This past May (2017) I took a trip to Jakarta, Bangkok & Kyoto. Although Kyoto was the “vacation” portion of the trip I was still able to make some observations of the two SE Asian locations.
One of the first things you’ll notice about Indonesia is everything seems to cost alot until you remember that 1 (US) dollar is over 13000 rupiah.
Although I’m not a connoisseur of Indonesian food I do know that one of my favorite local cuisine is Padang food. The variety of dishes and flavors are out of this world and it’s super easy to try the various small plates. As you get seated all the dishes are placed in front of you. No menu needed. You’re charged by dishes you ate. The rest are put back into the kitchen pot. Some might be put off by the fact that the dishes are pre-cooked (cooked once a day.)
Simpang Raya, the Pedang restaurant I ate at. I give it two thumbs up.
I’ve barely had a chance to sit down and half our plates are already layed out. Talk about fast food.
You need the dexterity of a circus performer to work at a Pedang restaurant.
For a country that grows coffee beans, coffee culture (local Starbucks being the exception) still lags behind the western world although it’s catching up quickly.
Other than the few photos shown here, there’s really not much to say about this metropolis. Jakarta has never been my favorite city to visit.
I can’t remember the name of this coffee shop but the decor was very nice. That’s my pour over coffee. Good but not great.
I made a quick three night visit to my home away from home so I tried to make the most of it. I had to have my mango and sticky rice fix at the best vendor in town: Mae Varee Fruit Shop.
All my favorites in one place…Mango/Sticky Rice, sweets, deserts.
Sweet and juicy mango, three different kinds of house made sticky rice (black, green pandan, and white), & warm fresh coconut milk. Heaven!
Thai sweets or Kanom. Yes I have a sweet tooth when it comes to kanom.
Since one cannot just live on Mango & sticky rice, my other go-to dish is Hoi Tod, egg fried with oysters. Just thinking about it makes me drool.
The main ingredient for one of my favorite dishes…oysters!
I think I ate this dish twice.
For my final meal I accidentally found a bustling street food scene near my folk’s condo.
I never knew the street food scene at the Ratchathewi BTS station was so brisk.
Obviously the car fumes add to the food flavors.
I had to have another helping of Hoi Tod. I believe the normal mussel/egg plate runs less than $2. For my friends in the US, note the unrefridgerated eggs.
There is even a seafood restaurant nestled within the street vendors. Note the live giant prawns frolicking about. In case you’re interested 1 crab runs under $10 and 1kg of cockles is about $7.50. Then you tell the restaurant whether you want your seafood grilled or steamed. Not shown are their stunningly good seafood sauces.
I believe this is a hot pot street vendor. Yes each table gets their own hot pot to cook in.
It was Durian season but I did not partake on this trip for some reason.
The itinerary was to fly into Narita (Tokyo) airport and take the shinkansen (bullet) train to Kyoto. This gave me a chance to try out the highly touted ekiben which translates as train (eki) boxed lunch (bento). To be honest I found the food to be overrated. It was obviously precooked, room temp. and a bit dry. Fortunately ekiben only costs around $8-13. You’ll notice that on the the train trip back I found a better food alternative. Click on the photos below to see descriptions.
Super cute packaging which I kept as a souvenir.
Inside is crab and rice. Not too exciting and a bit dry.
I got something that had a plainer packaging.
Inside looked interesting but was mediocre and a bit fishy.
My wife got a meal packaged in a Daruma doll. Does this make it a zen meal?
Traveling in Japan also gave me a chance to start my collection of Eki Stampu (train stamp). Every train station in Japan has unique stamps you can add to a stamp book. Turns out most tourist attractions/temples also have these stamps.
I bought myself a fancy stamp book for my collection.
After arriving in Kyoto my wife fortunately booked us a room at Hotel Granvia located inside the main train station. What a wonderful quiet oasis from the crazy hectic station just outside the lobby.
Kyoto train station is huge and can get pretty hectic with crowds of people.
Our large comfy and quite room at Hotel Granvia. I highly recommend this hotel.
