I had heard so much about the ancient city of Kyoto. Many of my friends and clients love this part of Japan and it hasn't disappointed me at all. Kyoto is a very charming city which has both a modern side and an old city which makes it very interesting. We stayed in Kyoto for 5 nights and totally fell in love with this city, with its incredible history and architecture, and like the whole of Japan, where everything works perfectly and a very friendly atmosphere exists.
I love the real contrast of taking a bus from the centre of Kyoto for 20 minutes to the north. Compared to the bustle of central Kyoto, I could feel the quietness of the old part of the city, where we enjoyed strolling along 'the Philosopher's Path' past and through the different shrines and temples. The walk along the canal was really great. There are many small cafes where they make their own cakes, great coffee and fresh juices. The beautiful and simple design in each shrine made each one very special and I was really taken by the red color of those shrine's gates. So impressive!!!
Food is the main part of our travels and there's no reason to be unhappy with Japanese food. I have to admit that the food of this city really agreed with me. I didn't mind standing in queues for 30 minutes and sometimes up to 45 minutes just for a bowl of amazing Ramen or Udon noodles. I love the way Japanese queue for everything here, even for a fancy popcorn or ice cream. It's such a weird thing for me, probably because I'm from Vietnam (we're not that good at queuing) where we will just find another vendor if one is too busy and we don't have time to wait. Most of the people in the queues in Japan were teenagers and it seems that there are many food fads there. It's a fun place to eat and see what people are lining up for.
We spent the next 2 nights before heading to Osaka at the hot spring town north of Kyoto called Kamura. It was a magnificent place where we experienced true Japanese-style hospitality. They served amazing food with so many small dishes, some too good to be eaten. I admire the Japanese chefs who spend so much time not only cooking but also on the presentation of the food.
To help digest all of the food, we hiked a few hours across the mountain from Kurama to Kibune, a nearly town with a beautiful river running through it. The hike took us through a number of temples and statues of Buddha on the top of the mountain. The walk and the scenery was fabulous. I'm not normally good at this kind of activity but I enjoyed it so much that the time passed without me knowing. I'd heard about the famous Japanese hot springs (onsen) but was not so keen that you have to be completely naked. I got over it and kept coming back for about an hour each day to relax in hot natural water after long days walking and eating.
Kyoto and Kurama - look out - because we will be back!