[Airline Review] – Thai Airways A380-800 (TG623) – Business Class, KIX-BKK (26 May 18)

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Thai Airways A380-800 in Kansai Airport

On the Ground

Check-in Counters

Thai Airways uses the check-in counters at Row D in Kansai International Airport. The check-in rows are located in the middle of the terminal building. There are 4 queues at the Thai Airways counter. Despite having 4 counters serving Economy Class passengers, the queue seems not to be moving much. There is another queue dedicated to passengers who have completed internet check-in, served by 3 counters, which is quite short. There is 1 queue for Business Class passengers, where the waiting time is rather short as well, thanks to the 3 counters serving passenger travelling in this class. 2 counters are dedicated to passengers travelling in First Class, where the queue is the shortest. First and Business Class passengers are given an invitation to the Thai Airways Lounge and a fast lane pass to clear immigration. However, I do find this pass a tad useless as it only gave access to a separate entrance to the airside. Unlike premium class passengers travelling out of Bangkok Airport, where there is a dedicated immigration counter for premium passengers. Passing through this entrance, premium class passengers are still required to join the queue together with other travellers leaving KIX at the immigration counters.

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Check-in counters for Business Class passengers

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Passengers flying on First and Business Class can use the fast lane to get to the immigration area

Thai Airways departs from the satellite terminal in KIX, which is a short internal train ride from the main terminal. The airlines departed from Gate 11, which is a stone’s throw distance from the Thai Airways Lounge in the satellite terminal. There is a dedicated boarding queue for passengers travelling in Business Class cabin (together with First Class passengers). Business Class passengers were given priority to board before boarding commences for Economy Class passengers.

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First and Business Class entered through another bridge that leads to the upper deck of the A380

Royal Orchid Lounge

Thai Airways has their dedicated lounge in KIX. The Royal Orchid lounge is situated in the satellite building, which is very near to the boarding gate that was used by the airlines. Royal Orchid Lounge in KIX occupies a rather small real estate. There is a section of the lounge for passengers to sit, with a sitting area arranged very close to each other. There is hardly any walking space between 2 separate set of seats. Part of the lounge is dedicated for passengers travelling in First Class Cabin. The food offering in the lounge is very limited. Snacks such as Onigiri, cup noodles, sandwiches and some Japanese snacks are served in the lounge. Coffee and tea, as well as beverages such as soft drinks, wine and beers, are also available in the lounge. It is a shame that the lounge does not face the departure gate where Thai Airways aircraft depart in KIX.

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Business Class passengers are invited to the dedicate Thai Airways Royal Orchid Lounge in KIX

The Aircraft

The Cabin

The entire Business Class cabin onboard Thai Airways A380 is located on the upper deck of the aircraft, spread out in 2 sections with 60 seats in total. The front section is the bigger section, carrying up to 48 passengers while the rear section sits 12 passengers. Business Class cabin onboard Thai Airways A380 is decked in the familiar light purple colour scheme that is used across the entire Thai Airways fleet. The purple exudes a calm and relaxing feel for passengers travelling in this cabin. Lights are tuned to the brightest during boarding. Mood lighting is used during different phases of the 6-hour flight for passengers to adapt to the time of the day. Lightings are turned off after first meal service for passengers to catch up on their rests.

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Thai Airways A380 Business Class cabin during boarding

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Thai Airways Business Class cabin onboard the A380 is decked with a purple colour scheme

The lavatories in the Business Class cabin onboard Thai Airways A380 is of a good size and feels bigger than the Economy Class lavatories. The Business Class lavatory is decked with wooden furnishing from the cabinets to the flooring, giving it a classy and premium feel. The lavatory has more amenities compared to the Economy Class lavatory. On top of the hand soap, cologne and tissue found in Economy Class, hand lotion and handkerchiefs are found in the Business Class lavatory. Thai Airways decorate their Business Class cabins with orchid flowers to give it a more premium feel.

The Seat

Seats in Business Class cabin onboard Thai Airways A380 are arranged in 1-2-1 configuration, giving direct aisle access to all Business Class passengers. As the seats in the Business Class cabin are arranged in a staggered manner and some seats enjoy greater privacy than others. Business Class seats have 71″ pitch and 20″ width that provides ample legroom for its passengers. The Business Class seats onboard the A380 seem bigger than those onboard their newer A350. The seats are capable of converting into a 180° flatbed for passengers who wish to catch up on their sleep. The Business Class seat onboard Thai Airways A380 is very comfortable to sleep on in the bed mode. The seats have 3 main positions that passengers can choose from, the upright position for take-off and landings, the lounge mode which is perfect for watching movies on the IFE, and the flatbed mode for sleeping. Other than these 3 main positions, passengers can move the seats back and forth for greater comfort according to the space they require. All seats have a massage function that provided more comfort during the flight. An ottoman is placed in front of the seat, under the IFE screen where passengers can rest their feet on for more comfort. The inclusion of additional storage space for shoes underneath the ottoman is a nice touch to the Business Class product. Large pillows and quilted blankets, as well as amenities kit for Business Class passengers, are already placed on the seats

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Business Class cabin seats onboard Thai Airways A380 in take-off/landing position

There is a small table on the right side of the Business Class seat onboard Thai Airways A380. Reading materials such as in-flight magazines and menu as well as the aircraft safety card are neatly stored in the seat pocket located above the side table on the right side of the seat (on some seats, the small table and the seat pocket are located to the left side of the seat). Just beside the seat pocket, closer to the seat is where a small reading light is placed for passengers to use. The reading light can be adjusted for different levels of brightness. Opposite the seat pocket, on the bulkhead next to the IFE screen is where the coat hanger and tray table are located. The tray table is quite big and swings up to the bulkhead when stored and can be moved forward for passengers to exit the seat when deployed.

There is some practical storage space in the Business Class seat onboard Thai Airways A380 aircraft. A small bin by the side of the seat just beneath the left armrest, allows passengers to store things like their iPad or a book other than passports and mobile phones. This bin is larger than those found on the newer Thai Airways A350 Business Class seats. The headphone jack is located by the armrest on the right of the seat alongside a power socket located slightly below the headphone jack. Seat control and the IFE controller can be found mounted to the seat bulkhead above the armrest on the right side of the seat. There is an additional storage bin for passengers sitting by the window onboard Thai Airways Business Class cabin.

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Business Class passengers by the window would have an extra bin for storage

In-Flight Entertainment

Thai Airways has a superb in-flight entertainment system that keeps their passengers occupied throughout the fight. Passengers can choose from movies from Hollywood and Thailand as well as sitcoms and radio stations. There is even a menu for young passengers containing movies and TV shows that are targeted to children. One can also be entertained by the games in the IFE system, though I find the games a tad boring. Seats in the Business Class cabin onboard Thai Airways A380 are equipped with a large 15″ touchscreen monitor. The monitor is quite sensitive and the touchscreen function did not lag at all. Alternatively, Business Class passengers can toggle through the IFE menu using the remote control stowed above the armrest in the seat. There are 2 USB outlets located below the IFE TV screen. However, I find watching the TV when the seat is in the flatbed mode to be impossible due to the lighting on the LCD screen. There are also no tilting functions on the IFE screen. I do find the lounging position on the seat is most ideal for catching up movies on the TV screen. All Business Class passengers were issued with noise cancelling headphones, which are very comfortable when wearing and is very effective in blocking out the noise.

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Each Business Class seat has a 15″ touchscreen TV

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Noise cancelling headphones

The Food

Business Class passengers on Thai Airways were well fed throughout the fight. As soon as I boarded the aircraft, after settling into my seat, flight attendants come around serving pre-departure drinks. I always go for “Violet Bliss” (butterfly-pea drink) as the pre-departure drink which is very refreshing and is slightly sweet. As this drink was not on the tray that the flight attendants hold when they come to me, I had to request for this drink which the flight attendants served with a smile. As soon as the seatbelt signs were turned off, flight attendants sprung into action to distribute nuts and another round of drinks, while taking order for the first meal.

For the first meal, I ordered the Japanese cuisine. As this is a medium haul flight, meals were served course by course in the Business Class cabin. The first meal started with a serving of crab salad and smoked duck as the appetiser presented in Thai Airways china. The crab tasted fresh flavourful and the duck was not too tough. There is even a scallop that is served together with the appetiser. Flight attendants come around with a bread basket for passengers to choose from after the appetiser was served. The main course was served after the flight attendants cleared the appetiser. The Japanese Cuisine was served in a silver with purple lining Thai Airways bento container. The bento set contains an assortment of Japanese cold dishes such as cold soba with crab, tamago egg roll with fried salmon, steamed prawn and unagi sushi to name a few. These cold dishes are very fresh and tasty. The meal is served with Japanese rice, miso soup and beef cheek sukiyaki. The beef cheek tasted very tender but I find some parts of the beef to fattening for my liking. But the broth it comes with is very tasty. My friend opted for the pork loin, which presentation wise does not seem appetising but the taste is great and well seasoned. After we are done with the main meal, the flight attendants cleared the table to make way for fruit and cheese as a prelude to the dessert. For dessert, I opted for the Thai milk tea ice-cream which is very refreshing. Tucking into the milk tea ice-cream, I feel as though I am drinking the Thai Ice tea on the streets of Bangkok. Shortly after the flight attendants served the ice-cream, another attendant placed a piece of chocolate on the table. What a nice touch!