View from our hotel room. My son loved looking at the trains below. That’s the bullet train we took.
One of my favorite things about the hotel…an automated/heated toilet seat. I want one for my house!
The level of detail is awesome. Notice part of the bathroom mirror stays unfogged.
I took a walk around the train station the first night there. The weather was cool and dry, perfect for strolling around exploring. Here’s some random photos.
Japan’s version of 7-11. I have to admit I enjoyed exploring all the unique things in this store. Lawson store is also nearby.
Too bad I didn’t try any of these restaurants.
Kyoto Tower. It looks nicer at night.
We started our first full day in Kyoto by exploring the train station. This station is huge and I could have spent my entire time in Kyoto just hanging out here. Imagine over 11 floors of shops, restaurants, department store, etc. Of course I got drawn to the snacks and sweets area in the basement. Typical of many department stores snacks and food stalls are usually located on the basement.
These sweets are too cute to eat.
Kyoto is famous for it’s matcha or green tea and this vendor started my matcha odyssey.
After being cooped up in the crowded train station, it was time to get some fresh air and explore the Imperial Palace. It turned out to be a hot day in the sun. Maybe that’s the reason crowds were small at the large palace grounds.
Ema: wooden wishing plaques. A Shinto tradition where people write their wishes on the back of a wooden plaque.
Serene and peaceful grounds. Little to no tourists on this day.
Stunning carpentry work which turned out to be common on all temples and palaces.
After being in the sweltering heat I needed to retreat to a confectionery cafe I knew was located nearby. I’m not sure if I was more impressed with Toraya Karyo Ichijo or the Imperial Palace. My jaws dropped (a regular occurrence while in Japan) when I walked into this cafe. Toraya is actually a confectionery company that happens to have a number of cafes.
The back area of the cafe.
Great place to contemplate while enjoying sweets.
Intense matcha shaved ice.
Almost too pretty to eat.
There’s something to be said about taking the road less traveled when exploring a city. In this case Kyoto has a myriad of small side streets with little surprises everywhere. With my architectural background and interest in history, I really enjoyed checking out the many old shop houses and Machiyas. In many cases signage are so minimal I couldn’t tell what kind of shops they were even with my nose pressed up to the windows.
Machiya or old townhouses. Many can be rented by tourists.
I had hunger pangs as I made my way towards downtown Kyoto, so I decided to check out the food scene at Daimaru, one the the larger department stores in Kyoto. As I mentioned earlier most department stores in Japan have a huge food hall in the basement. Unfortunately there’s no seating so it’s best for food to go. Fortunately the top floor is usually reserved for restaurants. I wanted a simple lunch so I popped into a noodle restaurant. Because they didn’t have an English menu (a good sign) I had to place my order as any non-Japanese speaker would….go to the front window and snap a photo of the plastic food you want to have and show it to the waitress/waiter.
Much better than a menu
Who says Japanese food is expensive? My lunch comes to be about $13
Looks pretty close to the plastic food.
Afterwards I explored the famed Nishiki Market. It’s a five block open air market. There’s some strange foods being sold here. I wonder if locals actually go here or if it’s mainly for tourists.
Locals or tourists in rental kimonos?
Not sure why there’s a number of wig shops in town.
Aritsugu knife shop. Probably the most famous knife shop in town. Oh that girl is not my wife.
Various pickled vegetables.
Cucumber on a stick. Big seller?
Squab on a stick.
Fish on a stick.
Baby octopus on a stick
Sweet potato on a stick.
Some kind of ball dipped in matcha sauce on a stick.
Squid on a stick.
Various food paste on a stick.
Seafoods on a stick.
Fresh Uni in a half uni shell.
It’s a slurp and go vendor..
My son decided this is his favorite stall at the market. Matcha soft serve ice cream cone.
After Nishiki Market we quickly made our way towards Gion district of town. It’s also known as the old quarters or Geisha district. I knew the best time to see a real geisha would be around 6pm so we hurried towards Gion while quickly passing narrow Pontocho alley. Gion was just so peaceful, beautiful and in some ways surreal. Unfortunately I didn’t spend much time here so I’ll have to further explore these two areas on a future trip.
