Browsing Tag

guides

Asia Guides Insider Tips

Top 20 Places to Visit in Tokyo in 2020

I have a feeling that by the end of 2020 Tokyo is going to be the “it” city to visit in the world. Why is that? Well, if you haven’t heard, the summer Olympics are coming to Tokyo. And after people see the sights and neon lights of Tokyo on their TV sets or their computer or phone screens, they’re going to want to visit. So, you better beat everyone else to the hottest city of 2020 and book your ticket NOW!

Tokyo is a great place to explore the two sides to Japanese culture: the traditional side of temples and history and the modern side of manga and robots. Here are my top 20 places to visit where can experience both sides of Tokyo in 2020:

Where to see the best traditional Culture of Tokyo:

1. Senso-ji Temple

The oldest and one of the most important Buddhist temples in Tokyo is Senso-ji.

Originally built in 645, Sensoji is dedicated to the Bodhisattva of Compassion (a.k.a. Guanyin in Chinese culture). Senso-ji was destroyed during World War II, so the current one that you’re seeing was built in the twentieth century.

Pro Tip:  Make sure to get a omikuji, a paper fortune. Just follow the instructions (written in English). Don’t worry, if you get a bad fortune, just tie the paper around a nearby rack to stop the bad luck from happening.

2. Meiji Shrine

Meiji Shrine is one of Japan’s most popular shrines. This shrine is the one Tokyoites visit at the beginning of every year in order to pray for good fortune.

Built in 1920, the shrine is dedicated to the deified spirits of the Meiji Emperor and his wife, the Empress Shokun.

What to do at Meiji Shrine: Write your wish on an ema, a votive tablet, and place it under the big camphor tree to the right of the main hall.

3. Tokyo National Museum

This museum is the best place to visit in Tokyo to get a sense of the overall history of Japanese art.

The Tokyo National Museum is made up of 5 buildings. It would take you a few days to visit all of them. However, you don’t need to do that. Just head to the one in the center, the Honkan Gallery. Here you’ll see an overview of Japanese art from the Jomon to the Edo periods.

Pro Tip: I love the paintings by Hakusai. His most famous one, “Great Wave of Kanagawa,” was located on the first floor when I visited.

4. Edo Tokyo Museum

This spectacular museum in Sumida covers the fascinating history of Tokyo.

The Edo Tokyo Museum takes you through the history of Tokyo when it was called Edo to the present day. It’s filled with reproductions such as the Nihon Bashi Bridge (considered the center of Edo), a Kabuki Theater, and a Japanese apartment from the 1960s.

Pro Tip: The Edo Tokyo Museum is huge! To see it all, you’ll want to schedule three or four hours. Be sure to arrive early because most museums in Japan close at 5:00 pm. Also, make sure you have enough time for the post World War II section of the museum.

5. Ukiyo-e Ota Museum of Art

If you’re looking for a break from the teeny boppers crowds of Harajuku, head to this small, gem of a museum, the Ukiyo-e Museum of Art.

This museum focuses on Japanese woodblock prints of the Floating World in the Edo and Meiji periods. The Floating World was the term used to describe the pleasure world where Japanese went to watch kabuki, drink, gamble, and visit geishas and prostitutes.

Pro Tip: It’s small, so you need just an hour to visit. You could go back to this museum every month as the prints change monthly.

6. Kabuki-za Theater

Watching a kabuki performance at Tokyo’s Kabuki-za Theater is a must for anyone wanting to explore Japanese traditional culture more deeply.

Kabuki is traditional Japanese drama. The stories usually feature tales of romance and heroism. It was traditionally performed by all female casts, but the Japanese people felt this was too risqué, so female actors were banned and replaced by an all-male cast.

Pro Tip: The Kabuki-za theater has four to five performances every day from morning to evening. You can buy single act tickets on the day of the performance from 600 yen to 1,500 yen. I highly recommend renting an electronic translator at the theater to get a translation of the play.

7. Ryogoku Kokugikan Sumo Stadium

Seeing a sumo match is not just for the sports enthusiast, but also for those wanting to experience one aspect of Japan’s unique culture. You can do that at the Ryogoku Kokugikan Sumo Stadium in Samida.