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Crab salad and smoked duck together with a choice of bread as served as the appetiser

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I opted for the Japanese Cuisine which comes with Japanese appetiser and beef cheek sukiyaki presented in a Thai Airways Bento container

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My friend opted for the pork loin as the main course

The second meal was served 2 hours before landing. For the afternoon tea set, I opted for scone and latte. The scone tasted fluffy and sweet due to the thin layer of sugar glazed onto the scone. However, the scone only comes with jam and does not come with cream. It would be perfect if it comes with cream.

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I opted for the scone for afternoon tea meal

Service

The service I received onboard this Thai Airways flight on Business Class from KIX to BKK is impeccable. The excellent service started at the check-in counter, where the ground staff representing Thai Airways was very patient with my questions and helped us settled our luggage during check-in. The staff also gave very detailed directions on where the fast lane is and where the lounge is located when our boarding pass is handed over to us. The service in the lounge is very good as well. As soon as we walked into the lounge, we were made to feel welcome with smiles and cheerful greetings. The staff manning the lounge area ensured that the food is replenished on time and tables are cleared promptly. There is this instance that I wanted to get hot water for the instant noodles and informed one of the staff at the lounge that the hot water had run out, the staff immediately apologise (though I think she does not have to do that) and promptly swap out another flask with hot water. She even volunteered to prepare the noodles for me and had it delivered to my table.

The service onboard is immaculate and is the best service I have received so far flying Thai Airways. The excellent service started when friendly flight attendants received passengers at the door with the Thai Wai and showing us to our seats. While at our seat, the flight attendant introduced some features of the seat and also where we get find copies of the menu. Despite the drink that I wanted was not on the tray, the flight attendant hastened to get my drink and served with a smile. This is my first time seeing flight attendants going around the cabin introducing themselves to the area of passengers they are serving. During meal service, flight attendants gracefully laid the table and presented the meal of our choice. They seem to be very observant and promptly cleared the plates after we are done with our meal without us having to ask them to do so. The service onboard is very prompt with meals and drinks served in an efficient manner and with grace and smiles throughout. The flight attendant also asked if we are full and wanted more food. Flight attendants are seen patrolling the cabin frequently throughout the flight. They are also seen wearing their smiles all the time throughout the duration of the flight. I was pleasantly surprised when the flight attendant went around distributing free wifi access cards, which is a very nice touch in Business Class cabin.

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Flight attendants went around introducing themselves and greeting passengers with the Thai Wai

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Flight attendants during meal service

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Flight attendants patrolling the cabin

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Thai Airways gave each Business Class passengers complimentary wifi access card

Afterthought

Thai Airways A380 Business Class product is excellent. The Business Class cabin exudes a sense of calm and classiness with the purple hues used in the decor of the cabin. The seats are comfortable and the legroom is excellent. I felt the space in Business Class seat onboard A380 is bigger than that in their newer A350 aircraft, as I did not have to struggle to get in and out of my seat with the tray table deployed. The design of the Business Class seats in A380 is very well thought out, there are storage spaces in the seat for small items and the depth is just right. The IFE system kept me entertained throughout the flight, though my only complaint is that the screen is not viewable when the seat is in flatbed mode. The food served onboard is very flavourful and tasty. Meals are served course by course, making me feel as though I am dining in a restaurant. The best impression of flying Thai Airways Business Class is the service. The flight attendants took pride in their work and ensured all passengers are well taken care of during the flight time. They are seen wearing their smiles all the time and are very prompt to respond to passengers’ requests. Flying with this excellent set of crew onboard Thai Airways, I felt welcomed and the warmth that the Thais are renowned for. Overall, this experience flying with Thai Airways onboard their A380 Business Class cabin is a very pleasant experience.

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Thai Airways A380 flying through the clouds

[Airline Review] – Thai Airways A380-800 (TG622) – Economy Class, BKK-KIX (17 May 18)

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Thai Airways A380 in BKK

At The Airport

The previous flight arrived at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport on time and was parked on the tarmac. Instead of entering the airport terminal from the aerobridge, we were brought to the terminal by the airport bus. It seems that Thai Airways only catered 1 bus to transfer a full load of passengers to the terminal, as such instead of having 1½ hour transit time, I only had 20 mins to rush to the next departing gate. Suvarnabhumi Airport is quite big which means I had to run to the boarding gate. By the time I reached the gate, it is about to close.

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Thai Airways A380-800 departs from Gate E4

The Aircraft

The Cabin

The seats in Economy Class Cabin onboard Thai Airways A380 is decked with the familiar vibrant colourful seats with hues of purple, orange and yellow. This colour scheme makes the cabin look cheerful and certainly brightens the mood of holidaymakers. There are a total of 435 seats in the Economy Class Cabin. The main bulk of the Economy Class Cabin onboard Thai Airways A380 occupies the lower deck of the aircraft, with 361 seats split into 3 sections spreading across the entire lower deck. There are 74 seats at the rear of the upper deck, just behind the Business Class seats. The Economy Class seats are reserved for higher paying travellers in this class, passengers travelling on promotional prices are not able to select these upper deck seats until the internet check-in opens up (which is 24 hours prior to departure). As the seats on the upper deck are full at the time I checked-in online, I was only able to get the seats on the lower deck.

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A very vibrant colour scheme in the Economy Class Cabin onboard Thai Airways A380

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The rear Economy Class section on board Thai Airways A380

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Thai Airways A380 Economy Class cabin

There are numerous lavatories spread across the entire lower deck. The lavatories are rather small compared to some other airlines such as Singapore Airlines. However, they sufficiently serve the purpose they are meant for. The lavatories are decked out in white colour, with the signature Thai Airways light purple coloured on the cabinets below the sink. The clever use of white lights makes the lavatory looked clean and bright and does not give one a claustrophobic feel. As with most Thai Airways aircraft, the tap is sensor activated which makes it both convenient and hygienic for passengers. The amenities in the lavatory is limited to hand soap and cologne on top of the tissues and paper cups. Passengers flying on red-eye flights (as with this flight I flew on) have to bring their own toothbrush and toothpaste to freshen up. Unlike some other airlines, Thai Airways do not distribute amenities pack for overnight flights.

The Seat

The seats in the Economy Class Cabin onboard Thai Airways A380 is very comfortable. Each seat has a 32″ pitch and 18″ width. The legroom on these seats are very good, I had ample legroom in the Economy Class seat that enabled me to snooze throughout the flight. The Economy Class seats onboard Thai Airways A380 are arranged in a 4-3-4 configuration on the lower deck, and 2-4-2 on the upper deck. I like the design of the tray tables on the newer Thai Airways aircraft, which features a bi-fold design that is capable of folding away half of the tray table when passengers do not need to use the full table. This allows passengers sitting in the inner seats to gain access to the aisle without the need to put away the table. There is a leg rest on each seat in the Economy Class, however, I do find these leg rests to be a tad too uncomfortable when resting my foot on them. The headphone jack and the seat recline button on these seats are found on the left armrest. Seats can be reclined sufficiently that provided me with a comfortable rest on this red-eye flight. Each Economy Class seat onboard Thai Airways A380 comes with a USB outlet that serves as a charging port located on the bottom left side of the TV screen, and a hook on the bottom right side of the screen. The seat pockets, where in-flight magazines are provided in each seat as well as the aircraft safety card, are rather deep (and capable of storing my camera). I like the idea of including a small seat pocket in front of the main seat pocket which I used to put my mobile phone in.

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Thai Airways A380 Economy Class seat

In-Flight Entertainment

Thai Airways has a very good in-flight entertainment system. All Economy Class seats onboard the A380 comes with a 10.6″ touchscreen TV which can be tilted to suit the sitting position and the degree of reclined on these seats. The touchscreen function is very responsive and does not seem to lag when I used it. The In-flight entertainment system can also be controlled via the remote controller located at the bottom of the TV screen. At the time of boarding, headphones are already placed on each seat, though these headphones are not noise cancelling. The in-flight entertainment system is loaded with movies ranging from the latest Hollywood Blockbuster to Thai movies and short TV series that kept me entertained when I was not sleeping on the flight. The entertainment system is arranged in an intuitive manner that makes scrolling through and looking for a movie to watch easy. There are games that are loaded in the in-flight entertainment system, though I find these games to be a tad boring.

