Top Pick: Hakone Open Air Museum – art and natural beauty in harmony

The town of Hakone is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, less than 60 miles from Tokyo and one of the most popular destinations for Japanese and international tourists. Famous for its natural beauty, many hotsprings (onsen), traditional inns ( ryokan), and the view of Mount Fuji across Lake Ashinoko (didn’t get to see that), Hakone is also renowned for its open air museum.

The Hakone Open Air Museum (Hakone Chōkoku No Mori Bijutsukan), has to be one of the most spectacular outdoor museums in the world. Surrounded by mountains and overlooking a valley, ~100 diverse sculptures (modern and contemporary, including works of Rodin, Milo and Moore) from around the world grace the expansive (~17 acres), rolling gardens. There’s also several indoor exhibits as well, including One of the world’s best collections of Picasso’s work, the 2 story Picasso Exhibition Hall displays a total of 300 pieces, including paintings, sculptures and ceramics. The exhibit also features photos chronicling of the artist’s life is one of world’s best collections.

 

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In addition there are shops, café’s, multiple kids spaces with art installations that they can climb on and a mini garden maze. And because the Japanese think of everything, there’s even an 65 foot heated foot bath to refresh your weary feet while enjoying the view.

You can easily spend hours here taking in all the beauty and the art.

Take the Hakone Tozan train there – it’s an incredible experience in itself

The Hakone Open Air Museum is just a few steps from Chokoku No Mori Station on the Hakone Tozan (30 minutes, $3.55 from Hakone-Yumoto). It’s the last station before the terminal station of Gora. Taking the train is an experience in itself as it chugs slowly up and back switchbacks up the steepest slope of all railways in Japan through green forests above the splendidly scenic Haya-kawa River Valley.

 

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From the train station, you’ll walk by Woody’s Café Bar first. I stopped in on my way to the museum. The hot artisan coffee was a cool wet morning so it was a perfect prelude to walking around outside. It’s quite a unique spot with a Toy Story theme, hence the name. It serves coffee, lunch, dinner and is a bar at night.

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Tokyo Photo Post and Top Picks Prince Hotel & Hamashiba Sushi, Minato

Had the good fortune to travel to Japan on business and to stay in the luxurious Prince Hotel, Minato, Tokyo. My bathroom and room had tremendous view of Tokyo tower (aka Eiffel Tower knock off). I have never been in such a large or luxurious bathroom – huge walk in shower, deep jacuzzi bathtub and enough room left over for a small dance party. Seriously, the bathroom seemed more spacious and outfitted than the room itself. In case you haven’t heard, the Japanese have a thing for outfitted toilets (heated seats, warm water spritz wash (biddett & hot air dry, etc…) and deep soaking tubs. We Westerners could certainly learn a thing or two from Japan and improve our WC experience…

 

While I was in town for business meetings, I still managed to sneak in a couple strolls and a quick run around the area to take in a few of the nearby scenic highlights.

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As my Japanese grand finale, I indulged in a sushi dinner at Hamashiba restaurant in the hotel. Forget everything you’ve heard about hotel restaurants – this one is superb. The sushi is outstanding, by far the best I’ve had and no doubt, will ever have. The maguro / tuna was absolutely exquisite and it was a treat and once in a lifetime experience to watch the master sushi chefs at work. Was it expensive? Duh. Was it worth it? Absolutely! (The company didn’t pick up this one.)

 

 

 

Sayonara!

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Garden and City views from my room at The Prince

 

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Oh, and it looks like the sole homeless person in all of Japan was sleeping under my window at The Prince.

Stay tuned for adventures in Kyoto and Hakone…Arigato.

Photo Post 5: Chiang Dao’s ancient ruins and temples

The Chiang Dao Cave adventure is not to be missed, but its spectacular setting is worth a thorough exploration as well…

Doi Chiang Dao, the mountain that you see rising out of the mist in a couple of the pictures below is Thailand’s 2nd highest at 7,135 feet. (No, I didn’t get to climb it on this trip, perhaps next…)

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The story of  dragons and temples: Myth has it that a dragon approached a monk and about his desire to worship with him in the temple. The monk told him that dragons weren’t allowed inside the temple, but they are welcome to guard the temples. Throughout Thailand you’ll see dragons guarding temples.

 

Photo Post 3: Local Market, Chiang Mai area (Warning: may be too visceral for some viewers.)

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One thing is for sure, the Thai love to eat. And as you can see from the pictures, they eat just about everything. (More so the northerners vs. the southerners.)  In fact, their voracious appetites have cleared nearly all their fauna from the national parks in the North. In 6 days of trekking and mountain biking in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai I didn’t see as much as a squirrel. (Certainly this is true for areas in the States and Europe as well.)

Photo Post 1: Little girl carrying her baby brother, Karen Hill Tribe

This might be my favorite photo of my entire Thailand trip. In one of my trek posts, I mentioned the big hill climb up to the Karen Hill Tribe village.  The morning we departed, this 5-year old girl was walking up the steep, long hill with the umbrella in one hand shielding her 2-week old brother whom she was carrying in her other.

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Big sister

She wasn’t alone. Her mom was by  her side.

Karen hill tribe girl carrying litte bro and Mom