Kauai, Hawaii

An oasis from the everyday chaos in our urban lives.  Up with the sun, down with the sun. We loved every aspect of our first trip to Kauai (May), so much so that we scheduled another for a few months later (October)! Of course, there is always the beach, surfing, paddleboarding, etc…but below are a few of my highlights from both trips, aside from the standard beach activities:

Type of Trip: Self Planned 

Hotel: St. Regis – GORGEOUS, luxury hotel on the north shore of the island.  They spared nothing in creating this beautiful hotel.  If you don’t stay here, then you must at least come for a sunset cocktail on the balcony – stunning views overlooking the ocean.

Transport: LAX-LIH (non-stop), then rental car at Advantage.  The first time we went, we tried to go cheap on the car and it was a mistake.  We rented at Fox.  Not only was it far off the airport, but it took an hour to leave the lot due to the sales associate trying to upsell us on every insurance policy (even after I had refused multiple times).  Advantage was a much smoother process and an easy return.

Activities:

  1. HIKING: Kauai has some epic hikes, many of which we have explored.  Our favorites (within an hour drive of the resort) were:
    • Nualolo Trail: (7.6 miles round trip) This hike in Waimea Canyon started out pretty rough.  The mud was slippery and you are mostly descending for the first half through covered forest (hence, poor traction led to multiple slips).
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      Nualolo Trail

      If you wait it out, the trail opens up around mile 2.5 and then the extreme dropoffs begin!  It is gorgeous, and slightly frightening.  I have a fear of heights, so I almost couldn’t make it through.  Glad I did though, as the vista is crazy cool. We hiked back the same way. The Nualolo Cliff trail, which connects this hike to the Awaawapuhi Trail is closed due to erosion.  We hope to try the Awaawapuhi trail next trip.

    • Hanakapiai Falls Trail: (6.9 miles RT) This hike shares the first 2 miles with the famous Kalalau Trail (which you need to request a permit far in advance for).  After that, you head uphill to a massive waterfall.  We packed a small lunch, which we ate at the base of the falls.  A must do, especially if you do not have a permit for Kalalau.
    • Sleeping Giant:  (4 miles RT) This was a nice one, if time is an issue.  It was short and steep, with cool rock structures and views from the top.  We have done this one multiple times.
    • Secret Beach: It’s not really a secret…but you should go. Beautiful, expansive beach with huge cliffs behind you.
    • Okolehao Trail: (5+ miles RT) This one was aggressive as we couldn’t seem to locate the end…we hiked past the main vista viewpoint (2.5 miles) and continued into the rope-assisted trail.  It was muddy and didn’t seem to be much traveled.  The vistas leading up to this point were cool though, so next time we will likely stop there.
    • Wai Koa Loop: (5 mile loop) an easy, muddy trek that is all flat. It guides you through the botanical gardens.  Make sure to stop at the Stone Dam.  It’s like a little Garden of Eden.
    • Some other sites I found helpful: Full List and Top Five
  2. ADVENTURES:
    • Koloa Ziplining:  Super fun!  The guides were awesome and the ziplining cords are long and fast.  It cost around $150/each but we felt like it was one of the best activities we have done there.
    • Luau Kalamaku: We ordered discounted tickets HERE for around $95/each, which included dinner and the show.  It was totally touristy, but we enjoyed it.  I thought the food was fine but the show was a neat experience.  Either way, it gave us something different to do on our vacation!
    • Self-driving: We drove around the perimeter of the island to check out Waimea Canyon State Park.  The drive itself wasn’t that pretty but the views once you reach the canyon are indescribable.  It is not that dissimilar from overlooking to Grand Canyon.  fullsizerender-2
  3. RESTAURANTS:
    • Tiki Man Pizza: We really liked this place!  Went on a Saturday night, there was a good crowd and live music.  The pizza was fine, it was more about the atmosphere.
    • The Dolphin: felt overrated.  It was expensive sushi, and the service was slow and disorganized.  Not a favorite.
    • Bar Acuda: cool vibe, tapas.  Was expensive but nothing stood out to us.
    • Kilauea Fish Market: excellent fresh fish and poke!
    • Lighthouse Bistro: this was a favorite.  Romantic vibe but not overly done.  Our waitress made the dinner even better.  She was hilarious and honest about which items to order.
    • Foodland (Grocery): great spot to pick up a few items for hiking lunches, snacks and breakfast in your hotel room.  The sushi and coffee were great as well!
    • 9th Island Sports Pub & Grill: we were looking for a spot to watch the Cubs baseball game and stumbled across this gem.  Great crowd, solid bar food though they don’t have a liquor license.  However, they do let you go to the grocery store next door, buy beer and bring it into the pub at no cost!  Awesome spot to watch sports.
    • Kountry Style Kitchen: fabulous greasy spoon.  Breakfast was big and hearty.
    • Hideaways Pizza Pub: we were looking for a restaurant outside the hotel that we could walk to – this was it.  Despite the reviews, we thought it was just fine.  Lots of families with kids and local residents.
    • Tip Top Cafe: a bizarre favorite, near the Lihue airport.  Typical Hawaiian fare, we stopped here after landing both trips.  Full of locals and inexpensive.  We ordered the “surfer combo” (or something like that).  I still crave the macaroni salad.

Mahalo, Kauai!

 

 

 

 

 

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Kyoto, Japan

Continuing on from my TokyoHakone posts…Day 6 marked our arrival in Kyoto, Japan.  Kyoto, the old capital, is full of religious sites and quaint neighborhoods.