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In-Flight Entertainment Unit in the Economy Class cabin onboard Thai Airways A380

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The IFE Controller is found below the AVOD screen

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Headphone used in Economy Class Cabin onboard Thai Airways A380

The Food

2 meals are served on this flight from Bangkok to Kansai. As soon as the seat belt signs are turned off, flight attendants disappear into the galley. Moments later, they were seen going around the cabin distributing a bag with the print “Any Time Treats”. This bag contains a ham and cheese sandwich and a bottle of water. I thought to distribute this bag of treats a very nice gesture on the part of Thai Airways. By doing so, passengers have ensured an undisturbed sleep on this red-eye flight and at the same time, allowing passengers to have something to eat when they wake up or whenever they choose to consume the sandwich. On top of the bag of sandwich, flight attendants were also seen going around the cabin serving drinks to passengers. Flight attendants were also seen patrolling the cabin in the night serving passengers who are not asleep drinks.

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A snack pack was distributed to all passengers in Economy Class cabin

About 2 hours before landing, the Economy Class cabin lights were turned on for breakfast service. For breakfast, I opted for the pork with rice that comes with fruit salad, yoghurt and a cup of orange juice. Croissants are also distributed with the breakfast. The flight attendant gladly gave me 2 croissants upon my request. Shortly after the meal service, flight attendants went around the cabin distributing drinks and coffee and tea followed the drinks service. The pork I opted for is very tasty, and flavourful especially the gravy it is soaked in.

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Breakfast in Economy Class onboard Thai Airways A380

Service

Service is excellent onboard Thai Airways A380 Economy Class cabin. The service started as soon as I stepped onboard the aircraft to be welcomed by the flight attendants with the traditional Thai hand gesture. Flight attendants were placed throughout the cabin during boarding guiding passengers to their seats. The flight attendants sprung into action as soon as the seatbelt signs were turned off to prepare for meals. The flight attendants were efficient in preparing the meal and in their meal service and which ensured that passengers get their food without having to wait too long. Service is always presented with a smile, that made flying with Thai Airways enjoyable. Flight attendants were seen patrolling the cabin constantly to answer to requests from passengers and to clear away trash. Meal trays were collected efficiently after passengers had their meals and flight attendants would return to passengers to check if they would like any drinks. Throughout the flight time, I was made to feel well-taken care off by the flight attendants.

Afterthought

This is my first time flying A380, the aircraft is very comfortable in the Economy Class. Legroom was fantastic and I did not feel cramp in my seat. The seat is comfortable and I had a good rest on this red-eye flight. The IFE onboard is very well organised, making scrolling through to select movies very easy. The IFE is well stocked with movies and games that kept me entertained when I was not sleeping. Service is very good onboard with flight attendants displaying the warm hospitality that the Thais are renowned for. Meals are very delicious and flavourful and the pork does not taste dry. I like the idea of giving out “Any Time Treats”, which ensured that passengers do not feel hungry despite in the middle of the night. I had an enjoyable time flying on Thai Airways A380 in the Economy Class cabin from Bangkok to Kansai.

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Flying over the Sea of Japan

[Airline Review] – Thai Airways A350-900 (TG410) – Economy Class, SIN-BKK (17 May 18)

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Thai Airways A350-900 that flew us from SIN to BKK

At the Airport

Thai Airways departs from Terminal 1 in Singapore Changi Airport. Their check-in counters are located on Row 5, located in the middle of the terminal. As with most airlines, Thai Airways offer internet check-in, which I highly recommend travellers to complete before heading to the airport. Not only will one be able to select the seats that one wants, it also cut short the time that one will stand in the queue. There is hardly a queue at the internet check-in counters, which I only spent 3 mins waiting for my turn. The “regular” check-in counter has a significantly longer queue. The ground staff handling our check-in is very friendly and efficient. Within mere minutes, our luggage is sitting on the conveyor belt heading for the aircraft. The staff also reminded us of the boarding timing and the gate number when she hands our boarding pass to us.

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Thai Airways Check-in Counters are located in Singapore Airport Terminal 1

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There is a counter dedicated for passengers who have done their check-in via internet

Thai Airways departs at gate C24, which is towards the end of the pier. As Singapore-Bangkok flight is always full, do go to the gate early for a secondary security check. By the time we arrived at the gate, most of the passengers have completed their secondary security checks and are waiting in the waiting area. Other than boarding by rows and class, Thai Airways also gave priority boarding for passengers travelling with elderly and children.

The Aircraft

The Cabin

Thai Airways flew this Singapore-Bangkok leg with their newest additions of the A350-900 fleet. The 289 seats Economy Class cabin is segregated into 2 sections, with the forward section accommodating 159 passengers and the rear section having 150 seats. The colour scheme of the seats in the Economy Class cabin on Thai Airways A350 has departed from the usual bright tones and is decked out in various earthy tones of brown with the familiar purple. Thai Airways A350 is equipped with mood lighting which the pilot will toggle depending on the time of the flight.

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Thai Airways A350 Economy Class cabin

The Economy Class lavatory is rather sizable and looks clean thanks to the white colour furnishings and lighting. The wooden finishing on the cabinets adds a classy touch to the lavatory. The lavatory is well stocked with tissue and paper cups, however other than hand soap and perfume, there are no other amenities available. I like the sensor activated tap in the lavatory, which is both convenient and hygienic.

The Seat

Seats in Economy Class cabin on Thai Airways A350 are arranged in 3-3-3 configuration in 2 sections. Each seat has a 32″ pitch and measures 18″ wide. They are comfortable and the legroom is rather generous. At the time of boarding, pillows and headsets are already placed on each seat, however, the blankets are distributed prior to, taking off. As with most Economy Class seats, the tray tables are stowed at the back of the seat in front. These tray tables are bi-folded, which makes getting in and out pretty easy. The seat recline button is found on the right armrest. Each seat comes with a leg rest, which can be cumbersome for passengers who wanted to stow their hand carry underneath the seat in front of them. I tried using the leg rest but found they make sitting on the Economy Class seats to be uncomfortable. The seat pocket onboard Thai Airways A350 has only a single tier, which is rather small. With the seat pocket contents, there is hardly any excess room to put anything else other than passport and mobile phone. There is no lack of reading materials found in the seat pocket, other than the usual duty-free catalogue, there is also another catalogue – the OTOP Prestige shopping catalogue found in the seat pocket. The Thai Airways signature travel magazine – Sawasdee is also found in the seat pocket.

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Thai Airways A350 Economy Class Cabin seats
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Blankets are distributed once all passengers are seated prior to taking off

In-Flight Entertainment

Each Economy Class seat on board the Thai Airways A350 comes with a personal AVOD, which passengers can start watching movies or playing games the moment they board the aircraft. The system remains available throughout the flight till the passengers disembark. The 11″ touch-screen AVOD has a wide selection of movies, including the latest Hollywood blockbuster and Thai Movies, arranged in initiative menus that makes searching very easy. Other than movies, Thai Airways IFE comes packed with games, travel documentaries and popular American sitcoms. I also found the menu in the IFE. I find the touchscreen function to be rather responsive after all the A350-900 is still very new to the Thai Airways Fleet. Headsets are not noise-cancelling but do the job of delivering good sound quality to passengers. The IFE controller is stored under the AVOD screen. This new generation minimalist controller is easy to use and very responsive.

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IFE system and controller

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11″ AVOD touchscreen on board Thai Airways A350 Economy Class Cabin

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Headsets are already made available in the seat when I boarded the aircraft

The Food

Catering onboard Thai Airways is very good. For this flight, we were offered fish with rice and chicken with fried rice. I had the fish meal, which is very flavourful and tasty. The portion of the main meal is just nice, which filled my stomach. I like the idea of including a small bottle of water with each meal when distributed, which keeps each passenger hydrated. Each Economy Class meal comes with the standard corn salad and a cake together with a bun on top of the main course. Drinks such as cola, beer and wines are also served by another set of the pursuers after the meal carts went around serving the meals. Pursuers are seen patrolling the cabin with coffee and tea shortly after the drinks service.

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I had the fish with rice option

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My friend had the chicken with fried rice

Service

I found the service in the Economy Class onboard Thai Airways A350 to be very good, which is much better than the service I received onboard the same type of aircraft in Business Class one year ago (read about it here). The moment I stepped onto the aircraft, I can feel the renowned Thai hospitality. All the attendants are always seen wearing their smile and tirelessly serving the full load Economy Class cabin. The meal service is very efficient and pursuers sprung into action the moment the seat belt signs are turned off, ensuring that all passengers are well-fed during the short 2-hour to Bangkok. Pursuers are also seen patrolling the cabin to clear trays and trash as well as to offer drinks throughout the flight.