Official Sumo tournaments only take place in January, March, May, July, September, and November. If you’re not in Tokyo in those months, you can also watch a morning practice session.

Pro Tip: You can buy tickets on Voyagin or Viator websites. You can also buy cheap same day tickets at 8:00 am. However, they sell out very quickly, so get in line really early in the morning.

8. Oedo Onsen Monogatari

Another cultural experience you must try before leaving Japan is a visit to a hot springs (called onsen in Japanese). An easy way to visit one in Tokyo is at a hot spring entertainment park called Oedo Onsen Monogatari in Odaiba.

At Monogatari, you’ll find an outdoor foot bathing area, a food court, and a gender-separated bathing area with several different kinds of baths. The other unique aspect about this experience is that you’ll wander around the park in a traditional Japanese robe called a yukata.

Pro Tip: Japanese hot springs can be an intimidating experience for the first-timer. Before your visit, watch some videos to learn how to tie a yukata and read up on Japanese bathing etiquette.

9. Tsukiji Outer Market

You can’t leave Japan without experiencing its world-famous food. One of the most fun ways to do it is to visit Tsukiji Outer Market. Here you’ll get to sample Japanese street food like tamagoyaki, sea urchin, and oysters. There are also lots of delicious restaurants for a sit-down meal of sashimi or seafood rice bowls.

Tsukiji Market used to be divided into 2 parts: the outer market for tourists and the inner wholesale market. The wholesale market moved in 2018 to modern facilities in Toyosu. You can also visit, but it’s far away and it lacks the character that Tsukiji has.

Pro Tip: Shops are open from 9:00 to 14:00. All are closed on Sundays and some are closed on Wednesdays.

10. Staying in a Ryokan

You should at least experience staying in a traditional Japanese inn, called a ryokan, at least once during your trip to Japan. Tokyo is a great place to experience this only-in-Japan style of accommodations.

Ryokans have several features that are uniquely Japanese. They’ll have their own hot spring bath for their guests. Some of them will also serve a multi-course breakfast and/or dinner consisting of seasonal dishes.

Pro Tip: Asakusa and Yanasen areas have some affordable ryokans for around (and sometimes under) US$100 a night.

11. Visiting traditional pre-war neighborhoods

If you want to see what Tokyo was like before World War II, the neon lights and shiny skyscrapers, then wander through the streets of Yanasen. 

Yanasen consists of three areas: Yanaka, Nezu, and Sendagi. Here you’ll find pre-war wooden buildings, lots of old temples and cemeteries, and shops selling traditional sweets and home goods.

Pro Tip: Try to have lunch or dinner at Hantei or Kamachiku.

Modern Japanese Culture

12. Visiting Shinjuku

If you have time for only one place to visit in Tokyo, make it the district of Shinjuku. Here is where you’ll see the Tokyo from the movies: the neon lights, unique bars, the crazy pachinko parlors, modern skyscrapers, and crowds of hip Tokyoites.

When visiting Shinjuku, there are three modern places to visit: Kabukicho, Omoido Yokocho (a narrow alley filled with tiny bars and yakitori restaurants), and Golden Gai (a series of small lanes filled with more tiny bars).

Pro Tip: Join a food tour of Shinjuku to get the inside scoop on where to go. You can sign up with tours through Get Your Guide.

13. Shibuya Crossing

Shibuya Crossing is THE famous crosswalk where you see a mess of people coming from all directions at one time to cross one intersection. To add to the experience, you’re surrounded by bright neon lights, huge television screens, and slick skyscrapers.

Don’t feel embarrassed if you do the crosswalk numerous times. I think all tourists do it! After doing Shibuya Crossing, check out the surrounding neighborhood. I found it to be a great place for street photography.

Pro Tip: Find a place from above to watch the crossing. An easy place to watch is from Starbucks. Sometimes it’s hard to find the exit from the station for Shibuya Crossing. Be patient. Look for the Hachiko Exit. This also leads to the statue of the famous dog called Hachiko.

14. Takeshita Dori Street

Takeshita Dori is a fun street to visit in Harajuku. It’s where Japanese teens go to shop, to eat, and to strut their stuff in the latest fashions.

