Our Airbnb apartment was located in Shinjuku, an area we highly recommend for staying. There is a lot to do and it’s very well connected. The Shinjuku Station is the busiest train station in the world (with 35 platforms, over 200 exits and 3.64 million commuters every day).
The transportation system is very confusing. There are 3 different operators so you might end up buying 3 tickets to reach your destination. Most of the time we took the JR Yamanote Line that connects many of Tokyo’s major urban centers. The Tokunai Pass (730 JPY) allows unlimited rides within the 23 wards of Tokyo.
Our first excursion took us to the Takeshita Dori area, which is very popular among young teenagers and world famous for its cosplay fashion. We saw some crazy people but not too many… The close by Yoyogi-Park with its Meiji shrine is a welcoming get-away from the nearby hustle and bustle. It is one of the largest parks in Tokyo. We strolled around for some time enjoying the cold but sunny day.
From there it’s just a quick walk to the vibrant area of Shibuya with Tokyo’s and maybe even the world’s most famous pedestrian crossing. About one million people cross the street every weekday. First we took part by crossing the street twice than we went for Starbucks on the north side to have a perfect view of the whole scenery. It is quite impressive to see so many people trying to cross a street.
Back in Shinjuku the Tokyo City Hall offered us a free observation deck with good views over the city. And again in a local restaurant not fare from our place Udon was our choice for dinner.
The next day two dreams came true for Niels. But we had to get up very early to catch the Shikansen (first dream) to the Gala Yuzawa ski resort in Yuzawa Town (2nd dream was skiing in Japan). And on top of that we met Isaac again – the crazy Australian we met in Kyoto.
Getting up early is not our favorite thing in the world but this time it was necessary to get the most out of our day in Kyoto. Going from Osaka to Tokyo one passes through Kyoto. Therefore, we decided to make a day trip. Eva planned the whole day including transports and sight seeing. She decided to visit 3 major temples as well as some smaller shrines and temples in the area.
We’ll give you an idea about our 1 day itinerary just in case someone is planning a trip to Kyoto.
The very moment you ask for directions in Japan you have a personal guide. Almost every time we asked for the way we were taken by the hand and directly brought to our destination. And that is only one example of the extrem japanese friendliness.
As we found out there is no better way to start your day than having Udon for breakfast at 12 am. Udon is mostly served hot as a noodle soup in a mildly flavored broth. Because of the language barrier we ordered Udon with ? (no idea) but both of our meals turned out to be amazing and for only 350 Yen (around 2,50€) a true bargain.
We highly recommand buying the so called “Osaka amazing pass 3 days” for only 3000 Yen (21€) which allows you to have unlimited rides on trains and buses without paying admission to 28 popular tourist sites.
After arriving late and nearly freezing to death (-14 degrees) we found our cute little hostel in the student area close to Hongik University called Hondaeg. The room was small as expected but the bunk beds were really comfy. The best thing – it was really really warm.
The next day started off with quite some sightseeing. Close to the Gwanghwamun Gate there is a great area with lots of nice little cafes, shops and restaurants. We heated up in a cute cafe before more sightseeing had to accomplished.
Exhausted and craving for good food we found an authentic korean barbeque place with only locals. Neither couldn´t we read the menu nor did we have any idea what to order. So we asked the waitress to decide for us. In the middle of the table was a built-in barbeque. Different types of meat, rice in a bamboo bowl and some other things were served to us. Having no idea how to eat it the right way we just copied our neigbours and wrap the meat with lettuce and added condiments such as – pajoeri (spicy scallion salad) and samjang (a spicy paste made of doenjang mixed with gochujang). The copy function worked very well besides the copied order of “suju” we saw on a neighboring table. Cheap alcohol with 20% (300ml for 3000kRP = 2,5€).
The next day the best tour guide ever (Niels) took me for a long walk along the Han River. The only thing he forgot about was how to get back. Completely freezing and nearly starved we found the way to the next subway station after 2,5 hours of walking. For the sunset we went for the famous “N Seoul tower” with popcorn and drinks.
On our lazy day we we took the hop-on hop-off bus but it wasn’t really worth it because most of the sights we already explored before. In Itaewon (expat area) we found a great South African-run restaurant (Braai Republic) serving traditional South African food. After walking through the door the South African hospitality and the great vibe of that place grabbed us. We chatted for an eternity with the owner Rotney who is amazingly friendly. The food was awesome (Sausages and lamm chops with mashed potato and a local salad). Strenghend from the food the exploration continued until night. In the evening we went out with two people from our hostel and explored the crazy night life in Hondgae.
After a long night out Eva needed coffee in the morning and we only made it to a cafe / library around the corner. It felt like university again. After the coffee some history was on the agenda (e.g. war memorial museum).
Do you know what to order?
Taipei? Taipei! It wasn’t on our initial schedule but Niels decided he wanted to do a real city hopping tour once in his life. So here we were. First stop Taipei.
Being back in a real city with many amenities felt very good. Easy subway system, coffee shops, bars, restaurants and everything was clean. But with all the conveniences there also come disadvantages, especially when it comes to accommodation prices.
We were used to much better accommodations for lower prices (paying nearly half the price in Hanoi for a 3 Star Hotel including breakfast). Therefore, our new home was a little shocking. Only a mattress and hocks on the wall with a shared bathroom. But at least it was clean, the staff was very helpful with lots of good recommendations and after all we were living a normal backpacker’s life.
The next days we had dumplings and buns at the famous Din Tai Fun restaurant, visited the nightmarket, climbed the elephant mountain for a stunning view of the city and last but not least visited one of Niels favorite skyscrapers in the world: the Taipei 101. The most interesting thing it is the metal ball between the 88 and 92 floor which balances the movement if an earth quake happens. The ball weights 660 tons which is the same as 2 jumbo jets. In average 4000 earth quakes occur each year. On the 89the floor is a nice observation deck.
Evas version of the last day: we visited the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall and went on a ride with the Maokong Gondola. At the last stop you can have tea in a traditional tea shop while overlooking terraced green tea fields, or hike to temples with waterfalls. But because we were lagging time and the weather was bad we headed back very quickly.
Niels (correct) version of the last day: Evas description is correct for the most of it. She only left out the fact that she mixed up the departure date. So that we had to head back very quickly because we were believing that we were running out of time and might miss our flight. We didn’t because we were 1 (!!!) day early at the airport!
The Taipei 101 from different places