Afterthought

Thai Airways A350-900 Economy Class cabin has a good product. The seats are comfortable and the legroom feels generous for Economy Class. However, the single tier seat pocket and the somewhat “useless” leg rest are the minus points for this product. The toilet is bright and clean and is of a decent size for Economy Class cabins, the use of wood furnishing makes it looks classy and feels like those ones would find in Business Class cabin. The IFE is well stocked with entertainment options that made flying on this 2-hour flight zoomed pass fairly quickly. The service onboard this flight is very good. From boarding to meal service to disembarking, the flight attendants displayed the signature Thai hospitality despite being a full flight. Meal service was executed efficiently with the warmness of the Thai smile.

[Accommodation Review] – Airbnb – Mitz’s Apartment (1-Bedroom Apartment), Osaka, Japan (19 – 26 May 18)

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Facade of Mitz Apartment

When I was planning for my trip to Osaka, I wanted an apartment that has a separate bedroom from the living room which provides space for me to throw my shopping and have sufficient space to do the packing on the night before I depart Osaka. The apartment has to be near to Namba area as this is where I will be taking the train to Kansai International Airport on the day of my departure. Numerous listings on Airbnb around Namba area, but these listings are studio apartments and are very small. I found Mitz’s apartment on Airbnb that fits all my requirements. The price is very reasonable for the location and size of the apartment.

Location

Mitz’s apartment is very well located. It is within 5 mins walk from the nearest subway station, Nippombashi Station, which is 1 stop away from Namba Station. It is also with 3 mins walk from Kuromon Ichiba Market (commonly known as Black Market). There are 2 convenient stores within 2 mins walk from Mitz’s apartment. The apartment is also within 7 mins walk to Dotonbori. Link to Mitz’s apartment can be found here: Mitz’s Apartment Listing on Airbnb.

The Apartment

Porch

The first thing that I come across as we entered the apartment is a small porch where I take off our shoes. It is customary that one takes off one’s shoes before entering any Japanese house. A small cabinet by the wall is where we found in-room slippers and where I can store my shoes as well. There is another cabinet where umbrellas are stored beside the shoe cabinet.

Bathroom

A little further from the porch are the bathroom and the toilet. The toilet is a separate room on the left of the corridor. The toilet is equipped with a wash bidet and has a sink on top of it that saves water. The bathroom is located opposite the toilet, on the right side of the corridor from the porch. The dry area of the bathroom comprises a sink, which Mitz placed a cabinet on top of the sink to create more storage space. Next to the sink is a washing machine. The wet area has a shower head and a bathtub. The bathroom in Mitz’s apartment looked modern and clean. As with most Japanese Bathrooms, Mitz’s bathroom has a heating function which can dry the bathroom in no time.

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Toilet

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Dry Area of the Bathroom

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Wet Area of the Bathroom

Bedroom

Mitz’s apartment has a separate bedroom, which is rare for housing in Osaka at this price point. The bedroom is just next to the toilet. The bedroom is rather small in size, Mitz has placed 2 king size bed in the bedroom, leaving it hardly any space to move around. However, there are 2 doors, one by the kitchen and another by the living room, which makes the bedroom rather accessible. There is a cabinet inside the bedroom, but this cabinet is not usable as the owner has used this as a storage space. The sleep quality on the beds is excellent. I had a great night sleep every night every night. The pillows are not too soft for my liking.

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The bedroom that has 2 king size beds

Kitchen

Further down the corridor from the main entrance to the apartment, opposite the bedroom lies the kitchen. The kitchen is small but is well equipped with stove and a fridge. Mitz has readied some coffee and tea as well as some condiments that we could use.  The kitchen is well stocked with utensils and pots and pans which allows one to cook some simple meal. There are a microwave oven and an electric kettle in the kitchen that we used to make hot water every day.

 

Living Room

Mitz’s apartment has a separate living room, which is fantastic for us to put our shopping and pack on the last day. The living has an L-shaped couch that is capable of sitting up to 5 adults comfortably. There is a sizable coffee table in front of the couch which is very useful in putting out stuff onto. There are also 2 power sockets by the wall near the coffee table, which is perfect to charge our lifestyle devices. As the wardrobe in the bedroom was not usable, we used the living room to store our luggage.

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Living room in Mitz’s apartment

Dining Room

The dining room in Mitz’s apartment is in front of the kitchen and beside the living room. There is a dining table good for 4 pax with 4 chairs placed at the dining table. Mitz is very thoughtful as he has placed a box of tissue as well as a box of wet tissues on the dining table. There is a full-length mirror placed by the wall next to the dining table. A TV is placed at the corner of the dining table, which is visible from the dining table as well as the couch in the living room area. A clothing rack is placed at the other corner of the dining room next to the kitchen.

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Dining Room where the TV is placed

Balcony

There is a balcony in Mitz’s apartment where a small table and 2 chairs are placed. This is an area where we can chill out and take in the sights of this area of Osaka City. There are some clothing racks in the balcony where one can hang their clothes to dry.

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Balcony

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View from the Balcony

The Owner – Mitz

Mitz is a wonderful host. He is very responsive when communicating via the Airbnb app and he always responds to my questions within 1 hour of posting. Mitz is very accommodating towards our timing of checking in. We originally agreed to check in at 6pm, however, due to our travels, I arrived at Mitz apartment at 8pm. Mitz is very patient in waiting for my arrival at his apartment. Mitz is also very helpful in offering suggestions on where I can visit in Osaka as well as the amenities in the vicinity of his apartment during our conversation with him when checking into his apartment. Mitz even left a message on Airbnb app asking how was I doing in Osaka and if there is anything he can help to make our stay comfortable.

Overall

Mitz’s apartment is very well appointed. The location is superb, it is within 3 mins walk to the Black Market, and 5 mins walk to the subway station as well as 10 mins walk to Dotonbori. The apartment is very large for Japanese standards, I particularly like the separated bedroom from the living room, which gave me a lot of space. The bathroom is very modern. Mitz’s apartment is a very value for money for its location and the size. We are very comfortable staying in Mitz’s apartment. Highly recommend for anyone coming to Osaka. Link to Mitz’s apartment can be found here: Mitz’s Apartment Listing on Airbnb.

 

[Accommodation Review] – Ryokan Arima Gyoen (Japanese Room), Kansai, Japan (18 – 19 May 18)

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Hotel Signage

Location

Ryokan Arima Gyoen is located in the centre of Arima-onsen town. It is very convenient in visiting the town and the sights around the town. Ryokan Arima Gyoen is right next to the Taikobashi where the river stream park is located. The hotel is located within 2 mins walk from the bus terminal and the bus stop where we took a bus to Shin-Kobe. The train station is also located around 4 mins walk from the hotel. There are shops around the hotel and the only 7-Eleven shop in Arima-onsen is located right across the hotel. The hotel’s location makes it an ideal spot for exploring Arima-onsen town.

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Ryokan Arima Gyeon is located beside Taikobashi, one of the landmarks in Arima-onsen

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Hotel facade next to Taikobashi

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Ryokan Arima Gyeon entrance

The Room

We booked a night’s stay in the Japanese Style room, which comes with breakfast and dinner. Ryokan Arima Gyeon is a modern Ryokan style hotel.

Porch

Entering the room, we were greeted with the front porch, where we took off our shoes. It is customary for guests to take their shoes off when entering a Japanese style room in the hotel. This area is small but functional. There is a shoe rack tucked by the wall, where the staff helped us placed our shoes inside. We wore the slippers that the hotel provides while going to the Onsen in the hotel. The futon closet is found in this part of the room, where such as the futons and blankets are stored in. As with Japanese style rooms, staffs will come into the room and lay the beddings in the evening.

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Porch and entrance to the room

Bathroom

A little further from the porch is where the bathroom is located. The bathroom is rather small, as with most Japanese Hotel standards. Despite its small size, the bathroom is equipped with a bathtub, a sink and a toilet bowl. The standard amenities such as shampoo, conditioner, body wash and hand soap are placed neatly on the sink countertop. However, no toothbrushes are being provided. There is a rack for hanging towels outside the bathroom.

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The bathroom is a tad small but functional

Sleeping Area

A wooden sliding door separates the porch from the sleeping area. The main part of the room doubles up as a lounge area in the day and a sleeping area in the night. To the left from the sliding door, a small table top where the TV and phone are being placed on. There is a 2-panel cabinet at the bottom of this table top. This area is where the hot flask is also located. I find the placement of the TV here a tad off as we were not able to watch the TV when the futons are being laid on the tatami mats. Tucked by the wall along the length of the room until the balcony area is the tokonoma or an alcove where a vase and a painting is placed on to. Between the TV console and the tokonoma is a small area which has sufficient space for us to stow our luggage. As it was still daytime at the time of our checking in, there is 2 knee height coffee table placed in the centre of the sleeping area. 2 legless chairs are being placed on either side of the tables. There are the tea set and snacks placed on this table at the time of our arrival. The sleep quality on the futons is superb. We were able to get a good night sleep on these futons. The pillows are not too soft for my liking.

