Good bye Tokyo, Hello Kyoto !!!
You would think that was the first thought that came to mind as I stepped off the bus, right? Well, you would be wrong. Because the minute we jumped out of the double-decker bus, we looked at each other and simultaneously cried: “Holy sh*t, it’s freezing cold!!!”. The strong exclamation was in Bahasa, of course, since we didn’t want any of the pedestrians to realize how rude these two lovely girls actually were.
The Willer Express bus parked right across Kyoto train station for a few minutes, then left to continue its journey to Osaka. Puput and I were freezing our pants off, so we walked as fast as we could with our backpack and suitcase to the huge station. Please bear in mind that we had been stuck inside the bus for 7 hours, give or take. We hadn’t had breakfast, washed our faces, or brushed our teeth, so we weren’t exactly in a jolly mood. We strolled around the station in silence, mainly because we didn’t want to knock each other unconscious with our morning breaths. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what we were looking for inside the two-story station: toilet!
We decided to look for the toilet on the second floor because that was where the Kyoto’s Tourism Office was located and we needed to go there later on to buy bus passes. My friend saw an elevator right outside the station’s first floor entrance and she quickly walked to it. I quickly grabbed her elbow and pulled her back, simply because I saw a homeless man walking towards it as well. The last thing we wanted was to be inside a small elevator with him, so we just stood there and waited. To our surprise, he actually stopped right beside the elevator door and… pee. I had never been so amused and disgusted at the same time. We looked at each other, uncertain. If we went there a few seconds after the man did his morning relief, it would be one of the most awkward moments we would ever have in our lives. But we really needed the toilet and the one on the first floor was too far away and more likely crowded!
“The hell with it! I’m going in!” Puput finally exclaimed, and I followed her march. We tried our hardest not to make eye contact with anything or anyone other than the elevator button, and by the time we got inside the elevator, we burst out laughing.
We took turns washing up then stored our backpack and suitcase in a huge locker. Again, we stayed frugal by splitting the fee, especially since it cost more than it did in Tokyo. Our original plan was to go straight to Kyoto’s Tourism Center office, which was conveniently located right across the locker room. But it was still closed (it opened at 08:30), so we went to get some breakfast in a nice little cafe only a few steps away from the office. Staring at our small cups of hot tea and four tiny slices of sandwiches on the table, we realized that we were no longer going to be able to have the fulfilling Japanese breakfast. Suffice to say, we were really missing the Kishimotos.
The tourism center office was packed by the time we got inside. I was really amazed by how efficient the place was! There were a row of counters (I forgot how many there were. I think it was about six to ten of them), each with a sign overhead that stated the counter number and the languages the staff was able to speak in. So if I were a tourist from Korea, I could go straight to the counter where it had the word ‘Korea’ written on the board overhead, and the staff would answer all my questions in Korean. Same goes if I were from China. How neat! Too bad there was no ‘Indonesian’ board, so we had to settle for the English-speaking staff. The man behind the counter was probably in his late 40s or early fifties and he was genuinely very friendly! I have to admit, I was really surprised! I thought elder workers would be grumpy and bitter but I could not have been more wrong! He spoke English very well and was very agile. Hell, he was more capable than most Indonesian young workers I’ve met! Gentlemen, please take notes!
After we got our bus passes (500 Yen for a day’s use), we headed to our first stop: Sanjusangendo temple, famous for its 1001 statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. And I have to say, Kyoto is a far much better place to enjoy the view of autumn leaves than Tokyo! We were treated with so many beautiful red leaves even before we got to a single temple! On the bus heading to Sanjusangendo, I couldn’t stop bugging Puput by pointing at every tree I saw. They were that magnificent!
Back to the temple. In retrospect, Sanjusangendo was the most serene temple we visited in Kyoto. I think it had something to do with the lack of colorful trees in the garden, because most people (both local and non local) go to Kyoto to enjoy the stunning autumn scenery. However, it didn’t take away the fact that the place was amazing. As I entered the room (barefoot, by the way, since visitors were not allowed to wear any kinds of footwear other than socks. So make sure you have no stinky feet!), I could feel the mysterious aura taking over with its serenity and the smell of incense. And by the time the 1001 Kannon statues came into view, I got chills down my spine.