Yep that’s a real Geisha.
I just liked the storefront display Issen Yoshoku restaurant.
Tatsumi shrine next to Tatsumi Bridge. Apparently a scene from “Memoirs of a Geisha” movie was shot here.
Shinbashi Dori is a stunning street to stroll.
Along Shinbashi Dori are mysterious doorways and narrow alleys.
Although I didn’t know it, there’s numerous high end restaurants and hostess bars in the area.
After a long day I decided to relax at the hotel rooftop bar and try out the local Suntory (from Kyoto area) whisky and do my best Bill Murray “Lost in Translation” look. The whiskey is pretty good too.
“For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.”
This is how you signal “check please”.
The next morning I woke up surprisingly early and decided to take advantage of it by exploring nearby the hotel on my own. It’s nice to see everyday life on a weekday morning. It was quiet, peaceful and mellow with just a few students and office workers scampering about. Here’s some of my observations:
Waiting for customers at Kyoto Station.
Higashi Hongan-ji or the Eastern Temple of the Original Vow located near my hotel. Peaceful morning scene.
This kind of stork or crane is pretty common in Kyoto. It’s probably fishing at the moat that surrounds this temple.
The main building is the largest wooden building in Kyoto and one of the largest in the world.
I snuck a photo of the interior taken from the exterior
Shrines dot the landscape. This one is beautifully detailed.
Interesting parking lot.
After breakfast it was time to play tourist again. We took the train to the famed Arashiyama bamboo grove. It’s one of the top rated travel sites in Kyoto and I was ready for the rush of tourists. It turned out that yes there’s quite a bit of tourists but it’s a pretty hushed crowd (probably in awe). And the walk in the grove can be quite far so through attrition the crowds thin out as you walk farther. we also stopped at the Nonomiya Shrine which is tucked in the grove and picked up some omamori which are charms/amulets that can be found at many temples/shrines in Japan. Overall it quite an amazing experience.
The walk from the train station to the grove took us through a quaint peaceful residential district dotted with shrines. Some are quite amazing like this one.
I couldn’t help taking a photo of the sign. Yes un-PC but hilarious.
Here’s an easier way to visit the bamboo grove. I bet the guys pulling these carriages have amazing leg muscles.
At Nonomiya Shrine located in the grove I bought some Omamori or amulets/charms.
What a tranquil place.
What an amazing place. You can’t take a bad photo either.
The local school kids are having a blast and are heading the the nearby park for lunch.
On the way back we stopped at Nijo Castle, originally the Kyoto residence of a Shogun now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I tend to look for WHS when traveling the world. For anyone interested in architecture or history this is the place to go. Come to think of it the whole city of Kyoto is the place to go.
Kara-mon Gate hints at the extraordinary palace beyond. Unfortunately photography is not allowed inside.
Carvings of cranes, pine, Bamboo and plum blossoms signify longevity.
Kara-mon Gate’s intricate decoration symbolizes the status of the Tokugawa shogun.
Beautiful lake in the Ninomaru Garden.
After Nijo Castle we were absolutely famished. Off we went back on the train to Kyoto Station. In case you haven’t figured, being in Granvia Hotel at Kyoto Station is a super convenient place to stay….and eat. We went to the 11th floor which is all restaurants and ended up at Ten-ichi tempura restaurant for a late lunch. At this point in our trip our lunch was dictated by my son’s nap time. It’s practically the only time for peace and quiet. Although this restaurant turned out to be a highly lauded eatery, we were a little let down maybe because of high expectations. It was good none the less.
Damn yummy looking plastic food.
Since we were the only ones eating, we had a personal chef as we sat at the counter.
It’s all about the presentation. I feel sorry for the person doing the dishes.