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The lounging cum sleeping area

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TV console

Balcony

Furthest away from the entrance to the room is a small area. There is another wooden sliding door that separates this area from the sleeping area. Here is where we find a small bar fridge and a couple of armchairs, together with a small coffee table. The closet in the room is also placed here, where we found yukatas as well as the towels. A safe box is hidden inside this closet. A glass door separates this lounge area from the balcony.

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The balcony area

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The fridge is located in the balcony area

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The wardrobe is located in the balcony area and is a tad small

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View of Arima-onsen from the balcony

The Onsen

Ryokan Arima Gyoen has its own onsen, though not very big. Located on the 7th floor, the onsen is in the main building. The onsen is separated by sex and has a small Kinsen and a large Ginsen in the enclosed space. There is an outdoor Ginsen next to the changing room. The changing room has amenities such as body lotion, shavers, combs and cotton buds.

Dining

Dinner

The plan we booked came with dinner and breakfast. The Japanese dinner was served in our room where the staff would show up at the arranged time to set up for dinner. The dinner consists of multiple courses that included sashimi, hot pot and rice to name a few. The dinner was delicious and the sashimi tasted very fresh. From time to time, the hotel staff would come into our room to clear the empty plates and served up the next dish. We were very full after having the dinner.

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Dinner being set up

Breakfast

Breakfast was served in the dining rooms in the annexe building. The breakfast served was Japanese style where we were given rice with fish to grill on amongst other food. I am not very used to the Japanese style breakfast, despite they are delicious.

Service

The service in the hotel is superb. We experienced Japanese hospitality throughout our stay in the hotel. Staffs welcomed us the moment we step into the hotel. The hotel has strict check-in timing hence we were not able to check-in early. However, the staff was happy to look after our luggage while we explored Arima-onsen. The staffs were always wearing their smiles whenever we walk past them or approach them. When we returned later in the afternoon to get our keys, we were surprised that our luggage has already been placed in our room. The staffs were very attentive and would somehow know when to appear, especially during meal time. During dinner, the staff would appear on the dot as we were finishing up our meal and present the next course. After the meal, the staff promptly moved everything to one side and set up the futons in under 10 mins. During breakfast, the staff would sit by the side after bringing us to our table and noticed that our rice bowls were empty and offered to top up the rice without us even asking. Even the cleaning staff in the public area smile and greeted us whenever we bumped into them. The staff at the lobby even gave us sound advice on what to see in Arima-onsen and were never stingy in offering information.

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A staff of the hotel set up for dinner

Overall

Ryokan Arima Gyoen is located in the centre of town and is a good base to explore Arima-onsen. The room is very well laid out and the sleep quality is very good on the futons. The service we had received at the hotel is nothing short of excellence, every staff in the hotel made us feel welcome. I would come back here to stay the next time I visit Arima-onsen.

Kansai (Kyoto/Osaka) Day 8 (25 May 18) – Shopping In Namba Area and Night View of Osaka City from Umeda Sky Tower

 

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Namba Shopping District

Our shopping day today lands us at Namba area. At the time we arrived at Namba area, most of the shops are still closed. Shops in Namba area opens at 10am. As we still have time, my friend and I went over to the Nankai Train Station to attempt to redeem our train tickets to Kansai International Airport for tomorrow when we depart Kansai. We had previously purchased the tickets online. However, at the station, we were told to head over to OCAT Building to redeem the vouchers and come back here for the tickets. Since the shops are still not opened yet, we headed to OCAT Building which took us about 10 mins walk from Nankai Train Station. After redeeming the vouchers, we headed back to Nankai Train Station and sorted out the tickets. I told my friend we were lucky that we had decided to settle our train tickets on today rather than on the day of our departure, as it would be too rush to have to sort out the tickets the next day. On the hindsight, we should not have ordered the tickets online and should have purchased the tickets at the train station instead, this will save us the time walking back and forth.

Other than the Takashimaya Department store above Namba subway station, I find shopping in Namba a tad confusing. The shops seem to be arranged overall the place, feels very different from Osaka Station (might be due to the fact that we were rather familiar with the shopping in Osaka Station, after all, we have been passing through there since day 1 of our arrival in Kansai). Unlike most departmental stores, which has only at most 2 levels dedicated to men’s section, Takashimaya in Namba has men’s section in every floor, occupying a corner of each floor. Walking through Takashimaya seem no different from the other departmental stores we have visited. We left Takashimaya and headed to Carnival Mall. Carnival Mall does not have departmental stores, it is like HEP5 Shopping Mall we visited the day before. There are independent stores in Carnival Mall. Most of the men’s stores are located on the top 2 floors of Carnival Mall.

Shinsaibashi Shopping Street

After we were done with Carnival Mall, we headed for Shinsaibashi Shopping Street. We originally wanted to take a subway from Namba to Shinsaibashi but upon seeing a shopping street across from Takashimaya Departmental store, we decided to check it out. Ebisubashi-Suji is where we ended up. Ebisubashi-Suji is a covered shopping street with shops on both sides of the street. Most of these shops are pharmacies. There seem to be a pharmacy on every street and spaced out every few shops. Most of the products offerings are about the same, some shops do not offer tax refund here.

As we were walking, suddenly the place seems familiar. We ended up in Dotonbori without us realising. That is the food street that we have been coming for the past few days. As we were a little hungry, my friend and I got the takoyaki balls that was sold out shortly after we gotten ours a few nights ago. From Dontonbori, I told my friend we do not have to take the subway after all Shinsaibashi Shopping Street is just right across the bridge.

We got to Shinsaibashi after eating our takoyaki balls. Shinsaibashi is another cover shopping street that seems no different from Ebisubashi-Suji. There are the same pharmacies that seem to be everywhere and shops selling sports shoes. The price of the goods is not any different from Ebisubashi-Suji. My friend has gotten a pair of shoes and we had gotten backpacks from the Adidas shop. After some walking, we thought the shops are getting repetitive and decided to head back to our accommodation to leave our stuff before heading out for dinner. My friend had to collect the pants that he bought the day before near Osaka Station.

Umeda Sky Building

After collecting my friend’s pants, we headed for dinner. We ended our trip to Kansai, Japan by visiting the Umeda Sky Building. Umeda Sky Building is a 10 mins walk from the nearest Osaka Station. It is pretty out of the way compared to the rest of the attraction. Umeda Sky Building Observatory is also covered under the 2-Day Osaka Amazing Pass. Most visitors come here for the sunset over Osaka City and that is also the time when it is most crowded. The journey observation deck is one of the highlights when visiting the tower. The iconic floating escalator that connects the 2 building towers had us feel as though we were floating in the sky. The observation has 2 levels, the lower level is the enclosed area where we had a 360º view of Osaka city. However, the view from the upper open observation deck is more stunning. From the upper deck, we had an almost unobstructed view of the city. The view here is much better than that from the HEP5 Ferries Wheel. As it was at night at the time we arrived, the upper level is illuminated with ultraviolet lights. These lightings have the floor illuminated looking like stars in the sky. It is windy here and from here we could see the floating escalator that we have travelled on. Looking out into Osaka City, this is a great way to end our trip to Kansai. Ironically our trip to Hokkaido last year also ended up with a night view of Sapporo. We headed back to our accommodation to pack our luggage for tomorrow’s flight home. After visiting 2 Japanese Cities 2 years in a row, we are unlikely to return to Japan until some time later. It is off to explore other countries and other cities in the world.

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Panoramic shot of Osaka at night from Umeda Sky Building

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Our last wefie in Osaka

Kansai (Kyoto/Osaka) Day 7 (24 May 18) – Creating Instant Noodles and Shopping Around Osaka Station

 

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View of Osaka City from HEP5 Ferries Wheel

We spent the last 2 days of our Kansai trip in Osaka. Unlike my previous trips where I did not cater time for shopping, we dedicated 2 days to shop around in Osaka. There are 2 main shopping areas in Osaka, 1 at Osaka Station and another at Namba area. Today we shopped around in Osaka Station Area.

Cup Noodles Museum

Our first stop today is the Cup Noodles Museum. There are 2 Cup Noodles Museum in Japan, one of which is located in Osaka. To get to the museum, we took the train to Ikeda station (this station is not covered under the 2 day Osaka Amazing Pass) and walked for about 5 mins. The Cup Noodle Museum is relatively empty at the time of our visit. Entrance to the museum is free. Once inside the museum, there are exhibits on the origins of cup noodles and cup noodles were prepared and sold in the early days. There is even a mock-up shed where the world’s first instant noodles were created and how it was created. Down the hall, there is a tunnel display of the instant noodles that was sold in Japan throughout the decades.

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Nissin Cup Noodle Museum in Ikeda

The highlight of this place is that we get to make our own cup noodles. My friend and I each bought an empty cup (at ¥300 each) and was escorted to a table where we start doodling on the cups. After we were done drawing our cup, we approached the end of the room where we customised our cup noodles with ingredients and flavouring. Our customised cup noodles were sealed right before our eyes before they were given to us as a souvenir for us to bring back. We headed to the 2nd floor of the museum where there is a class for visitors to make the ramen noodles from kneading the dough to the finished product of the noodles. My friend and I did not participate in this activity. It took us about 1 hour to finish visiting the Cup Noodle Museum.