Takeshita Dori is the perfect place to do both your people watching and shopping. You’ll see Japanese teens showing off their latest hairstyles and clothes. There are lots of trendy boutiques, inexpensive shops selling things you really don’t need, cat cafes, hedgehog cafes, and cafes serving crepes, cotton candy, and whatever the latest snack fad is.

Pro Tip: Stand at the beginning of the street to take a photo of the sea of people bobbing their heads as they parade down the street.

15. Fluffy Pancakes

The Japanese like to take foreign dishes and put their own spin on them. One dish that the Japanese have made their own version of is the pancake called the fluffy pancake. You can find restaurants all over Harajuku selling this delicious it.

You can find fluffy pancake restaurants in Harajuku. Here are some popular ones: A Happy Pancake, Burn Side Street Cafe, Flippers and Rainbow Pancake.

Pro Tip: Expect to wait in line to get in. I arrived at A Happy Pancake before it opened at 9:00 am, put my name on a list, and went off to wander the streets of Harajuku.

16. Akihabara

Another teen hangout that epitomizes modern Japanese culture is Akihabara.

You’ll find lots of stores for electronics, manga, anime, and video games. Looking for a Maid Cafe? Look no further than Akihabara.

Akihabara is named after Akiba, a local shrine. On Sundays, the main street, Chuo Dori, becomes a pedestrian only zone from 1:00 to 6:00 pm.

Pro Tip: You’ll see “maids” standing outside maid cafes getting customers to come inside. Please ask first before taking photos of them. They hate it when you snap one without asking.

17. Robot Restaurant

Some may say that the Robo Restaurant is a tourist trap, but it’s a fun and only-in-Japan tourist trap that keeps people coming. 

The Robot Restaurant isn’t a restaurant per se. You can order food, but you don’t have to and you probably don’t want to since the food isn’t all that good. The main focus of the “restaurant” is the robot show.

Pro Tip: Buy tickets for the show through Klook to get a discount.

18. teamLab Borderless

MORI Building Digital Art Museum: teamlab Borderless is the newest tourist sensation in Tokyo. It’s a museum devoted to interactive digital art. The digital art is projected onto the walls, floors, and ceilings. It’s constantly changing so that you can enter a room twice and experience different works of art.

There are actually two of these museums in Tokyo: teamLab Borderless and teamlab Planets. The teamLab Borderless in Odaiba is a permanent museum, while another one is temporary.

Pro Tip: Buy your tickets ahead of time because they sometimes sell out AND arrive before the museum opens to be the first ones in the museum. You’ll avoid crazy long lines.

19. Tokyo Sky Tree

The Tokyo Sky Tree is the best place to see 360 degree panoramic views of Tokyo. It towers over the city at 634 meters. 

Tokyo Sky Tree was finished in 2011 in Sumida district of Tokyo. It has one of those glass floors that you can walk on and see the world below you.

Pro Tip: Some people suggest skipping the tree and going to the Tokyo Government Building in Shinjuku. It’s free, while Tokyo Sky Tree isn’t. I felt the views were better from the Sky Tree, and you can actually take photos without the glass causing a glare on your camera.

20. Studio Ghibli Museum

The Ghibli Museum is the animation museum of Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli. The studio made many famous Japanese anime movies such as Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, and Princess Mononoke.

You’ll find exhibits on the process of making an animation movie and an opportunity to watch a movie that can only be seen at the museum.

Pro Tip: You need to buy the tickets online and in advance. You can’t buy tickets at the museum. Online tickets go on sale 3 months before the date of the visit. They sell out quickly, so as soon as your ticket date is being sold, buy it. Don’t even wait a day.


To read more about what to see and do in Tokyo click here!

 

Advice Guides Insider Tips Outdoors

Five Beautiful Botanical Gardens Around the World

As an avid traveler, I love pounding the pavement in a city I’ve never visited before. Urban architecture and artwork never ceases to impress and inspire me. But there’s one non-negotiable must-do that’s always at the top of my trip list: botanical gardens. Below are a few of my all-time favorites any wanderlust should add to their itinerary.

Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, Melbourne, Australia

Walking distance from Melbourne’s bustling central business district – known as the CBD to locals – lies 90 acres of open air space. Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria is filled with an array of lawns, lakes, pavilions, and paths. Several entrance gates lead to a vast range of collections from bamboo to ferns and palms to roses, with many rare species of trees and foliage. You don’t have to be a botany buff to appreciate the Australian Forest Walk or Water Conservation Garden, but the Garden does have an education team that offers programs for those who want to learn more. It may take multiple visits to soak in all that Melbourne’s garden has to offer; luckily it is completely free of entry. Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria hosts wellness experiences, family activities,  art exhibitions, guided walks, and more throughout the year. Or you could simply bring a picnic and soak in your surroundings before hitting the nearby beach or city. 

Innsbruck University Botanical Garden, Innsbruck, Austria

Two hours outside of Salzburg is the small, charming town of Innsbruck. Tucked away in the Austrian alps, Innsbruck is a prime location for year-round sports like hiking, skiing and mountain biking. But plant lovers are also in luck: the University of Innsbruck happens to have a lush park with three gorgeous ‘gram-worthy greenhouses. Each steamy greenhouse houses orchids, ferns, cacti, and more tropical plants. The real stunner is the indoor pond flecked with giant lily pads, surrounded by luxurious palms. The greenhouses are open every Tuesday, Thursday, and first Sunday afternoon of the month and cost just two euros to enter. Wander the rest of the botanical garden for free and explore over thousands of plant species from around the world.

Malahide Castle and Gardens, Dublin, Ireland

A peaceful outdoor retreat can be found thirty minutes outside of Dublin’s city center. Malahide Castle is a popular tourist destination, and daily tours of the medieval home fill up fast. The grounds around the 800 year old castle are equally as impressive: 260 acres are filled with gardens, greenhouses, the Republic of Ireland’s only butterfly house, and a fairy trail that’s perfect for kids. You may run into brightly colored peacocks who call the gardens home, which was originally created to grow vegetables and herbs for the castle kitchen decades ago. The last owner of Malahide Castle was enthusiastic about exotic plants and rare flora, and transformed the kitchen gardens into the existing landscape. Explore a rose garden, Victorian Conservatory, a geometric greenhouse and much more. Malahide also screens movies and hosts concerts, yoga and more events when weather allows. P.S. – their onsite cafe and food market is insanely delicious as well. Tickets for the gardens, butterfly house and fairy trail are 7.50 euro for adults, and are included in the 14 euro guided castle tour ticket. 

Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, Missouri 

Not only one of the oldest botanical gardens in the United States, the Missouri Botanical Garden was also awarded National Historic Landmark status. 79 acres of indoor and outdoor space with more than 20 individual gardens make up this serene space. Historical structures, including founder Henry Shaw’s townhouse built in 1849, make this botanical garden unique. Victorian era architecture – like a  stone cottage from the late 1800’s and a brick greenhouse constructed in 1882 – give a glimpse of the past, while newer builds like the Climatron geodesic dome conservatory are equally impressive. Multiple museums, a maze, koi fish pond and more round out the garden grounds. The Missouri Botanical Garden hosts events throughout the year, including the jaw-dropping nighttime Garden Glow with over one million lights; the only tradeoff being chilly temperatures. The garden is open daily with free admission for kids 12 and under, and $14 for adult visitors. 

Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver, Colorado

It may be relatively small, but it’s substantial. Denver’s botanic garden on York Street, near downtown, is 24 acres of diverse plant life from around the world. Explore Gardens of the West, highlighting greenery that’s native to Colorado, and international gardens with foliage from China to South Africa and beyond. Colorful ornamental gardens with fan-favorite annual blooms, shady low-light gardens and water gardens with aquatic plants make up the rest of Denver’s collection. While Denver may be known for breweries and sports teams, the Mile High city makes outdoor space a priority with over 200 parks: the botanic garden being the most memorable. The York Street gardens are open all year with $12.50 entry fee for adults, with weekly events ranging from sunrise yoga to botanical illustration for an additional fee. There is a second Denver Botanic Gardens location at Chatfield Farms in nearby Littleton on working farm and native plant refuge. 

