Hike & Soak in Serenity, Kibune to Kurama, Northeastern Kyoto

I’ve always been captivated by the idea of hiking from village to village – anywhere. When I was researching things to do near Kyoto before my trip, I learned of the short hike from Kibune village to Kurama village and decided it was a must do.

It was so much of a “must do” squeezed into my tight itinerary that I went ahead with my plans despite the downpour that day. Who knows when, if ever, I’ll return to Japan. (I was prepared with rain gear and warm clothes and no doubt the conditions would make the reward of the soaking in the Kurama Onsen even more decadent – it did.) Perhaps the title of this post should be : “Hike, get soaked and then soak.”

It didn’t take me long to explore the quaint, tiny hamlet of Kibune. In the heavy rain, few people were out and all the buildings seemed sealed tight against the elements. The only exception was the Kibune-jinja Shrine on the left hillside near the road.

I believe a wedding was taking place…


Apparently there are some amazing restaurants in Kibune with open dining platforms that extend over the rushing river below. Sadly, not today. After I checked the shrine out, I walked down steps, crossed the street, and walked over the river on the vermilion bridge to the trail head.

After paying the ~$3 entrance fee to the attendant in the little gate house and being warned of treacherous, muddy trail conditions, I cinched up my rain jacket hood and set out. (The attendant did not stop me or tell me that the trail was closed so I figured it would just be a muddy, slippery slog that would make me appreciate the onsen at the end even more – it did.) The hike is a mere 3.9km / 2.4 miles, but the mud and slippery conditions made what would have been a 40 min walk, much longer. It’s single track through the forest with Shinto shrines to discover along the way. You’ll know you’ve reached Kurama when you encounter picturesque Kurama dera, Buddhist temple.

Kurama dera, Buddhist Temple

Unfortunately, I have no pictures on the trail as it was raining so hard, I didn’t dare take my camera out. At the trails end, you have just 1 kilometer to go to reach Kurama Onsen.

At the Onsen, you have the option of soaking in an indoor spa or outdoor pool. I’m sure you can guess which one I chose. (For scoop on Onsen etiquette, see my previous post on the Fukuzumiro Ryokan.)

I soaked in the serene, lush mountain scenery, listening to the pitter patter of the rain drops on the leaves, watching the mist rise from the hot pool as the cool rain kissed my face and shoulders. I was transported to a different time, a different place, a different life. (Calgon eat your heart out.) And no, I don’t have pictures of this incredible setting – no cameras allowed for obvious reasons, but there are acouplepictures on TripAdvisor

Reluctantly leaving this scene behind, I enjoyed a sumptuous feast at the inn’s restaurant before returning by train to Kyoto.

Delightful Tempura Appetizers

Notes: You can hike the trail in either direction, but Kurama is a preferable end destination because it has more restaurants and is home to the Kurama Ryokan (traditional Japanese Inn) and Onsen (hot spring/ bath house). Apparently, this is the easier direction as well. Highly recommend this as a half day , full day or over-nighter out of Kyoto.

I imagine these villages are even more scenic in the fall with the red maple leaves and in the summer, when everything is green and glimmering.


On October 22, Kurama has a Fire Festival is that involves men and children carrying torches. It is a rite of passage for the town’s youth. I’ve read this is so overrun with tourist now that it’s difficult to see anything due to crowds.

Held in November at various Inari shrines on different days, including Kibune, the Ohitaki rice harvest festival is a thanksgiving event.

Distance: Relatively easy 3.9km / 2.4 miles – not quite as easy when muddy & slippery.

Getting there: It’s just a 30 minute train ride to Kibune via the Eizan Electric Railway from Demachiyanagi Station in northeastern Kyoto (each ~$4 one way).  You can catch the Eizan Electric Railway train back in Kurama.

Top Pick: While I didn’t stay overnight at Kurama Ryokan, I can speak to my Onsen and restaurant experience, both of which were superb.


Top Pick: Fukuzumiro Ryokan & Onsen, Traditional Culture & Zen Views in Hakone

When in Japan, I suggest that you “go traditional” and stay in a ryokan (traditional inn) for at least 1 night or more.  Featuring tatami-matted rooms, futons for beds, ofuro (communal baths), usually fed by onsens (hot springs), and large entrance halls where guests can relax and socialize, these traditional inns have existed since the 8th century AD. It’s a memorable cultural experience you won’t want to miss.

The Hakone Tonosawa Spa is said to have been discovered by a Buddhist priest in 1604. The Fukuzumiro Ryokan was established in 1890 by Sawamura Takatoshi, a former samurai from Kumamoto province on Kyushu. (It was destroyed by a flood in 1910 and rebuilt shortly after.) The 3-story, wood building is nestled along the Hayakawa river bank and is a 5-10 minute walk from Hakone-Yumoto Station.

