

We made a special trip from Osaka to Kobe to have wagyu beef at La Shomon. This photo doesn’t do it justice, but it was the best meal of our four months on the road so far, and perhaps the best beef we've ever had. As @meandfrenchie would say, it was like butter.

We made a special trip from Osaka to Kobe to have wagyu beef at La Shomon. This photo doesn’t do it justice, but it was the best meal of our four months on the road so far, and perhaps the best beef we've ever had. As @meandfrenchie would say, it was like butter.

Perfectly marbled Kobe beef.

Perfectly marbled Kobe beef.

Kobe

We head to Kobe, home of the famous wagyu beef, on (what should have been) a 30 minute train ride. After getting lost for 2 hours in the JR train system, we finally make it to La Shomon (焼肉バル) and have the best meal of our trip, and the best beef we’ve ever had, for only $20 each (another gem from Migrationology). Additional pastries bought at the train station, we hop on our ride back, mischievous children in school uniforms accompanying us. For our readers watching anime, the Japanese train rides look just like that: a quiet train passing through suburban Japan, peaceful neighborhoods of single homes, always allowing nature to peek through, most people traveling on bike or trains, and youthful voices creating the soundtrack. Tempura closes our first volume of food adventures.

Kinkaku-ji’s story is one of rebirth. The original 500+ year old structure was burned in 1950 when a young monk attempted suicide. Five years later it was rebuilt, covered in gold to purify the temple of negative thoughts about death, and crowned with a golden phoenix. No wonder it’s one of Kyoto’s most visited sites.

Kinkaku-ji’s story is one of rebirth. The original 500+ year old structure was burned in 1950 when a young monk attempted suicide. Five years later it was rebuilt, covered in gold to purify the temple of negative thoughts about death, and crowned with a golden phoenix. No wonder it’s one of Kyoto’s most visited sites.

The stunning bamboo forest in Arashiyama on the west side of Kyoto. Did you know some bamboo species grow one meter a day? Incredible! 

The stunning bamboo forest in Arashiyama on the west side of Kyoto. Did you know some bamboo species grow one meter a day? Incredible! 

Kyoto

We make our way to Kyoto and explore the many gates of Fushimi Inari Daisha after a filling lunch of loco moco, tonkatsu, and my very first fresh tofu - which I now understand I’ve been missing out on this entire time. After performing the water ritual at the crowded entrance, we hike further into the park, hoping to lose the few tourists. We cross path multiple times with a smiling grandpa, helping us find our way. I wonder if he has a side-quest for us, but he is only here for Shinrin-Yoku (森林浴), literally “forest bathing,” a word for a visit to the forest for relaxation and health. The park is a complex of Japanese shrines: thousands of bright orange gates, set in a deep green forest amongst the dark grays of traditional tombs. We learn the word Komorebi (木漏れ日), “sunlight shining through the leaves of trees.” China had a sense for the epic; Japan has a profound one for the aesthetic, the tasteful and subtle beauty, the perfect harmony. Geishas pass by, some are simply locals dressing up, others are the ‘real’ ones, entertainers of the Gion district. Ukiyo (浮世 "floating world") describes the urban lifestyle, especially the pleasure-seeking aspects of this world. 

After a two hour hike through the park, Madie and I cool down with amazake, a cold, sweet, fermented rice drink with ginger, and agree that if we had the opportunity to live here, we’d probably do it. The high-pitched laughter of children echo from a nearby elementary school - the usual trigger for us to think about the future. Our dinner is a bowl of rice and raw fish on which we pour dashi, the tasty Japanese broth. We pick up on a new tradition, eating yogurt (or chocolate pudding) at night in our tiny hotel room. 

Kyoto, Japan's most beautiful city, home to thousands of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, and where local and foreign tourists dress in the most vibrant kimonos to tour them. 

Kyoto, Japan's most beautiful city, home to thousands of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, and where local and foreign tourists dress in the most vibrant kimonos to tour them. 

Inari is the kami (spirit that is worshipped in Shinto religion) of prosperity, success, and rice. It’s why many companies and businesses donate a vermilion-colored shrine - for thanks and hope for more good fortune.   Here you can see their names engraved on the pillars.

Inari is the kami (spirit that is worshipped in Shinto religion) of prosperity, success, and rice. It’s why many companies and businesses donate a vermilion-colored shrine - for thanks and hope for more good fortune. Here you can see their names engraved on the pillars.

Taking a break at the temple garden.

Taking a break at the temple garden.

Young girls dressed as gieshas in Kyoto.

Young girls dressed as gieshas in Kyoto.

Ending the day and our time in Kyoto at the viewpoint by Kiyomizu-dera. Still so much left to explore here. We will surely be back.

Ending the day and our time in Kyoto at the viewpoint by Kiyomizu-dera. Still so much left to explore here. We will surely be back.

Kyoto, home of Emperors and Japan’s capital for a millennia before Tokyo, is reputed the most beautiful city in the country and carries high hopes for the traveler - it did not disappoint. For the next days, we do our best to explore the city - amongst the tall greens of Arashimaya, the bamboo forest where a Meowth hides; at a sunset at Kiyomizu-dera, a temple in a light drizzle; along the Philosopher’s Path with matcha ice cream; in a peaceful cemetery. We make the obligatory visit to Kinkaku-ji, the golden temple and its proud Phoenix remembering the monk who attempted suicide by fire; we meander through the Imperial Park, finally resting under the red gate of Shishinden, until the next matcha ice cream at Ninen-zaka after dark; we properly learn the water purification ritual at the zen gardens of Ryōan-ji and Higashiyama Jisho-ji. We stroll for kilometers, powered by minced tuna rice bowls, okonomiyaki and, what the heck, the best pizza we’ve had in a long time. My Pokémon score is off the charts. 

We’re love-struck, longing to see Japan in the winter, spring, and fall. The aesthetic is omnipresent, harmony is ingrained in Japan’s culture, and the pursuit of being better in its philosophy. It’s peaceful, easy even, a feeling we haven’t had since we left - a breath of fresh air after four months in Asia.

And as with all refreshing breaths of air, fill it up with soup, ramen, if possible, one for her and tsukemen for me. Kuidaore (食い倒れ) is the Japanese word for “eating yourself to bankruptcy.”  Tomorrow, we wake up early for a ride to a different world, the Japanese Alps. We won’t quite go to sleep before another yogurt and a couple Ratatats, though.


Links

  • Osaka is reputed for the best food in Japan. From what we can tell, it is well deserved. Migrationology has a great post on his favorite spots. It is also a cheap flight from Shanghai, and well-connected by train.
  • Kobe is only a 30 minute train ride away. It’d be a shame to miss the best beef in the world. We chose to go to La Shomon, recommended by Migrationology for its relatively inexpensive prices.
  • Kyoto is 90 minutes away by train from Osaka. The historical sites are endless, and in only 3-4 days there, we missed too many places (including the manga museum!). The golden temple Kinkaku-ji, the bamboo forest Arashimaya, and the Imperial palace are the most touristic spots, but we particularly enjoyed walking in Fushimi Inari-taisha, the Philosopher’s Path, and Ryōan-ji
  • Few websites will recommend a JR Pass for a week or two. While it may seem like a good option, be aware that:
    • It can only be purchased outside of Japan.
    • It only allows travel on JR trains (there are many other local tracks and companies).
    • It is limited in time (one or two weeks). Lots of travel needs to be done in a short time to make it worth it. At our pace, only the two-week pass would have saved us money.