Travel Review: Kyoto and Hotel Monterey
Angelic plum blossoms, Geisha streets, a magnificent gold-plated temple and an elegantly decorated boutique hotel. Aww... Kyoto, what more can I ask for?!?
Click to read how I lived my wanderlust dream through one of the most famous Asian metropolises, Kyoto.
Same time last year…
I was hoping for a pink Spring with B – stroll down a beautiful park with many cherry blossom trees as the backdrop. Something like this…
Okay, I know the above might be beyond the realms of possibility but I was hoping that it will be close.
Can’t miss the full bloom of cherry and plum blossoms again!
To fulfill our romantic pink dream, B and I went online to search for the ideal Spring destination. Kyoto popped up many times during our search and unknowingly, we were beginning to imagine our dream holiday – feasting on yummilicious sushi, indulging in hot spring baths and taking photos of scenic landscapes and historically rich shrines.
And then we made our decision – Kyoto here we come!
Since we intended to visit Tokyo too, we decided to fly to Haneda Airport (aka Tokyo International Airport) and take a train to Kyoto.
We took the Keikyu railway line from Haneda Airport to Shinagawa Station then transferred to the JR line Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto Station.
The journey to Kyoto takes 160 mins (2hrs 40 mins), so there’s a high possibility that you’ll feel peckish after sometime. Well, great news! The shinkansen offers delectable bites, bentos (box lunches) and a varied array of beverage options at reasonable prices.
Confused with the multiple railway lines? You can always consult the Tourist Information Center staff at the Haneda Airport.
We arrived in Kyoto at last!
We spot our hotel!
We chose the Hotel Monterey after reading its glowing reviews on Trip Advisor.
What we loved about this hotel was its great location (Karasuma Sanjo in the center of Kyoto) that provides easy access to Kyoto’s best shopping districts like Gion, famous heritage sites and tourist attractions as well as popular dining spots.
Walk into the classy hotel and be greeted by the sparkly chandeliers hanging off the ceiling, shiny floors and warm smiles of the Hotel Monterey staff.
The decor of the lobby is heavily influenced by British culture and heritage, from the paintings, to the faux fireplace to the Victorian furniture.
As mentioned on the Hotel Monterey website. “A hotel that combines the best of Kyoto’s stylish culture and Britain’s traditional heritage. The design is based on the arts and crafts of Scotland, particularly Edinburgh, its ancient capital. In fact Kyoto and Edinburgh are not only sister cities in name, but they also share many traits such as the lively street atmosphere and traditional culture. This hotel expresses the relationship between the two cities through its traditional architecture and warm atmosphere.”
Ooh... they have a library too.
Gotcha! It is not a real library. It is actually a cafe called ‘The Library’.
The cafe/bar adheres to the english theme with a traditional British stately-home library design that is artfully adorned with 1870 ornaments. It also features an antique mantle piece and bar-counter, making for a peaceful and relaxing atmosphere.
And now we take the lift and head to the room!
I felt like I was transported back to Japan again. The lift and corridor of the rooms spot a more traditional Japanese decor with floral motifs, Japanese art pieces and wooden walls.
And we arrived at our abode of the trip!
It is a cozy and functional little room that is well equipped with a queen-sized bed, comfortable robes, a washlet toilet, steam-free bathroom mirror and free wifi!
On top of soft fluffy towels and regular hotel toiletries, Hotel Monterey also provides foaming face and hand wash!
This is the kinda luxury and service I’m talking about. They take care of you from head to your pinky toes. 😛
And now we explore the room.
The room boasts an elegant design by continuing the theme of the lobby and corridor with its english-themed dark blue striped walls, bedsheets and dark wooden furniture and Japanese lamp.
On top of the basic hotel amenities, the hotel also provides an air purifier, anti-germ spray and trinket containers for our jewelry and knick-knacks.
Other basics include a kettle, green tea sachets and a fridge of refreshing beverages.
Not enough choices? Vending machine to the rescue!
Vending machines are ubiquitous in Japan so I wasn’t surprised to find one along the corridor.
Beer or green tea for you?
Overall, I thought my room was perfect. My only gripe was the pathetic view from my window despite staying on the 11th floor. Oh well…
There are many good eateries in close vicinity of the hotel that offers traditional, authentic and savory Kyoto cuisine. Here are my top faves.
Minokichi (Kyoto’s Traditional Cuisine)
Its signboard says it all. 🙂
If I didn’t read the signboard (below) wrongly, I think this next establishment is called Risami Sushi. It is a traditional family restaurant that offers the freshest and most delicious sashimi and sushi.
These great restaurants were actually introduced to us by the friendly staff at the Hotel Monterey concierge (see below). Besides arranging transport for hotel guests, they also provide detailed travel guides and information.
Trust me. They know Kyoto inside out and can easily name five good restaurants or attractions when you enquire. They are well-versed in English so you don’t have to worry if you can’t speak or read Japanese.
And now here’s a quick rundown of the must-see tourist attractions in Kyoto recommended by Hotel Monterey Kyoto!