Shopping in Osaka Station

We headed for shopping at Osaka Station. There are a number of shopping malls in the vicinity of Osaka JR Station. We headed for the HEP5 Shopping Mall, which is across the road from Osaka Station. The HEP5 Shopping Mall has 6 levels and sells mainly clothing and shoes. We saw the ferries wheel on top of this building and will be back later in the evening after the shops are closed. After shopping around in HEP5, we headed to the departmental stores right on top of Osaka station. The Daimaru store occupies 15 storeys while the Lucca occupies 10 storeys. There is another Hankyu Departmental Store across Osaka Station. We did not go into this store as the product offerings are the same in all these departmental stores.

HEP5 Ferries Wheel

One good thing about getting the Osaka Amazing Pass is that other than allowing us to take the subway for free, we can also visit 36 spots for free. Some of these include riverboat ride, entering the Osaka Castle and taking a ride on HEP5 Ferries Wheel. My friend and I returned to HEP5 at about 8pm, after most of the shopping malls have closed to ride on the Ferries Wheel. The HEP5 Ferries Wheel is located on the 7th floor of the building. The ride on the ferries wheel takes about 15 mins, with the highest point being 106m from the ground. The views on the ferries wheel aren’t that great as the glass looks blurry and we did not have a good view of Osaka city. I would not have ridden on it if it is not covered under the Osaka Amazing Pass. After taking the ferries wheel, we headed back to our accommodation to rest.

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HEP5 Ferries wheel is located on top of a shopping mall

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On the streets of Osaka at night

Kansai (Kyoto/Osaka) Day 6 (23 May 18) – The Temples of Kyoto: Wandering Through the Torii Gates of Fushimi Inari-Taishi, to the Zen Gardens of Ginkakuji, to the Majestic Water Temple of Kiyomizu-Dera

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Torii gates of Fushimi Inari-Taishi

Fumishi Inari-Taishi (伏見稲荷大社)

Visitors to Kyoto will bound to make a visit to Fushimi Inari-Taishi, a shrine that is dedicated to The God of Rice, Inari. The shrine was built in 711, just celebrated its 1300th anniversary recently. Our journey to Kansai today brought us to Eastern Kyoto, our first stop is The Temple of Thousand Torii Gates – Fumishi Inari-Taishi. We were hoping to get to the shrine early to avoid bumping into huge crowds, after all, Fushimi Inari-Taishi is one of the visited and photographed spots in Kyoto. I figured it would be boring (not mentioning mainstream) if we just visited the main shrine and walking through the very busy Senbon Torii, other than these sites, we planned to hike up to the top shrine in Mt Inari, hoping to get a good view of the surroundings from the top. The 4km hike up Mt Inari would take about 2 hours. Despite the drizzle, Fushimi Inari-Taishi is still packed with crowds. At Romon (樓門), the main gate of Fushimi Inari-Taishi, we spotted a single storey structure that is decked in bright red pillars and beams with white coloured walls, as the centre part built slightly higher than the side structures.  A little further from Romon sits Honden (本殿), the main shrine of Fushimi Inari-Taishi. Visitors are only allowed to pay their respects to the 5 deities enshrined here at the entrance of the shrine, where 5 bells are installed for prayers to ring prior to their prayers.

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We were greeted with hordes of visitors at Romon, the main entrance to Fushimi Inari-Taishi

After paying our respects at Honden, we started our hike up Mt Inari through the first stretch Torii Gates, know as Senbon Torii (千本鳥居). Senbon Torii has the highest concentration of torii gates, estimated to be thousands. The torii gates are lined up almost back to back with very little gaps. Walking through these bright red torii gates gives me an almost magical feeling. I have been seeing pictures of Senbon Torii, and now that I am here, it just feels so surreal. Owing to its fame, the number of visitors here is also the highest. It is very difficult to take pictures of the torii gates at Senbon Torii without capturing someone in the shot. My friend and I ended up walking through the torii gates, taking very few pictures. At one point under these torii gates, we came to a split path. The right side leads upwards towards the inner shrine, whereas the left path is for visitors to descend from the inner shrine. Moments later we arrived at the inner shrine of Okusha (奥社奉拝所). There are 3 buildings at Okusha, 2 for temple administrations and 1 is where the deity is enshrined. We also spotted a queue where people seem to be touching some stone. As the queue was rather long, plus we have to cater time to hike up Mt Inari, we did not join the queue.

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The torii gates at Senbon Torii Gates

Fushimi Inari-Taishi consists of many smaller shrines spreading on Mt Inari, which we spotted on the hike up to Mt Inari. The torii gates pass Okusha are much larger than those we have seen so far. This part of Fushimi Inari-Taishi is where the crowd started to thin out. From here onwards, we were able to take more pictures with no people in it. Along the way, we saw Kumatakasha (熊鷹社) shrine with a large lake behind it. Along the way, we also came to a rest area. There is a small tea house looking shop that sells food and drinks. I highly recommend people making a trip to Fushimi Inari-Taishi to make a hike up here. It is here we saw Kyoto city from a higher ground. We continued our way up the peak, along the way seeing more smaller shrines. Some shrines are bigger while others seem to be a cluster of smaller shrines. At some points of the path, it felt that the shrines have merged with nature. The forest air is crisp and fresh, possibly due to the rain. We finally reached the top of Mt Inari where the shrine Inchinomine (一ノ峰) is located. We were a tad disappointed that there are no viewpoints at the peak of Mt Inari. From Inchinomine, the path turns downhill. The shrines here are more spread out. We also spotted some torii gates that seem to be newly installed. We see more nature on our way down. Once at the base of Mt Inari, we headed to Kyoto JR Station for our next destination.

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View of Southeastern Kyoto from Mt Inari

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The Shrine on the top of Mt Inari

Ginkakuji (銀閣寺)

We originally planned to visit the Kyoto Imperial Palace after we are done with Fushimi Inari-Taishi. However, due to the downpour, we spent additional time at Fushimi Inari Taishi, which caused us to miss the English guided tour timing. We decided to change our destination and wanted to visit Kiyomizu-Dera. While queuing for the bus, we realised bus number 100 goes to both Kiyomizu-Dera and Ginkakuji. We decided to make a trip to Ginkakuji. Ginkakuji is a short walk from the bus stop we alighted. Along the way, we walked past the famed Philosopher’s walk. I told my friend we would take a look at Philosopher’s walk if we have the time after visiting Ginkakuji.

Ginkakuji is built in 1482 and served as the retirement villa for the owner, mirroring the Kinkakuji which was built by the owner’s grandfather. Ginkakuji was converted to a temple after the owner’s death in 1490. The named Ginkaku was given when the owner wanted to cover the pavilion with silver foil, however, this did not materialise till the day the owner passed on. Entering Ginkakuji, there is a short walk from the main gate before we reach the inner gate. Passing the inner gate, the highlight of Ginkakuji, Kannon-den (観音殿)or Ginkaku (銀閣) was on the right of the entrance. Ginkaku is a 2 storey wooden structure sitting by a small pond. The silver pavilion is much simpler and smaller than Kinkakuji, perhaps due to the owner does not want to dwarf the works of his grandfather. Ginkaku still retains its original look (and colour) the day it was built. Similar to Kinkakuji, a silver phoenix taking flight stands on the roof of Ginkaku. Having visited Kinkakuji the day before, looking at Ginkakuji feels like a knockoff from its golden version. Afterall it is modelled after its famous golden version.

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Ginkaku, the Silver Pavilion

Next to Ginkakuji is where Kogetsudai (向月台) is located. The Kogetsudai is a large open space with a volcano structure made of white sand, which represents waves and Mt Fuji. Next to Kogetsudai sits the Hondo (本堂) and Togudo(東求堂) side by side. Built of wood, the Hondo is out of bounds and is one of the largest buildings in Ginkakuji. Similarly, the Togudo is also made of wood, this is the oldest Shoin style building that has survived earthquakes and fires throughout the centuries.

Perhaps the most iconic feature of Ginkakuji is its zen gardens. Almost half the area is dedicated to the zen gardens. There are 4 ponds in Ginkakuji in total, of which 3 are visible to visitors. Passing the Toguko, a path that leads to the moss gardens in Ginkakuji, which leads to a viewpoint up a small hill. Walking around the gardens feels therapeutic and peaceful. From the viewpoint up in the hills, we can see the whole of Ginkakuji and the town in Northeastern Kyoto. Ginkakuji is rather small, it took us 30 mins to finish walking around the grounds of Ginkakuji. Unless one is interested in zen gardens or happens to have spare time (like us), Ginkakuji is hardly worth the time to travel to this part of Kyoto. We originally wanted to take a walk down Philosopher’s Path, however, after walking past, it felt like walking behind someone’s backyard. We gave up the idea of walking down Philosopher’s Path and headed for our next destination in Kyoto.