Advice Europe Guides Insider Tips Trips

Everything You Should See In Rome On Your First Visit

From the windy lanes of Trastevere to the monumental beauty of the Trevi Fountain, there are just some things you can’t miss in the eternal city. Rome simply isn’t Rome without the frescoed ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or the majesty of the Colosseum. 

It’s not easy to come up with a list of everything you should see in Rome on your first visit. The city is bursting with awe-inspiring historical treasures. After studying art history there for a year and living there for several more, I’ve come up with a list of the absolute must-sees for your first time in the Italian capital.

For each of Rome’s amazing famous sights, there’s an equal number of amazing secret spots!

Want to see some hidden corners of Rome on your visit, too? I’ve got you covered!

In the same way that Rome isn’t Rome without the Vatican or the Colosseum, she isn’t herself without carbonara and cacio e pepe, either! Want tips on where to get some of the best food in the city? I’ve got you covered, too!

Are you ready to discover everything you should see on your first visit to Rome? Andiamo!

1. St. Peter’s Basilica

Built over the course of 120 years by some of Italy’s most famous architects, including Bramante, Raphael, and Michelangelo, St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest Catholic church in the world. You can visit the crypts underneath, the church itself, and climb the dome on top.

2. The Vatican Museums

People have been visiting the Vatican Museums since the 16th century, and rightly so. With 54 galleries (called sale in Italian) and thousands of works of art that span the centuries, it’s a true treasure trove for lovers of art and art history. The final sala that visitors pass through is undoubtedly the museum’s most famous: the Sistine Chapel.

Beat The Crowds At The Vatican

There are both early morning and after-hours tours of St. Peter’s and the Vatican Museums! If you want a less crowded visit, go for one of these off-peak tours.

3. Trastevere

After visiting the Vatican, head over to Trastevere, which is on the same side of the Tiber river. Get lost in the narrow streets, take pictures of laundry drying in the sun, and just enjoy one of Rome’s most picturesque neighborhoods. 

Trastevere Food Tip

Trastevere has some great pizza places. Seu Pizza Illuminati, Pizzeria ai Marmi, Dar Poeta, and Ivo a Trastevere are regarded as some of the city’s best pizzerie. Try one to get some of the good stuff!

4. The Colosseum and the Ancient City

The Colosseum is the largest amphitheater that was constructed during the Roman empire. It was commissioned by the emperor Vespasian and opened by his son, Titus, in 80 AD. Famous for gladiatorial matches and animal fights, the Colosseum is the symbol of the eternal city.

A ticket to the Colosseum gets you into the adjacent Palatine Hill. Legend has it that Romulus and Remus, the founders Rome, were raised by a wolf in a cave there, which is the most central of the city’s seven hills. It later became an area inhabited by Rome’s elite, including some of the emperors. You can visit the ruins of many of the remaining structures today, along with the small museum there, and get great views of the Roman forum as well as the Circus Maximus.

The Roman forum was once the hub of the city’s public life, containing a host of temples, basilicas, and other public structures. Visit the forum and then walk down Via dei Fori Imperiali, where you’ll be able to see the fora and markets constructed by different emperors.

Pro Tip For Visiting The Ancient City

Don’t do this part of Rome without a guide! Whether it be a person, a book, or a blog post, the ancient city can be confusing (and can sometimes seem meaningless) if you don’t know what you’re looking at.

Secret Spot In The Ancient City

Ready for a break from the crowds? If you loved the ancient city and want more, head to the Celio hill behind the Colosseum, and visit Le Case Romane del Celio. Twenty rooms decorated with frescoes dating from between the second and fourth centuries unfold beneath the Basilica of Saints John and Paul and culminate in a small gallery displaying objects that were recovered during the excavation of the site. You’ll probably be one of a handful of visitors exploring this underground gem. If you love ancient Rome, don’t miss this secret spot!

5. The Jewish Ghetto 

Located in the city center, the Roman Jewish Ghetto was historically home to one of the oldest Jewish communities in Europe. You can visit the Jewish Museum of Rome in order to gain an understanding of the history of the area, and see the Synagogue, which is thought to be the largest in Italy. Other sights in the area include the Theater of Marcellus and the Bocca della Verità.