Gion (祇園) is Kyoto’s most famous geisha district, located around Shijo Avenue between Yasaka Shrine in the east and the Kamo River in the west. It is filled with shops, restaurants and ochaya (teahouses), where geiko (Kyoto dialect for geisha) and maiko (geiko apprentices) entertain. Gion attracts tourists with its high concentration of traditional wooden machiya merchant houses. Due to the fact that property taxes were formerly based upon street frontage, the houses were built with narrow facades only five to six meters wide, but extend up to twenty meters in from the street.
(Extracted from www.japan-guide.com)
I met a real Geisha!
Kinkaku-ji or Temple of the Golden Pavilion (a Buddhist temple made famous in 1950 when it was destroyed by arson after surviving World War II intact.)
The top two floors are fully coated with gold leaf! :O
Kiyomizu-dera is one of the most famous temples in Kyoto and was built at the end of the 8th century. The main hall was constructed in the 17th century, and is famous for its location overhanging a cliff. The platform of the main hall, which is supported by 139 giant pillars, affords a spectacular view of the town of Kyoto. It is designated a National Treasure. The three-storied pagoda in the temple precinct, which was rebuilt during the 17th century, is designated by the national government as an Important Cultural Property. The expansive site, with an area of 130,000 sq m, contains many Important Cultural Properties, including buildings and Buddhist images. Along the ravine to the south of the main hall grow cherry and maple trees. This site is known for its cherry blossoms in the spring, and its red leaves during the fall.
(Extracted from www.jnto.go.jp/eng)
That wasn't a shooting star by the way. It was just a beam of light shooting into the air. :P
I took many shots and this was probably my best capture of the Kiyomizu-dera. I love it so much and I’m so going to hang this picture in my future home. 😀
Kurama Onsen Outdoor and indoor baths can be enjoyed at Kurama Onsen, a ryokan located at the upper end of the town of Kurama. It can be reached in a 10 minute walk from the train station along the town’s only road or along a nature trail following the river. Staying guests can use the baths for free, while daytrippers pay 2500 yen to use all of the baths or 1100 yen for just the outdoor bath.
(Extracted from www.japan-guide.com)
Hot Spring bath time!
Men and women enjoy their hot spring baths in separate pools.
The beautiful scenery outside the hot springs.
After your soothing hot soaks, you could enjoy a fine cup of green tea or try Kurama Onsen’s homemade dishes at their family restaurant. They serve the healthiest and most palatable dishes I tell you.
You might be interested to know that Kurama Onsen maintains a strict no tattoo policy. So if you have a tattoo, you might wanna skip this and head to this next destination. 🙂
Ryōan-ji (Shinjitai: 竜安寺, Kyūjitai: 龍安寺, The Temple of the Dragon at Peace) is a Zen temple located in northwest Kyoto, Japan. It belongs to the Myōshin-ji school of the Rinzai branch of Zen Buddhism. The temple garden is considered to be one of the finest examples of a kare-sansui, a Japanese rock garden, or zen garden, in Japan. The temple and gardens are listed as one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto, and as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
(Extracted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ryōan-ji)
Mini zen garden!
Last but not least!
Kitano Tenman-gu Shrine
It was the third week of March and the cherry blossoms had yet to bloom. 🙁
The plum blossoms were already bursting out in bloom so we were just as excited.
Plum, or ume, trees were introduced to Japan from China in the 8th century and are believed to ward off danger. On many older plots of land you will find plum trees planted in the northeast corner, the so-called ”Demon’s Gate”, from where danger and evil are believed to enter. Because of this belief, many family crests also incorporate the plum blossom into their design. Plum blossoms herald spring and offer the perfect occasion for the year’s first picnics, a sure sign that cherry blossoms and warmer days can’t be far away. Kitano Tenman-gu Shrine is home to nearly 2,000 plum trees. This shrine has become synonymous with plum blossoms, which are a prominent decorative motif in its lanterns, tiles, and woodwork. From about February 10th to the end of March, the plum orchard southwest of the main shrine is open for public viewing.
(Extracted from http://www.kyotoguide.com/ver2/thismonth/plum2013.html)
‘Tenjin-san’ flea market outside the shrine
It is a flea market that is held around Kitano-tenmangu Shrine on the 25th of each month. Everyday people sell second-hand clothing, pottery, and antiques here in small stalls. This is a fun place to chat with the sellers, learn about the items on sale, and even negotiate the prices if you feel up to the task. There are also plenty of food stalls as well.
(Extracted from http://www.kyoto.travel/2009/11/flea-market-1.html)
Finally, I bid my Kyoto trip goodbye with a sumptuous and calorific meal at Jouvencelle, Gion.
They serve the best matcha fondue/ green tea fondue in town!
Dip your favorite Japanese mochi (rice cake), fruits and cakes into a specially prepared matcha chocolate for the ultimate green tea experience.
Finished your confections and cakes and still have some matcha chocolate left? Then transform it into a matcha au lait by adding some warm milk! This suggestion was made by a Jouvencelle staff. 🙂
Farewell Kyoto! *waves sadly*