Gorgeous and immaculate entrance. The floor glimmers like gold. First order of business was swapping out my hiking shoes for a pair of slippers at the front door.
An active koi pond in the downstairs hallway of the inn.
Sleeping on the futon and tatami mats was quite comfortable. They are laid out for you in the evening.
Traditional breakfast impeccably served in the comfort of your room – definitely worth trying.

There are 17 rooms. If you have an upstairs room like mine, you will be navigating a short staircase to reach a downstairs shared bathroom…(Not sure if they have rooms with private baths – this is a historic building.)

Ask for a room with a river view. (They have garden view too, but I can’t imagine that they top the river view.)

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The splendid view of the Hayakawa river from my room. The sound of the rushing water below. Ahh, the beauty framed in these 3 windows.

The communal bath has specific hours split between male & female visitors (not the most convenient aspect). It’s pleasant, but indoors. Note: Be sure to follow proper Japanese etiquette when visiting an communal bath house. Wash yourself thoroughly first, using the bucket and the ladle or cup. Once clean, you may proceed to immerse yourself. (Also, it’s not for the shy – it’s nude soaking. No cameras  or cell phones allowed. And, as with all of Japan, be mindful that this is a quiet and respectful culture.)

(Visited an outdoor onsen later in Kurama and enjoyed a hot soak surrounded by green vegetation with the refreshing rain drizzle cooling my face and shoulders.) And no, I don’t have pictures of that – see the no cameras rule above.)

I highly recommend when in Japan do as the Japanese have done for centuries and go to a Ryokan and Onsen. Immerse yourself in the cultural experience.

Suffice to say that I enjoyed my total immersion at the Fukuzumiro – Ryokan. It’s conveniently close-by (scenic train ride you catch in walking distance from the inn) to the Hakone Open Air Museum – an absolute “must do” if you’re in the area.




Top Pick: Banning House Lodge, Two Harbors, Catalina

Want a wonderful romantic or solo getaway where you can unplug for a couple days, enjoy spectacular views (of the Isthmus on one side and Catalina Harbor on the other), and top off your full day of activity or relaxation with a sunset  wine & cheese social? Look no further than the Banning House Lodge in lovely, remote Two Harbors.

Located at the West End of Catalina Island, Two Harbors is more of a boaters’ and campers’ paradise compared to the Avalon, which I’d classify as a tourist meca…If you’re into nature, beauty  and outdoor and ocean activities, this is the spot. And it’s especially relaxing in   the off season…

Built in 1910 as a summer home for the Banning brothers, this 12 room lodge features 20th century charm and character, while delivering some fine contemporary Two Harbors hospitality.
It feels like a bed a breakfast, but each room has its own private bath.


And I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to arrive just in time to take a quick shower and enjoy the warm welcome of the wine & cheese social hour.


If you’re lucky, you might see a Catalina Fox trying to slip by unnoticed while you sip your wine in the sunset on the veranda…

The complimentary continental breakfast was delightful. Fresh fruit, yogurt, pastries, bagels, muffins, etc. A whole bowlful of blueberries, oh my.
And there are plenty of splendid spots on the patio to enjoy your coffee, expresso, or wine al fresco.
There’s also a gorgeous Common Room and cozy Sun Room with incredible island and ocean views and fireplaces. They even decked it out for the holidays.
Did you know, Catalina has a birthday promotion?  The trick is in order to take advantage of the spiffs and discounts, you have to be traveling on your b-day. Unfortunately, I was a day shy of mine, but much to my delight, I found this surprise in my room.
A gorgeous hand-painted and inked bday card!

What a wonderful stay in a magical setting! Even in the off season, the service, hospitality and accommodations were superb and it was a special treat to have the place nearly all to ourselves. (We met a great couple from the same town we’re from while there.)

Do they have wifi? I don’t even know or care, I came to unplug.

The Lodge offers free shuttle service to and from Two Harbors “village” where you will find Harbor Sands, the 1 restaurant and bar and “activity hub”. The Lodge is located on top of a hill so it requires a mini-hike of less than a half mile to go to & fro or a shuttle ride.
 Contact  Info
(I should mention that getting to Two Harbors can be a bit more challenging than just going to Avalon. Since Avalon is the more popular destination, most ferries go there, not so with Two Harbors. You have to depart from San Pedro to go direct, or take the safari bus from Avalon, or if you’re a bit nuts like me, you can mt. bike from Avalon to Two Harbors…It’s only 21 miles or so, but it’s a bit fierce with all the climbs.)

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.





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 ,  traversing switchbacks up and backwards as it climbs 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.)





Garden and City views from my room at The Prince


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.