Since we had a one week Japan Rail pass or JR pass we decided to take the bullet (or Shinkansen) train to nearby Osaka (less than 30 minutes) after lunch. I heard this is a pretty crazy foodie town and boy was I in for a kaleidoscope of sensory overload. Whereas Kyoto is a serene, cultural, refined, historic town, Osaka (in my brief time there) seemed industrial and blue collar and proud of it. Because we had so little time in Osaka, we decided to focus in the famous Dontonbori district. This area is packed with eateries and bars and and explosion of oversized signs and lighting that a Hollywood producer would be jealous of.
Namba Hips, a multistory restaurant/amusement building greeted me with a strange highrise rock climbing wall.
The good thing about these huge signs is that I know from far away what the restaurant specializes in. This is a Chinese noodle shop and prices start at around $5 for a bowl!
Wherever there’s an octopus, it symbolizes Takoyaki, Osaka’s signature dish.
Kanidoraku specializes in crab dishes.
Signs and billboards seemingly dot every inch of vertical space.
I have no idea what the large sign is for but I like it.
Can you spot me?
There’s so much sensory overload that I had a small headache.
No shortage of Takoyaki. There much be establishments on every block.
Fugu or blowfish. Potentially poisonous in either case.
The touristy nick-nack shops were also fun to browse.
Pocky socks. Cool! Pocky (and it’s parent company Glico) is based in Osaka so you can find strange unique flavors here.
One of Dontonbori’s most famous landmarks, a strange robotic clown Kuidaore Taro. Kind of creepy actually.
Looks like someone’s force feeding sushi.
Daruma Kushikatsu a famous restaurant specializing in all things fried on a stick.
This is one of the older establishments on this street. Awesome!
My son always finds his favorite treat.
Not sure why Spiderman is crawling into a Scallop
Must be a Chinese restaurant.
Surprisingly with so many food options in Osaka, we didn’t really eat much besides a few signature dishes. It was more like snacking as we walked hypnotized with all that was around us. We got back to Kyoto late and exhausted but I was determined to grab a quick cheap bite. The best bet was the tiny noodle stand I spied near the train platforms. I believe it caters to businessmen needing a quick bite before heading home on the train. This is where I got my introduction to ordering food via vending machine. You press the corresponding button number as the menu item you want to order, pay and give the food ticket to the waiter or cook. I knew Japan is a vending machine crazed country but I didn’t know they took it to this level.
Like many smaller noodle shops you use the vending machine outside to place and pay for your order. You then give the cook or waiter your meal ticket.
I ordered this $5 noodle bowl. Eating in Japan doesn’t have to be expensive.
You can even get a multicourse meal for around $4!
Standing room only, no seats here. Notice all the customers are men and probably got off from work.
This was my dish. Not bad especially when hungry.
The next morning breakfast was at the Malebranche Cafe located in the Kyoto train station. Apparently it specializes in beautiful to see and eat pastries. It seems all of Kyoto specializes in gorgeous foods.
Not this isn’t the normal plastic food. But it almost looks too beautiful to eat.
My wife had one of the most beautiful breakfast set I’ve ever seen. There’s even small flakes of 24k gold leaf on the spoon/ladle. And the cake was delicious.
I had the more pedestrian breakfast set. Still very yummy.
My son approves of his multilayered lion cake.
After breakfast we went to a nearby mall to check out one of my son’s favorite subjects: trains, specifically Steam Locomotive Railway Cafe (say that ten times quickly) a train themed cafe and store. I think my son was in heaven not knowing where to turn.
One of my favorite local stores, Lawson convenience store in miniature.
A replica of Kiyomizu Temple
Stunning village scene.
A more realistic local scene in miniature.
A multi, multi, multi level train tracks. Wow!!
Thomas and Friends is his favorite character and this cafe/store has a serious selection of this character.
Sensory overload for my son. Notice all the vending machines.
Tomica is Japan’s equivalent of Hot Wheels.
My son is in awe of the popular Gacha vending machines. In this case he’s captivated by the Thomas and Friends toy vending machines.
For only $2 gets you a surprise.