We spent a good 45-60 minutes inside the museum, then another hour roaming around its beautiful landscape. From the outside, I could see how vast the place really was. There were plenty of spots to take pictures, something Puput was clearly very excited about. Just like what she did in Edo Tokyo Museum, she basically left me stranded and had some fun of her own taking pictures here and there!
After Sanjusangendo, we hop on another bus to Kiyomizudera temple. To our amazement, the bus was extremely crowded! And everyone got off at the same station we did, which meant everyone was going to Kiyomizudera! If this did not peak your interest, I don’t know what would.
The walk from the bus stop to the temple was an experience in itself. It took approximately 20 minutes to get to the famous temple, situated on top of a hill. Some would think it an uphill battle (pun intended), but the atmosphere would take your mind off of it. Just like in Asakusa, you would be pleasantly distracted by endless rows of shops and restaurants. In fact, I can boldly say that this walk was even better than Nakamise Shopping Street! Walking along the steep and narrow lane, I could feel the traditional essence of old Kyoto alive with all the wooden buildings and the salesmen shouting in Japanese. If Nakamise specializes in small souvenir shops, this particular lane has everything for everyone, from small souvenirs to sweets and pottery and many more. This vibrant lane leading you to Kiyomizudera is called Higashiyama District, and it will satisfy the shopaholic side in you.
As much as we would love to explore every store in the district (and torture ourselves by the many things we couldn’t afford, as always!), Kiyomizudera was the main reason we were there. At the time, we really had no idea what the fuzz was all about. Sure, the district was the perfect place to experience traditional Japan, and the temple was said to be one of the best places to view the ginkgo leaves, but we were already exhausted halfway there and were beginning to worry whether the temple was worth the hill climb.
So when we finally reached the end of Higashiyama District and were greeted by the stunning red gate that separated the district from the temple, we did nothing but simply stood there and be amazed. Size-wise, the gate in Asakusa was clearly bigger and with better decorations. But I personally think the Kiyomizudera gate left a bigger impact on my psyche. The fact that it was situated on top of a stone staircase might have something to do with it, or maybe we were just plain tired by the time we got there. Whatever it was, I couldn’t help but feel small as I looked up to stare at the red and white entrance gate. It was the exact same feeling I felt in Kawaguchiko. Sanjusangendo may be the first temple we visited in Kyoto, but it was in Kiyomizudera where I finally realized that I have arrived in Kyoto.
After going through the gate, we had to climb more stairs to finally reach the glorious Kiyomizudera temple. Our earlier doubt was quickly demolished. This temple was more than worth the journey! It was absolutely, extremely, and completely breathtaking beyond words! Thirteen meters above the hillside, this temple is the perfect place to enjoy the sea of ginkgo trees. The wooden balcony that protrudes out of the main building is the most favorite spot for visitors, since it provides a clear view of the autumn colors.
Regardless of the massive crowd, Puput and I had the time of our lives in Kiyomizudera. We spotted many beautiful ladies wearing Kimono, even one wearing a very quirky get-up! It was unfortunate that neither of us took a picture of her. I guess we were too…stunned.
We spent about two hours there, and we wish we could have stayed longer. Too bad the need to fill our stomach got the better of us, so we had to get going. You would think that we would have no problem finding some food to eat at Higashiyama District, but you would be wrong! As always, the depth of our wallets were no match for the height of the prices there. In fact, we couldn’t find any affordable restaurant until we returned to the bus stop! And it was a Chinese restaurant! A fellow Indonesian traveler I knew once said Chinese restaurant is the best place to eat when you’re craving for some rice or just plain right starving, because you don’t have to spend a lot of money for a satisfying meal. I guess she was right!
Once our stomach were full, we set off to Gion District, a traditional Kyoto avenue most famous for its geisha district. It’s only a ten minute walk from Kiyomizudera, or even less, if my feet weren’t in so much pain. I guess the hill of Kiyomizudera took a toll.
