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Do Not Miss Lists

Kyoto, Japan – DNM List

DO NOT MISS LIST – Kyoto, Japan:

  1. Kiyomizudera temple – nestled into the mountains, view of the city
  2. Fushimiinari taisha shrine – personal favorite – arrive around 5pm to catch the sunset and see it after dark as well, very cool when illuminated
  3. Tofukuji temple – on the way to Fushimiibari
  4. 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
  5. Kinkakuji temple (golden pavilion) – furtherest from the city center, good to pair with ryoanji
  6. Ryoanji temple – rock garden and landscaped grounds
  7. Gion district (home of the gieshas)
  8. Sanjusangendo Temple – hundreds of golden buddhas inside, beautiful site.  No indoor photography allowed
  9. Kyoto tower – view of entire city, if you’d like to get oriented 
  10. 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.
Culture, Travel Tips

China – Know Before You Go

I understand Asia isn’t for everyone.  China can be loud, unorganized, overpopulated and is of course not 1st world by any stretch of the imagination.

So what’s the draw? And how do you learn to appreciate it?

There are many draws! We’ve compiled the shortlist here:

  1. Asia is cheap. And I mean really cheap, for those traveling from the US and most European regions. You can literally get a 4-5 star hotel for $25-$50 USD per night for 2 ppl anywhere in China. Hostels are $3-$10 USD per bed in a dorm or $30 for a private room. Street food is $1-$3 USD.
  2. The scenery, temples, and ancient structures are breathtaking. Literally. Some of the most amazing creations you’ve ever seen – many existing in precarious locations (a top mountains, carved into caves, underground, etc.) Nearly every direction you turn your head, you’ll be impressed or intrigued by something.
  3. The landscape is varied and at least 5 locations in China make the list of top 25 most unbelievable in the world. The Avatar mountains (Tianzi), Great Wall, Mt Huashan, rice terraces near Guilin, and the Rainbow Mountains. In addition to all this you have the ganzee river, desert, and vibrant cities to top it all off.
  4. Nearly anything is possible by way of product creation and manufacturing. There are of course barriers to entry, but it may be worth the work/effort of partnering with someone in China if you have any product design or import/export ideas. This is the place and the opportunities in this realm are more plentiful than anywhere in the world. Specifically Shenzhen is the place to be, just outside of Hong Kong. Get hooked up with a broker and they will present options for every sort of manufacturing imaginable.
  5. Chinese locals want to help you and are very happy when you make the effort to communicate. Charades are great in addition to sounds, calculators, pictures and translator apps. Just be patient and speak slowly, they really do want to help, but remember you are in their country – try at their language, it’s fun!  You will experience the kind nature of the locals this way and exchange plenty of smiles and laughs 🙂 To read about our two favorite apps – we have a separate post here.
  6. Vegetable and fruit markets are plentiful. It is like a full time farmers market all over every town and city – great quality produce at unbelievable prices. Two full bags of vegetables will cost you $3. Buy a 4L jug of water for $1 and wash them down before making a few meals out of them! It is a great way to stay healthy and support the local economy.
  7. Immense diversity is the name of the game in China. Since this is where apparel and products for the world are created, it’s one massive melting pot of trends and styles. Take time to notice all the things that exist – it is mind blowing how many varieties are out there. Many an idea can be born in your mind here just through observing your surroundings and paying attention to all the details.
  8. Transportation is abundant and affordable. Cab, subway, train, bus – they are all in every city and cost next to nothing $0.25-$0.50 for inner city subway, $1.50- $5 for most inner city can rides, $3-$5 for most 2-4 hour bus rides, $3-$15 for long distance train rides.
  9. China is the land of copycats, so there are really good local websites and apps for travel/booking. It is also extremely easy to get a SIM card for your phone if it’s unlocked. Service for 2 months here with 800MB per month, 60 local calling minutes and text cost $20. Reloading your phone with $$ is also possible at most convenient stores – family mart, 7 eleven and everyday.
  10. Advertising and utilization of lights/screens is the most extensive and advanced in the world. If you can illuminate something, they’ve done it already. Even the inner subway tubes are lined with LED screens that sport animated advertisements that you watch through the windows along the ride.
  11. They have no design boundaries or standards (in a good way). Many of the building designs you see here are extravagant and over the top. While I don’t know of the exact codes or regulations, it does seem like nearly anything goes. The wilder, the better 🙂 The construction sites here boast wild imagery of what is to come – they are all quite impressive/modern and not typical of the US styles.

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Wutaishan, China – Natural Beauty, Fake Monks

Wutaishan has mixed reviews all over the internet and there certainly is a reason why. The natural setting of Wutaishan itself is stunning.  The rolling mountains, agricultural terraces, tiny temples tucked away in the hills and separation from any major city gives it the rural weekend escape feeling many seek after spending time in China’s bustling urban regions.  We were quite excited to make the journey through the mountains to visit and loved the views on the way in.

Once you take in all the beauty however, you begin to realize something here has gone amiss.  After a few hours, one can unfortunately confirm that it has in fact been overrun with tourism and greed.  There are monks everywhere, which is typically a joyous site with pleasant, positive interactions.  These monks however, do not say hello just to greet you, they speak to you only to initiate a conversation regarding money.  Nearly every one we passed on our first day, said “hello, money”, with the hand gesture of two fingers rubbing together.

I’ve visited a number of places with monks and temple filled mountains, but never have I encountered this.  It was sad to say the least, but David and I chose to just ignore it for the most part, to focus on the beauty that does still exist in Wutaishan.  There are gorgeous temples everywhere, but in line with the spoiled nature of the town, not all of them are authentic and simply exist to charge exorbitant fees to naïve tourists.

All that being said – here are the things you should know to ensure you enjoy your time in Wutaishan:

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Adventure, Art, Culture

Our take on Kyoto

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).