Back to Kyoto station for lunch (notice a theme here?) to try conveyor belt sushi for the first time. We went to Sushi no Muashi and I was really surprised at how good it was. I guess the (short) line of people outside gave it away as a good place to eat. It was so good that I wanted to eat here again. Alas it was a case of not having enough time to try all the eateries I wanted to. But as you’ll see farther below on this blog I found a solution to this problem.
Sort of a euro fusion.
The sheen on the cuttlefish signals freshness, the missing piece signals yummy approval.
Flame seared corn sushi.
I definitely didn’t go for the horse or mane meat. It looked like it’s been around the block or conveyor belt a few times with no takers.
The seared skin added a nice smoked flavor.
Duck sushi?? No unfortunately I did not try it.
After lunch we saved arguably the most famous site in Kyoto for last. Fushimi Inari Shrine is probably the most recognizable shrine with it’s countless orange torii gates. Indeed it was an impressive temple even with the crowds of tourists. This is where one encounters hoards of tour groups with its flag waving guides. Fortunately with its large grounds and endurance taxing uphill trails of orange gates the crowds slowly thin out and good photo ops are to be had after 20 minutes of walking.
Kimono renting tourist are framed beautifully.
Small replicas of the gates offerings.
It’s all uphill.
Replicas are written with good wishes.
Foxes are thought to be Inari’s messengers. More good wishes are written.
Shinto priest in action.
Fox statues are everywhere because of its auspiciousness.
You like ramen, I like ramen, who doesn’t like ramen? Dinner was at Kyoto station’s Ramen Street with its myriad of….. you guessed it….ramen restaurants. Actually it’s eight ramen restaurants showcasing eight regional types of noodles. All were supposed to be excellent so we just picked one of the less crowded ones. We ate at Touyoko which comes in a thick rich broth. So much so that there’s instructions on the wall on how to dilute the broth to vary the taste. The bowl of noodles are also huge. I keep doing my best slurping impression but couldn’t make a dent on my bowl of noodles. I was kind of embarrassed of the food I left uneaten and thought about the the family the leftovers can be feeding.
Vending machine order system.
Uh…that’s a huge bowl!!
I probably only ate a bit more than half the bowl. I like good food but am not a huge eater.
History and instructions on eating my ramen.
Back to Toyko (Narita) via Shinkansen. This time I bought food to go from the same conveyor belt sushi I ate earlier. Much much better food than the ekiben I had on the first leg of the train ride. I saw alot of Kyoto yet didn’t see much. We hit many of the top sites but it seemed a bit rushed. List of things to do on my next trip to Kyoto, spend more time in Gion district, maybe stay in a Ryokan, try more food, and just slow down.
Bullet train or Shinkansen
Food to go that was freshly made.
Random photos of Kyoto
Food: Kyoto is a great place to be if you like to eat.
With my son it’s all about the ice cream.
Japan is famous for it’s local flavored Kit Kats. I bought a bunch including tea (shown), Japan matcha, Kyoto matcha (more intense), various fruit flavors.
Went to the biggest Ekiben store in Tokyo Station – Ekibenya Matsuri
Amazing sweets. I wish I found the clear one with the fish and lily inside.
Boss Coffee vendors are everywhere. I should have tried a can to see if I will feel like the boss of all.
Fake Italian food display in front of an Italian restaurant.
It’s not as if it’s difficult to find a coffee shop. I saw this machine inside the train station.
Japan’s famous ubiquitous vending machines.
You don’t see cigarette machines in the US anymore.
The ubiquitous micro vans I saw everywhere.
It’s all about details. In this case kimono clad characters holding up construction barriers.
Ultraman is still popular. I remember watching TV shows when I was a kid. I should have bought one of these keychains.
Bicycle parking lot.
Another version of bicycle parking. It’s an automated underground parking lot.
Vacuum robot battle royale at Bic (Camera) shop. A great store to browse.
Although there’s not much English translations it’s quite easy to shop. With a myriad of choices on everything, quite often items are labeled by popularity ranked 1-10.