My “Best of Thailand” Recap

What an amazing whirlwind month it was! So many incredible sights, sounds, tastes and experiences, definitely one of my top trips. Highly recommend Thailand as a destination. If you’re thinking about it, do it! My blog covers all the places I went and most of my activities – just use the search tool to get the scoop on the areas that interest you or do a browse and select Thailand for an overview of all the posts. There’s plenty more to see and explore there, but this was all I could pack into my trip. Let me know what spot is your favorite so I can check it out next time. If you have any questions, just send me a note.

Where I went


Chiang Mai

Mae Wang

Chiang Dao


Chang Rai



Koh Samui

Koh Phangan

Railay, Krabi


What I did

These are my top picks from my month-long adventures

Best active tours: ActiveThailand

Best beach with restaurants, live music & mellow nightlife: Chaloklum Bay, Koh Samui

Best beach resort:  White House, Koh Samui

Best experience: Trekking and mountain biking remote areas of northern Thailand and homestaying with the Karen Hill Tribe

Best food: Chiang Dao Restaurant near the cave  – Chicken Tumeric, Chiang Mai & Bangkok Street Food – pork on a stick

Best health & Fitness Resort: Thanyapura Health & Sports Resort See post.

Best nature preserve island: Naugyuan

Best ruins: Sukkhothai

Best scenery: Railay, Krabi

Best town: Thaton

Best view from the room: Cocohut Beach Resort & Spa, Koh Phangan

Best wildlife: Railay, Krabi


Here are some scenes from my last night in Thailand, near the Bangkok airport:


Tip: The Paragon Inn is a basic, but decent airport hotel. It’s minutes from the airport and walking distance from the mall and street market. Super convenient for getting those last minute gifts and for catching those early AM flights.



Can’t emphasize enough how easy and inexpensive it is to tour around Thailand and have an exceptional time.  I’ll share more about what makes it so easy in an upcoming blog post.










Koh Samui: Highlights, Tips & Top Pick White House Resort & Spa

First impression of Koh Samui, not so good. Fortunately, as you’ll see, it got better after a little trial and error.

Drove several miles through areas that make Honolulu seem rural…It was so congested with buildings, bars and cheap tourist shops that you couldn’t see through to the beaches. Young tourists and aging Caucasian derelicts from all over the world were running amok, boozing it up and smoking in the heat of the day. Yup, major turn off.

A dozen or so miles beyond the airport, things improved, beaches became visible and I let out a sigh of relief. (Perhaps too soon.)  I happily paid ahead and checked into what appeared to be a lovely resort on the beach. While the hotel was well appointed, as picturesque as the beach was, I found out too late that the beach was not “functional”. Too short and rocky for walking or running and too coral filled and prone to low tides for swimming. I wanted out, but there was no refund coming so I made the best of my stay there. I took one of their free kayaks for a tour around to Lamai Beach, a more desirable area.

TIP: Learn from my mistake. Never pay ahead until you have thoroughly checked the place out.

TIP: Given the tides and the coral situation it can be difficult to find a swim-able beach in the islands. If that’s important to you, do your research.

Ok, don’t mean to whine,  it wasn’t terrible, just disappointing. I did enjoy their great view and a lovely breakfast.


Rented a scooter to scout the island for a better spot for the next two nights.

Discovered the Na Muang waterfall along with the rest of the crowd whom I somehow managed to edit out of the picture.

Na Muang Waterfall DescriptionNa Muang Waterfall

TIP: Go early and on a weekday to avoid the crowds.

Apologies on the video quality – I’ll get better…


Found a great spot, the White House Beach Resort and Spa. It was one of my favorites during my 30 day journey around Thailand. Staff was gracious; room was spacious. Tropical setting with an old world vibe, the resort is a peaceful paradise in a great location. At night, you can enjoy mellow live music down the beach and you have your pick of romantic beach-side dining. There’s a nice village feel with a handful of restaurants and excellent, inexpensive massage ($9 an hour)  right across the street. And it’s a great spot for your activity hub, as there are many tours and excursions you can join. (See my Tale of Two Snorkels post.)

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TIP: Book excursions direct from the tour places along the street – the hotel adds a significant surcharge.

Friendly felines and pooches make you feel at home. Gym is limited, small and not air conditioned. The most hilarious thing to me is that they have a sauna that costs $12 an hour. Who the heck takes sauna’s in this kind of tropical heat? All you have to do is go into the gym and sweat it out for free-lol!  Pool is on the small side, but I spent all my time in the the dazzling turquoise waters. Breakfast buffet is quite good too and the view can’t be beat. The beach is lovely and the resort is enchanting! I’d come back any day. Today would be good. : )



Next stop, take a walk on the wilder side with me to Koh Phanang, home to the infamous full moon party and the Cocohut Beach Resort.