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View of Ginkakuji and northeastern Kyoto from the hill in Ginkakuji

Kiyomizu-Dera (清水寺)

We took the same bus that brought us to Ginkakuji to Kiyomizu-Dera, which is one of the more iconic temples in Kyoto. It took us 7 mins to walk from the bus stop to Kiyomizu-Dera, passing by some wooden buildings along the way. Walking on this street feels as if we are being taken back in time. The street is now filled with shops selling souvenirs. Kiyomizu-Dera is at the end of this street, the first indication of arriving at the temple is the bright red 2 stories main gate. The 14m tall Nio-mon (仁王門) is the main gate that welcomes visitors daily. Sitting on top of a flight of stairs, Nio-mon looks commanding. Walking past Nio-mon, just right behind it, is where the Sai-mon (西門) is located. We were not particularly impressed with the Sai-mon, but are more captivated by the 3 stories red pagoda behind it. From Sai-mon, we spotted another pagoda across on the other side of Kiyomizu-Dera.

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Nio-mon, the main gate to  Kiyomizu-Dera

As it was approaching closing time (we only had 45 mins at the time we arrived at Kiyomizu-Dera). My friend and I wasted no time and headed into the main hall – Hondo (本堂). The Stage in Hondo is the most iconic feature in Kiyomizu-Dera, thanks to the location it is built on. The Stage is essentially a veranda, protruding out of the Hondo, built on the steep cliff, supported by 18 pillars that measure 13m tall. However we were a tad disappointed to learn that Kiyomizu-Dera is undergoing preservations works, most the iconic Kiyomizu Stage is covered in canvas and scaffolds, except for a small section that allowed us to take a peek down from the veranda. After offering our respects to the god in Hondo, my friend and I proceeded to the other parts of Kiyomizu-Dera.

From Hondo, there is a path that splits into lower and upper path in Kiyomizu-Dera. We took the upper path as this is where we can get a good view of Hondo. There are a couple of buildings on this side of Kiyomizu-Dera, the Okuno-in Hall (奧の院) resembles Hondo, but at a smaller scale. Similar to Hondo, there is a veranda at Okuno-in Hall where we got great shots of Hondo (if not for the hideous canvas). We continued on the path leading to the pagoda located opposite Hondo. From Hondo, this pagoda seems far, but the distance between the 2 structures is not as far as it seems. Arriving at this pagoda, it looks the same as the first pagoda next to Nio-mon. As Kiyomizu-Dera is closing soon (announcements were being made on its closing time), we headed for the waterfalls in the temple grounds.

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The veranda at Okuno-in Hall is a great picture spot of Hondo

Coming from the pagoda, we took the lower path that leads to the waterfall. Otowa no taki (音羽の瀧) is one the iconic features in Kiyomizu-Dera. It is the pure waters from the mountains here that gives the temple its name. Otowa no taki is a pavilion that has 3 streams of water flowing down from the mountains. It is believed that each of these streams grants different wishes, but drinking from all 3 streams will bring bad luck. I tried drinking from one of the streams, the water tasted like tap water and is very refreshing. One of the good thing about coming to Kiyomizu-Dera when it is about to close is the absence of large crowds, my friend and I did not have to queue for the spring water nor are there crowds that obscure us from taking pictures. If one were to come here when it is about to close (the temple closes at 6pm), do come at least 1½ hours before it closes.

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Taking the last wefie before we leave Kiyomizu-Dera

We hurried out Kiyomizu-Dera as it was about to close.  As it was dinner time, my friend and I had dinner in one of the small bento eateries (they were delicious and not pricey at all). We spent the rest of the night shopping in Kyoto before heading back to Osaka.

 

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On a double-decker train heading back to Osaka

 

Kansai (Kyoto/Osaka) Day 5 (22 May 18) – The Nature and the Ancients of Kyoto: From Arashiyama to Kinkakuji

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Kinkakuji in Kyoto

For the next 2 days, our travels in Kansai region will be spent visiting the sites in Kyoto. There are a lot of historic places to visit in Kyoto and it would not possible to see everything given the time we will be spending in Kyoto. Numerous guides online provide guides for visitors to Kyoto. I was initially planned on following one of these guides. After some planning, I was telling myself why settle for some guides with places that I am not interested in? A few iterations later, I finally settled on the places I wanted to visit in Kyoto, the beauty of a free and easy trip. We spent our 1st day visiting the sights northwest Kyoto and 2nd day in the southeast Kyoto.

Arashiyama (嵐山)

We started our Kyoto travels with Arashiyama, which is famed for its scenic views of the river and the Bamboo Grove. There are 3 train stations that serve Arashiyama area namely Hankyu-Arashiyama Station (阪急嵐山駅), Randen-Arashiyama Station (嵐電嵐山駅), and JR Saga-Arashiyama (嵯峨嵐山駅) located at the south, central and north of Arashiyama, respective. We opted to take the train to the southeast of Arashiyama so that our journey will start from the south and end up in the north of Arashiyama where we will catch the Sangano Scenic Railway.

Togetsukyo Bridge (渡月橋)

Leaving Hankyu-Arashiyama Station, we headed towards the Katsura River (桂川), where the famed Togetsukyo Bridge is located. We reached Katsura River within minutes and there lies the 155m Togetsukyo Bridge in a distance. The view from the riverside was beautiful. With Togetsukyo Bridge in the foreground and the spring green trees on the hills behind the bridge, no wonder visitors flog here for a picture on the bridge. We walked towards the bridge and was treated to more scenic views of a small raised dam, which looked like a waterfall on the river bed. There are sightseeing boats that dock in the nearby pier. Crossing Togetsukyo Bridge, we came to the built-up area of Arashiyama. The view of the bridge from this side of the river presents a different view, however, I prefer the view from the side near the Hankyu-Arashiyama Station, mainly due to a lesser crowd there.

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Panoramic Shot of Katsura River from Togetsu Bridge

Arashiyama Rickshaw Ride (京都人力車)

The buildings in this part of Kyoto looks rustic and as though they are from a page out of a history book. As we were waiting to cross the road, we saw rickshaws with visitors on them. Though not in part of our plan, nonetheless we tried a 30mins ride on the rickshaw. Despite being touristy, riding the rickshaw through Arashiyama is a good way of orienting ourselves around Arashiyama. It is also a good way of seeing the sights around this town for those who have little time in this area. Our rickshaw driver introduced us to the various sights along the way. Everywhere in Arashiyama town is crowded with visitors, our rickshaw driver is very skilful in manoeuvring the rickshaw through the hordes of visitors, especially when he was turning into the Bamboo Grove. The main highlight of the ride is the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. As the rickshaw driver pulled us through the Bamboo Grove, he suddenly turned into a small road that is free from visitors. The rickshaw driver explained this is a road that is reserved for rickshaws. On this road, we can feel the peacefulness in the Bamboo Grove. The Bamboo Grove is split into 2 parts, the area before the train track is crowded with visitors. as compared to the area after the train track. There is a small Shinto shrine near the train track. Somehow this is where all the visitors turned back and headed back to the town. We made mental notes of where to go to after we are done with the rickshaw ride. The driver pulled us pass the train tracks to the part where there are lesser people. It is here that the rickshaw driver made a brief stop and took pictures of us on the rickshaw. We made a u-turn and head back to Katsura River where we boarded the rickshaw. As we thought that our ride will be ending soon, the rickshaw driver made a turn into a side road. On this road, we felt the peacefulness of Arashiyama once again. There are some rustic buildings on this road. Soon we were on the side of the road that we boarded the rickshaw. This marks the end of our rickshaw ride. After a few pictures with the driver, we headed back to Arashiyama Bamboo Grove.

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Map and rate of the Rickshaw that we rode in Arashiyama

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My friend with the rickshaw driver

Tenryuji (天龍寺)

As we were walking towards the Bamboo Grove, we came to Tenryuji, one of the temples on the main road in Arashiyama that we have passed by on the rickshaw just now. My friend and I headed into the compound of this temple. There are quite a number of visitors to Tenryuji. The attraction of this temple is its zen gardens. After walking for another 5 mins, we came to the Kuri (庫裏).  Entering the compounds of the temple is free, however, there are different charges on the admission to various buildings and gardens. Kuri is a relatively small white building triangular roof and is built in 1899. The Kuri is considered one of the 7 major buildings according to the principles of Zen. We felt this place is a little touristy and did not enter Kuri. As we were rushing for time, we exited Tenryuji and headed for the Bamboo Grove.