Gion District, for me, is the perfect place to get the sense of traditional Kyoto without having to deal with the hustle and bustle like in Higashiyama District. I personally enjoyed Higashiyama more, but Gion was a nice and much-needed change. It was calm and peaceful, aside from a few cars that might pass now and then to deliver stuffs for the many traditional merchant houses. Despite being Kyoto’s famous geisha district, we didn’t see any of them in Gion. I think it was because we were there during the day, because a friend of mine who went there a few months earlier said that she saw plenty of them during the evening. But it was still fun to walk around the district, enjoying all the old-fashioned houses. Hopefully one day I will be able to visit this district again, this time during the night
Our last stop in Kyoto is Kinkakuji, or The Golden Pavilion. This is probably the most popular tourist destination in Kyoto, despite the fact that it was the furthest out of all the other well-known places. How far, you ask? Well, let’s just say that I had a nice long sleep in the bus while Puput went through the map to figure out where to get off and change buses. Such a lovely travel companion I was, eh? But it was a much-needed sleep, I tell ya, because I was already exhausted by the time we left Gion!
I felt like a recharged Energiser bunny by the time we got off at Kinkakuji bus stop. Again, we had to walk from the bus stop to get there, but I was back in high spirits so I didn’t mind at all. As a reward, I was greeted by this stunning golden temple, situated on a large pond. Visitors aren’t allowed to enter this site, so we had to settle for a nice spot from across the pond. Though not as crowded as Kiyomizudera, we still had to fight our way in order to get a nice shot.
In restrospect, Kinkakuji was my second most favorite place in Kyoto (Kiyomizudera would be the first), because I got to walk on this beautiful path and saw the famous Zen temple from various angles. And because autumn was in full swing, I could enjoy the beautiful red and orange trees and hear the leaves crumpling beneath my feet. The path also leads the visitors to the vast garden, where I spotted some statues where people threw coins at for luck. We initially wanted to try, but thought better of it because a 100 Yen coin was worth a nice can of warm chocolate milk from the vending machine.
The sun was setting as we made our way back to Kyoto station. It was our time to leave Kyoto and head for Osaka. There are two ways (that we know of) to reach Osaka from Kyoto: by bullet train a.k.a Shinkansen or the normal JR train. It would take 15 minutes by the former, and 45 minutes by the latter. The 30 minute time gap might look insignificant, but the price gap between the two was anything but! While the shinkansen would drain our pockets dry for 1,480 Yen, it would only cost us 540 Yen by JR train. I think it doesn’t take a genius to figure out which one we chose!
When we arrived in Osaka, our first and only thought was this: Must.Find.Hotel! We were completely exhausted and we wanted nothing more than to call it a day. We were dying for a nice, long rest! We had booked a room at Toyo Hotel and were smart enough to print the map of the hotel. The last thing we wanted was to get lost, especially when we were seconds away from collapsing, so Puput quickly pulled the map out of her bag the second we got off the train.
And whaddaya know! The hotel was only a three-minute walk from the train station !!!!
Oh God Almighty !!!!
We literally screamed for joy when we spotted the hotel, which was located so conveniently near Dobutsuenmae train station and just right around the corner from the main street! It took less than a minute for us to fall in love with the cleanliness and comfort of the hotel, and its friendly staffs. The room we booked was a twin Japanese-style one that includes air conditioner, a television, and refrigerator for only 3,000 Yen a night, or 1,500 Yen per person! If that’s not a bargain, I don’t know what is!
After a quick dinner (consisting of two instant noodles courtesy of Puput’s), taking a shower and changing into pajamas, I snuggled like a cocoon inside my thick, warm blanket. Puput was too busy enjoying the free wi-fi (she had been having troubles staying in touch with her family without any internet connection), so it was understandable that she didn’t notice me dozing off. Of course, I didn’t forget to set the phone alarm for 7 AM. As I positioned my phone next to my pillow, I couldn’t help but picture myself waking up the next morning and press the Dismiss button again. But this time, it was intentional. Why?
Because unlike in Tokyo and Kyoto, our schedule in Osaka was a relaxing one. In other words, we wouldn’t have to run against time to visit all the places in our itinerary.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, was pure heaven.