The Roman Jewish Ghetto also has some signature foods, like carciofi alla giudia (grilled artichokes) and pizza ebraica, which is actually a sweet!

6. Piazza Navona

Designed by famous Roman artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Piazza Navona is home to one of the city’s most spectacular fountains. Depicting the great rivers of the time, the four figures represent the Nile, the Ganges, the Rio de la Plata, and the Danube. The church of Sant’Agnese in Agone and the Palazzo Pamphilj (which is the current Brazilian embassy) are also both located in Piazza Navona.  

7. Campo de’ Fiori

Campo de’ Fiori was developed around 1456 by Pope Callixtus III. In the morning, the piazza comes alive thanks to its bustling market, and in the evening, it transforms into an evening hot-spot popular with tourists and foreign students. The central statue in the piazza depicts Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake for heresy in 1600.

Secret Spot Near Campo de’ Fiori

Exit the piazza onto via del Pellegrino and turn left at Arco degli Acetari. You’ll end up in a tiny little courtyard that doesn’t have any major sights, but is a great little spot for taking pictures!

Where To Eat Bear Campo de’ Fiori

There are two excellent spots to get pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice) in this area. One is in Campo de’ Fiori itself. In the left corner of the piazza, if you’re facing the same way as Giordano Bruno, there’s a sign that says FORNO, which means oven in Italian. Some say that they have the best pizza bianca in the city. They also offer sandwiches and other baked goods.

Just outside of Campo de’ Fiori at Via dei Chiavari 34 is Roscioli Forno, which has the best pizza margherita al taglio that I’ve ever had. Order a few different slices – last time I was there we sampled the margherita, a slice with mushrooms, one with roasted potatoes, and another thick-crusted one with burrata and pesto that was delicious. 

Neither of these places have seating, so be prepared to munch your slices standing up.

8. The Pantheon

The first Pantheon in Rome was destroyed by a fire in the same year that the Colosseum opened, 80AD. In 118, the emperor Hadrian commissioned a new Pantheon, which is the structure that you can visit today. The Pantheon is considered to be the best-preserved ancient building in Rome and its dome is the largest unsupported dome in the world. Its oculus is 8 meters across, which is about 25 feet. You can visit the tomb of Raphael inside.

Beat The Crowds At The Pantheon

Despite some discussion about charging admission in the last few years, the Pantheon remains free to visit. For this reason, it’s a very popular sight. If you want to beat the crowd, visit when it opens at 8:30 am. 

9. The Trevi Fountain

The Trevi Fountain is the combination of two designs, one by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and one by Nicola Salvi. Completed in 1762, the fountain is an example of Roman baroque architecture. Legend has it that if you throw a coin into the fountain backwards over your left shoulder, you’ll return to Rome someday, if you throw two in, you’ll find a Roman romance, and if you throw in three, you’ll get married!

Beat The Crowds At The Trevi Fountain

Visiting the Trevi Fountain at peak times is pretty miserable, if I’m being honest. I highly recommend heading there while the city is still sleeping – around 7am, if you can. You’ll have a much better experience without the crowds! If you’re not a morning person, head there late at night to have a similar, crowd-free visit. 

10. The Spanish Steps

Named for the Spanish embassy to the Vatican, which is located in the square below, the Spanish Steps are another Roman icon. They were originally built to connect the church above to the piazza. There’s another famous fountain in the square called La Barcaccia, which was designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s father, Pietro. 

A recent law was passed that prohibits sitting on the Spanish Steps, so you’ll have to take your pictures standing up! If you want to beat the crowds, head from the Trevi Fountain straight to the Spanish Steps on your early morning tour. 

Secret Spot Bear The Spanish Steps

Ready for another hidden corner of Rome? Walk down Via Margutta, which is very close to Piazza di Spagna. Made famous from the film Roman Holiday, Via Margutta has been home to a long line of artists and filmmakers and still has several art galleries on it. You can see a tribute to these artists in the form of a bucket of paint brushes atop a little fountain.