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove (竹林の小径)

Minutes later, we arrived at the entrance to the famed Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Having been here moments earlier, we know exactly which spot to go to where there are lesser people. In the area before the train tracks, we couldn’t really appreciate the bamboo grove. Most of the time we were squeezing with other visitors and this area is very bad for photos. As we were making our way past the train tracks, we made a brief stop at the Shinto Shrine in the midst of the Bamboo Grove. Nonomiya Shrine (野宮神社) is a small shrine that the locals come to pray for marriage. There are several small structures in Nonomiya Shrine, consisting of the main prayer shelter and several boards for visitors to hang this wishes. As the shrine is rather small, we exited the shrine after taking some pictures.

The train tracks that cut the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove into 2 parts is right next to Nonomiya Shrine. We continued our walk in the Bamboo Grove past the train tracks. This is where we felt peace in the Bamboo Grove. There are significantly lesser visitors to this part of the grove, making strolling in this part of the grove a relaxing one. It is here we can hear the rustling of the bamboo leaves as they dance to the rhythm of the wind. My friend and I turned into a small area where we stopped by on the rickshaw earlier to have our photo taken on the rickshaw. This is a perfect spot for pictures with the Bamboos and lesser people. It is recommended for those visiting Arashiyama Bamboo Grove to walk past the train tracks and come here to get away from the crowds.

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On the rickshaw in Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

Sagano Scenic Railway (嵯峨野トロッコ列車)

Leaving Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, our next stop is the Saga Torkko Station where we planned to board the Sagano Scenic Railway towards Kameoka. The station about 7 mins walk from the rear exit of the Bamboo Grove. The 25 mins Sagano Scenic Railway runs along Hozugawa River between Arashiyama and Kameoka, after which it will turn around and return to Arashiyama. There are 5 carriages on the Sagano Scenic Railway, 1 of which is open air. We originally wanted to take the open air carriage but was told all seats in this carriage are taken. Our plan of taking the train up to Kameoka was also changed on the spot as the next train available is some 2 hours later. We did not want to wait and opted for the return train ride from Kameoka instead. As our JR pass is still valid, we took the JR towards Umahori Station and waited for our train to come by. Arriving at Umahori Station, we took a 5 mins walk from the JR station to the Scenic Railway station. Along the way, we saw some farmlands in rural Kyoto.

Our train ride arrived on time and we boarded the train as soon as passengers alighted. The cabin of the train is made of wood, giving the train a rustic feel to it. As the train left the station and started on its 25 mins journey towards Arashiyama, we were treated to views of the wilderness in Kyoto. The dramatic scenery saw Hozugawa River turns from being peaceful to angry with rapids in certain areas. The river also widens and narrows as the train runs alongside the river. We saw the hills on the opposite side of the river donning on their spring green coats and at some point of the journey, the hills gave way to the river as Hozugawa River snakes through the mountain ranges. We even saw boats at some point of the river, where visitors chose to brave through the rapids of Hozugawa River as their return option towards Arashiyama. Initially, we were worried that the seats we were assigned will not give us much of the river view as one side of the train tracks will be facing the mountains. We were lucky to have assigned seats on the left side of the train as we realised on the return trip the left side has more time with the sceneries of the wilderness of Arashiyama.

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Bridge over Hozugawa River

Nijo Castle(二条城)

We headed back to Kyoto after alighting from Sagano Scenic Railway. As we were riding on the JR towards Kyoto, I realised there is a JR station near Nijo Castle, which is our next stop in Kyoto. We alighted at the station and headed towards Nijo Castle. The walk from Nijo Station to the castle takes around 15 mins. Soon we found ourselves at the entrance of Nijo Castle. Nijo Castle is built in 1626 as a residence for the Shogun who was tasked to protect the Kyoto Imperial Palace. Unlike Himeji Castle, Nijo Castle is rather flat. We passed through the main gate – Higashiote-mon (東大手門). Higashiote-mon has a rather simple design, the bottom half of the gate and this walls surrounding Nijo Castle are built with stones and the top part is painted in white. The main gate looks rather modest in size with traces of gold plating and looks very well preserved.

Passing Higashiote-mon, we came to another gate. The Kara-mon (唐門) is more elaborate in its designs. Though not as tall and big as the Higashiote-mon, Kara-mon is work of art. There are more traces of gold plating on this gate, making it look more royalty. The beams are engraved with vibrantly coloured flowers, with a couple of Japanese Cranes in flight from the front of the gate. The second beam has carvings of dragon and tiger.

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Kara-mon in Nijo Castle

Passing Kara-mon, the first building that we saw is the Ninomaru Palace (二の丸御殿).  Ninomaru Palace consists of 6 connecting buildings, which we were made to walk in a pre-determined fashion through these 6 buildings. Photography is strictly not allowed in the palace and there are staffs stationed around in the palace to enforce this rule. Walking through the buildings, we saw lots of empty rooms, most of which with elaborate paintings on the walls. Some of these rooms are larger than others. These larger rooms tend to be near the entrance to Ninomaru Palace, which served as audience rooms. There are some statues placed in the audience room give visitors a glimpse of what it looked like when Nijo Castle was functional. The rest of the rooms are empty with paintings on it. We walked around the 6 rooms in Ninomaru Palace like zombies as everyone visiting the palace felt like going through the motion of passing through these rooms, and the no photography rule baffles me. Finally, we exited Ninomaru Palace and headed to other parts of Nijo Castle. We followed the pre-determined path round Ninomaru Palace to the gardens behind the palace. As I am not a garden person, I find this a tad boring.

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Ninomaru Palace in Nijo Castle

The path leads us to a small bridge crossing a moat inside Nijo Castle. Crossing the bridge, we came to Honmaru Yaguramon (本丸櫓門), which functions as a defensive gate for the main keep inside. The path took us to another garden inside the moat. Little that we realised we can only see the main keep from outside, there are no indications or openings that allow visitors to enter into the main keep. The flat structure of the main keep (本丸御殿), make this main keep feels more like some old Japanese houses rather than a palace. We wandered through this garden in the pre-determined path and headed out Nijo Castle. Personally, I find Nijo Castle not worth visiting with most parts of the palace being out of bounds and the restrictive photography rule inside the only building that is open to visitors. Unless one is an avid garden lover, visiting Nijo Castle is a waste of time.

Kinkaku Rokuonji (金閣鹿苑寺)

Leaving Nijo Castle, we headed to Kinkaku Rokuonji. The temple is famous for its Kinkaku (Golden Pavilion) hence people usually refer to this temple as Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion Temple). When planning for this trip, I read that Kinkakuji is very crowded most of the time. The best time for visiting this temple would be either early morning when it first open or 1 hour before it closes, where the crowd would usually thin out. We chose to visit Kinkakuji 1 hour before it closes hoping to see the golden pavilion at the time when crowds are lesser. After paying for our tickets, we entered the grounds of Kinkakuji, the golden pavilion sitting on the side of a lake is immediately in our sight. Kinkakuji is a 3 storey building, with the ground floor of Kinkakuji being semi-open. From the front of Kinkakuji, we can see into the rather empty ground floor with its walls painted with some flower mural. The entire 2nd and 3rd floor are enclosed. It is these levels where the walls are covered in gold foil, giving Kinkakuji its name. A phoenix statue stands right at top of the Kinkakuji with its wings spread out, as though it is ready to take flight. It is said that a Buddha relic is stored on the top floor of Kinkakuji. Kinkakuji looks especially charming with the rays of the setting sun shining onto it, making the top 2 floors of Kinkakuji glow like a gem. Indeed there are lesser people at the time we entered Kinkakuji. We can easily take pictures of Kinkakuji with no people in the background.

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Kinkaku up close

My friend and I followed the designated footpath making our way out of the temple grounds. Along the way, we came across Fudo-do (不動堂), a small shrine dedicated to the Buddist deity Fudo-myo-o (不動明王). We paid our respects to the deity enshrined here before making our way out of Kinkakuji.

Strolling in Downtown Kyoto

We left Kinkakuji on a local bus bound for Kyoto JR Station. As we were near our destination, we realised there is a shopping strip where the bus was plying through. We hit the buzzer and alighted on the next stop the bus calls on. There are numerous shops and departmental stores along this main road. As we were walking, we saw this small alley that seems to be crowded and turned in to check it out. Little that we realised that we are in the Kamo River (鴨川) dining district. One of the things to do in Kyoto is to dine at one of the restaurants that have an outdoor terrace that faces the Kamo River. This dining experience is only available from May to September each year and has existed for over 400 years in Kyoto. People would flock here to enjoy the cool river breeze while dining during the hotter months of the year. I have wanted to experience this before I came to Kyoto and by chance, we stumbled into this area. We walked along the alley from restaurant to restaurant searching for the food that we like. Dining here is a tad pricey. As we were walking along the alley, I spotted a Geisha walking discreetly to her next place of work. I read that Geishas are a rare sight in Kyoto these days, I must be lucky to have spotted one on my very first time (and first day) in Kyoto. We settled in a restaurant for dinner, dining here is indeed a unique experience.