Type of Trip: Self Planned – Part III: Kyoto (4 days, after Tokyo and Hakone)

Hotel: Guesthouse Sanjyotakakura Hibiki – very simple guest house in an AWESOME location (prepay via paypal), booked through Booking.com

Transport: JR Railpass (Odawara to Kyoto on Shinkansen Bullet Train), then taxi to guesthouse

  1. DAY 1: Arrive in Kyoto in mid-afternoon.  Our hotel was simple but the location was fabulous.  Lots of little bakeries, coffee shops and boutiques.  I tend to prefer spending less on hotels during vacations, as we are never in them.  Location is preferable for me.
    • Samurai show and class!  Based on one of my client’s recommendations, we signed up for a show and full-costume lesson at the Kembu Theater.  Worth every penny.  The show was entertaining and showed us a glimpse into traditional samurai culture.  Afterwards, we got to pick our “costume” and learn a simple routine to perform.  The teachers were patient and funny – they took pictures and video with our phones.  Seriously so fun.img_7742
  2. DAY 2: Tour eastern Kyoto by foot – the best way to explore.  The trains are not as accessible, compared to Tokyo, so we ended up taking cabs a lot.
    • Fushimi inari taisha: the famous red gateway of the Shinto (God of rice) shrine.  The torii gates are a beautiful work of art, though I am terrible with crowds and this one was slammed with people.  That made the whole experience rather
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      Torii Gates at the Shinto Shrine

      claustrophobic for me.  My recommendation is to GO EARLY (we went around 11am).  Another observation, the area surrounding these sites offer tons of kimono-rental shops…so you see hundreds of foreigners dressed in traditional kimono dress.

    • Kiyomizu-dera Temple: the views of Kyoto are excellent from this spot (as it is at a higher elevation).  Too many people for my taste though.  Pick your arrival time wisely.
    • Shopping: in this whole area (Higashiyama), there are lots of cute shops selling tea sets, pottery, etc.  We spent a few hours exploring this part of “old Kyoto”.
    • Gion: the Geisha District.  I LOVED this neighborhood.  Lots of wood-paneled facades on the private tea houses, lanterns dimly lit in the evenings, excellent restaurants.  Walk down Shijo Avenue and then alongside the canal that runs parallel.  Go around dusk (6pm-ish) for the best chance to see a Geisha heading into one of her appointments.  We were lucky enough to see one in a taxi!
    • Though we didn’t go out after dinner, we did have a local bartender tell us that Pontecho Street is an excellent place for food and Kiyamachi Street for drinks.
  3. DAY 3: Continued exploring the sites in Western Kyoto.
    • Ryoanji Temple & Zen Gardens: This was a highlight of the trip.  We woke up early so as to arrive to the gardens by 8am, when it opens (we took a taxi).  fullsizerender-3It felt like we had the whole place to ourselves.  Super peaceful and a great place to meditate and reflect.  The landscaping is something to be admired as well!
    • Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion): you can walk here from the gardens above.  Still a great idea to get there early – we arrived around 10:30am and there were tons of school tours.  Still enjoyable with the crowds though.  The pavilion is stunning, especially reflecting on the pond.  We stopped at the tea house here, paid 500 YEN to enjoy traditional matcha tea and a small cake.  fullsizerender-1
    • Arashiyama: the bamboo forest.  This place was super cool and a free tourist activity.  The overhead bamboo made you feel like you were walking through a fairy land.  It was crazy crowded by the time we got there though
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      Bamboo Forest

      (so a lot of sudden stopping when people decided to take a photo).  If you have an additional day, I would suggest doing this first thing that morning.

    • Togetsukyo Bridge: Walk over from the bamboo forest and check this out.  Magnificent views of the mountains and river.
    • Shiatsu massage: we needed massages after all the walking over the past week so we opted for a traditional massage, walking distance from our hotel.  We found this gem: Hiyoshido.  The women at the front were welcoming and the massage was fabulous – 90 minutes for 7,500 YEN (around $70 USD).  We were able to get the massages in the same room, as you wear traditional Japanese pajamas.  Totally worth it – we thought about gong back the next day for the 3 hour option!
    • Dinner: We were hoping to get a traditional kaiseki dinner (belated Thanksgiving celebration) but had trouble finding a restaurant that could accommodate us on the spot on a Friday evening.  We realized that this is because most of the restaurants are very small (sometimes just a bar) and the meal can take a few hours.  I suggest making a reservation in advance (this was the place we wanted to try but needed a reso: KARYO)  We ended up finding a place in Gion, and ordering the expensive chef’s selection.  I didn’t particularly care for the majority of the dishes, but we did try everything (including snails).  They brought out a sushi platter as one point with a lobster head on the plate.  It was still moving, which totally freaked us out.  Totally bizarre experience, but one that I was glad we tried. fullsizerender-4
  4. DAY 4: Depart back to airport
    • Our flight wasn’t until the evening, out of Tokyo…so we spent the morning walking and shopping in our neighborhood.  We bought silk kimono robes that I am pretty sure I live in 24/7 now.
    • Our reserved bullet train from Kyoto Station to Tokyo Station left around noon.  Easy commute to Tokyo Station with views of Mt. Fuji along the way (~2.5 hours).  Once at Tokyo Station, take the local train (5 or 6) to Hamamatsucho, then catch the Haneda Airport train (<1 hour).  The JP Railpass covers these trains too.

That’s it for our trip!  We departed on a morning flight on 11/17 and departed on an evening flight on 11/26.  It was the perfect amount of time to see everything we were hoping.

じゃあね (See ya, Japan!)