11. Monti

There’s nothing particular to see in Monti, but like Trastevere, it’s a great little neighborhood to wander around and get lost in. Located near the Colosseum, Monti is a hip little area full of second hand shops, cute cafés, and chic restaurants. 

12. Testaccio

Known commonly for its nightlife, Testaccio actually has some of the best food in the eternal city. If you want to try Roman street food, head to the Mercato di Testaccio, which is open from 7am to 3pm every day except Sunday. You can do your shopping and eat at the communal tables in the center of the market. Try supplì, carciofi alla guidia, or any of the other delights that look good to you. Looking for a sit-down meal? Book a table at Flavio al Velavevodetto, Felice a Testaccio, or Da Oio a Casa Mia for some traditional Roman fare.

So, there you have your list of everything you need to see in Rome on your first visit! If you’re spending more than just a few days there, don’t be afraid to explore beyond the city center. Rome is a series of layers, and each one you peel back reveals another treasure.

Asia Insider Tips

Exploring Java, Indonesia: Yogyakarta & Borobudur

I embarked on an incredible cultural journey with the Ministry of Tourism, Indonesia and one of my favorite parts of the trip was exploring Yogyakarta & Borobudur. Read on to discover the best things to do and where to stay in these beautiful parts of Indonesia.

How to get there:
Traveling from Jakarta, we hopped on a short flight to Yogyakarta and immediately began our three hour road trip to Magelang, Central with a pit stop at Sekar Kedaton Restaurant which was both delicious and Instagrammable.

Where to Stay: Hotel Plataran Heritage Borobudur
Brand new to the Borobudur area, the charming Plataran Heritage Borobudur is the perfect place to stay if you want to experience a chic and charming colonial style hotel with stunning views of the pool on one side and the Menoreh Hills on the other. The light and airy rooms were the my favorite part of the hotel but the grounds were absolutely stunning as well.


Things to do:

Borobudur
Borobudur, one of the world’s most beautiful and largest Buddhist temples is worth waking up at 3 am for if capturing spectacular photos with beautiful light is important to you. We were escorted to the base of the temple where we were given flashlights and found the ideal spot to capture the colors of the sun. Keep in mind that there will be tons of tourists surrounding you also trying to capturing the moment so I suggest wandering through the temple and finding a peaceful place to reflect after you get your shots. It’s a special place and this is important.

Yogyakarta
Located in the heart of Java, Yogyakarta is home to the fascinating and fun Javanese culture. There was so much life and culture to be found in this city and I absolutely loved it.

Where to Stay: Phoenix Hotel
Approxmitaely 1-2 hours away from Borobudur temple (depending on traffic), The Phoenix Hotel Yogyakarta MGallery by Sofitel is hands down one of the best places to stay in Yogykarta. Beauty is to be found at every corner of this iconic landmark with balconies overlooking the pool and courtyard and a vintage white Mercedes that offers tours around the city.


Things to do:

Dress up in Javenese attire


Travel throughout the city by Becak

Feel like royalty at the Royal Palace

Explore the Taman Sari Water Castle

Learn to make Indonesia’s traditional fabric: Batik at Plentong Batik Village

 

All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only. The owner of this blog makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or found by following any link on this site. I was invited as guest by the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism. As always, all opinions are my own.

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

SaveSave

Asia Guides

Balloons, Bikes, Bagan: A Dame Traveler’s Guide

Bagan, Myanmar, which was closed off to outsiders for over 50 years, recently opened up, luring unassuming visitors from all corners of the earth into its mystical and raw atmosphere. I was lucky to be one of them.

If you’re looking for a peaceful place to do a little self-reflection, savor surprisingly piquant flavors, and bask in entrancing views of a stupa-speckled land, then this is certainly the place to do it.

What to Know Before Going to Bagan
(AKA what I wish I knew before going to Myanmar)

1. Mingalabar (ming-ah-lah-bah) is “hello” and Cezubar (jez-yu-bah) is “thank you”
I apologize for the butchered Romanization, but these two words and a big smile will undeniably come in handy!

2. Locals chew betel nut
Don’t get spooked out when you see blood-like splotches on the ground. That’s just betel nut, a bright red natural CNS stimulant that has similar effects as caffeine or tobacco.

