It’s hard to believe that a few days more and the year 2018 will come to an end. Looking back at 2018, I would consider it was a successful year as I managed to visit Japan – my dream destination – for the very first time. Since the very young age, I have been exposed to the Japanese culture (blame anime and manga), and thus the Land of the Rising Sun has always been on top of my travel list.
Before getting on the plane, it was clear to me that I won’t be able to cover the whole country in just one journey. There are simply too many things to see within a limited time. That’s why I chose to explore region by region, and Kansai in the western part of the country was my first destination. Being home to Japan’s two ancient capitals Nara and Kyoto, Kansai is the ideal place for whoever wants to experience the old Japan. It’s filled with traditional houses, mystical religious sites, as well as some of the best-preserved castles in Japan.
But Kansai is not all about history and traditions. In fact, its regional capital Osaka is Japan’s second largest city and one of the most energetic. With eye-catching signs and colourful shopfronts can be found at nearly every corner, Osaka offers a stark contrast to the nostalgic beauty of Kyoto or Nara. The region is also known for its natural beauty, ranging from the gorgeous forest of Arashiyama to the sacred mountain of Kōyasan.
While this trip was mainly focused on Kansai, I spent a few days to explore Chugoku as well. Adjacent to Kansai, it only takes less than three hours to travel from Osaka to Hiroshima – Chugoku’s peaceful regional capital that rose from ash and destruction. The region is also famous for the holy island of Miyajima which is believed to be the home of three major Shinto goddesses, as well as the picturesque old town of Kurashiki.
2. South Korea
Also this year, I was lucky enough to capture the essence of autumn in South Korea. From the beautiful courtyards of Gyeongbokgung to Mount Namsan, the colour of autumn was vivid at every turn. The fall scenery was even more breathtaking when travelling east, to the national park of Seoraksan. Amidst the vibrant red and autumnal leaves rose 30 odd majestic rock formations. Adding a few waterfalls and clear water streams, you have a landscape that seemingly comes out of a dream.
Despite my love for the autumn foliage in Seoul and Seoraksan, a few days in the country’s southern capital Busan is no less memorable. I enjoyed strolling along the Haeundae Beach, wandering the maze-like alleys of Gamcheon, as well as relaxing in one of the world’s largest jijimbang. I also savoured the fresh seafood in Jagalchi Market and admired the unique architecture of Haedong Yonggungsa.
Although I incline to travel abroad, I do enjoy exploring my own backyard as well. I didn’t mind of getting lost in Ha Noi’s old quarter where everything is tiny, chaotic yet so familiar and down-to-earth. I also love the spring-like weather in Da Lat – a resort town that spawned up amid sloppy hills and pine tree-forests. And I was enchanted by the spectacular seascape of Ha Long Bay which was formed by thousands of limestone islands and islets. In comparison to my last visit in the 1990s, a lot of changes has occurred, especially in term of infrastructure. Gone was the chaotic harbour where a horde of hawkers glued to tourists as soon as they stepped out of the cars. The unsafe tiny boats were all replaced by larger ships and yachts, as well as the 8-hour trip from Ha Noi to Ha Long was now shortened by nearly 6 hours.
That’s all for this year. Before moving to 2019, I would like to express my gratitude to my dear followers who supported and encouraged me throughout the last 12 months. To me, you are the source of motivation, and thus I hope that I can bring you more interesting (hopefully helpful) posts in the next year. Wish you a great holiday and see you again in 2019!