The day started off in a panic, we woke up at 7:20am, when we were supposed to be out of the hotel by 7. Danielle and I were ready and out by 7:40, we stopped downstairs to check out, and made coffee as I took a picture of the directions to the airport. It was going to be a long day of travel.
We got on the train, by 8, but didn’t get to the transfer in time to catch the 8:03am train… So we had to wait for the 8:30am. It was a rough start to the day. By the time we got to the airport we were 3 minutes late to check into our flight, they told us our bags wouldn’t make it on the plane with us, and they’d have to change our flight. The fee for that was $52.
We made our new flight, but when we got to Osaka, we knew we were quite a bit behind schedule. The plane didn’t make it as quickly as it should have, and we quickly figured out we’d need to catch a train, to make another transfer. After 6 different modes of transportation (bus, subway, car, train, plane, and tram) we end up in Koyasan. The last mode was a tram up the mountain, which picks you up right where the train drops you off. It doesn’t seem like more than 1000 people live in Koya (Mount Koya), but, as we discovered, there are over 30 temples located within the small town. We finally get to the information office and they tell us all but 2 of the temples are booked for the night – and that dinner time is upon us (which means we would miss eating if we didn’t get to a temple soon).
DO NOT MISS LIST – Kyoto, Japan:
- Kiyomizudera temple – nestled into the mountains, view of the city
- Fushimiinari taisha shrine – personal favorite – arrive around 5pm to catch the sunset and see it after dark as well, very cool when illuminated
- Tofukuji temple – on the way to Fushimiibari
- Ginkakuji temple (silver pavilion) – the walk up to the temple grounds is just as fun as the temple itself, so enjoy the way up and down as well
- Kinkakuji temple (golden pavilion) – furtherest from the city center, good to pair with ryoanji
- Ryoanji temple – rock garden and landscaped grounds
- Gion district (home of the gieshas)
- Sanjusangendo Temple – hundreds of golden buddhas inside, beautiful site. No indoor photography allowed
- Kyoto tower – view of entire city, if you’d like to get oriented
- Kyoto station – an enormous above and below ground transport hub that contains your every want and need inside. The buses and trains all depart from here. There are a ton of very good restaurants including affordable/delicious sushi that comes out plate by plate on a conveyer belt. There is also a large super market here with produce, etc. at much better prices than the corner markets.
While David and I expected Kyoto to be filled with ancient shrines and temples, we didn’t imagine that the entire city would also be frozen in time. It seems as though construction of the newer areas of the city ceased sometime in the 80’s and not one thing has changed since. The actual city is not at all what you’d expect – mostly simple, old rectangular buildings…
So then what should you expect of Kyoto? The temples are each unique, the city is huge, the bus is very useful and only costs about $5 per day for unlimited rides, train is cheap, mall is great. Constructions have been developed in areas that feel like they should be dedicated to the temple that sits beside it, so it feels a little cramped around some sites. Kyoto can initially feel small, but once you ride the bus, you realize it’s actually quite large and sprawling. There aren’t many sky scrapers or huge buildings besides the Kyoto tower, and it doesn’t light up the way Osaka does, not much night life or activity after 10pm.
Take away: Go there expecting not to love the city itself, go just for the temples/shrines. When you get there grab a city map and mark all the sites you’d like to see. The city is quite spread out, but the bus system is quite well mapped and organized – so as long as you have your sites selected, you’ll have no problem making your way around and fitting them all in a few days (one day if your pressed for time and start early, as most sites close up by 3 or 4pm).