3. Men wear comfy-looking long skirts, called longyi or paso
And they look darn good doing it! I can imagine it minimizes fuss in the morning and maximizes breeze during the sweltering daytime.

4. Women wear a thick white paste on their faces
Thanaka, a paste made from ground bark, has been used for over 2000 years. Aside from aesthetic purposes, thanaka protects from sunburn and removes blemishes.

5. Diners make kissing sounds to get wait staff’s attention
Subtle looks and “excuse me’s” supposedly won’t get you too far when eating at the more local joints. I got by, however, with a polite wave and didn’t try my hand at the lip-smacking noises.

6. Be prepared to go barefoot in the temples/pagodas
Wear sturdy sandals that you can easily slip off before entering each stupa or temple.

7. Dress conservatively
Locals are still fairly conservative in their sartorial preferences. In order to avoid stares and be respectful in temples, I’d recommend steering clear of anything sleeveless or above the knee.

Bagan by Bike

 

Rent an e-bike or a bicycle to tackle all there is to see. Stop whenever anything – whether an oddly shaped stupa, a looming silhouette, a beckoning set of stairs, or a colorful convergence of hot air balloons in the sky – catches your eye.

 

We rode north from our hotel in New Bagan all the way to Old Bagan, then about halfway to Nyaung Oo [Nyaung U]. I love a good climb so whenever we passed a climbable stupa, I monkeyed up.

What surprised me most was that the lack of urgency doesn’t undercut the sense of adventure when exploring Bagan. I took my sweet time at each spot, peering through dark openings and admiring intricate designs, but still felt like I got to see so much.

myanmar-yangon-bagan-ngwesaung-2060666

Ask your hotel for a map (we stayed at Yun Myo Thu Hotel) and bring a headlamp with you to be safe! Once the sun goes down, unlit roads can make it a little tricky to find your way back home. Plus, the headlamps help navigate inside dark and cramped stupa corridors.

Chase the Sun

 

Catch sunset at Oak-gyung-ji near Old Bagan. Just be warned that you’ll have to hunker down and crawl up a few narrow sets of stairs to get to the top of the stupa.

Be sure to get there 30 minutes before sunset to snag a good spot and stay for 30 minutes or so after the sun sets. There’s nothing quite like ending the day with a ruddy, lustrous sun bidding you adieu through the haze.

We found that the most striking moments of sunset occurred after the sun sunk below the horizon (after everyone had already left). Imagine: outstretched clouds resting against kaleidoscopic layers of color; sharp contours of stupas piercing the sky. The stupas in the distance also begin to light up as the sky deepens into purplish glow.

Specific stupas can be tricky to find: maps are not scaled accurately and all stupas start to blend together. Just ask anyone on the road for directions!

myanmar-yangon-bagan-ngwesaung-2060836

Eat at Be Kind to Animals the Moon
This is rated #1 on TripAdvisor for a reason, but be careful: the map on TripAdvisor was wrong when we went. The Old Bagan outdoor restaurant serves up delicious local vegetarian fare reminiscent of Thai, Indian, and Chinese cuisine.

The waiters were all young men, who were quick to initiate banter when they saw that my boyfriend was wearing a Drogba soccer jersey. Our new friend explained that they prohibit photographs because there have been quite a few local spies trying to copy their concept. And I can understand why… the food was top notch:

The strawberry lassi is creamy and refreshing after a long and dusty day of biking. The tea leaf salad is peppery and fresh with just the right amount of crunch. The curries are fragrant and filling.

Ride a Hot Air Balloon During Sunrise

A hot air balloon ride over Bagan may be expensive (around $300 USD), but if you’re willing to splurge, it’ll be an unforgettable experience. The stupas were quite a sight from ground-level, but there’s something so ethereal about floating over the dappled city at the crack of dawn.

myanmar-yangon-bagan-ngwesaung-2060521

We rode with Oriental Ballooning, catching enchanting glimpses of Bagan from every angle as the city below shuffled into consciousness.

 

We glided with the wind for over an hour until we – along with the stupas below us – were thrust into broad golden daylight, signaling the end of our ride, but a start to another glorious day in Bagan.

Save

Save

Save

Top