When you are teaching in Korea and have a 3 day weekend working for ChungDahm or April, it's always worth your while to take a mini vacation if you can afford it. Now that I am splitting my time between teaching ChungDahm and April Academy, I am getting more time off. Knowing that Lunar New Year would be coming up, my friend and I realized how expensive those tickets would be. So we decided to go on our trip the weekend before the major holiday. She had never been to Osaka or Kyoto so we decided to see if we could spend one day in Osaka and one day in Kyoto. My advice would be to not do it. A one day trip to either place is not nearly enough time to soak in what each city has to offer. There is so much to see and do in both places, you will not do either city its justice. Many teachers love to go to Osaka because it is only a 2 hour flight from Incheon International Airport (ICN) to Kansai International Airport (KIX). The last time I took this trip, we spent a full day at Universal Studios Japan (Osaka) and toured the following day. However, many teachers don't realize how close, how beautiful, and how historic Kyoto is. Here was my to-do list for traveling to Kyoto.
- Airport Limousine Bus Pass - From KIX take the Airport Limo Bus to Umeda Station. The price for the pass is 1550 yen ($13.50 USD) and it takes about 1 hour to get there if there is no traffic. I really enjoy riding the bus because you get to see what the city actually looks like instead of being underground in a subway. If you want to take the subway, the subway will drop you off at Namba Station and you will then have to transfer to Umeda Station.
- Hankyu Railway - When getting off the bus, on the 2nd floor, you can find the Hankyu Railway Information Center. This has a great wealth of information and the lady we spoke to spoke perfect English. However, they do service other languages there as well. Ask for the Hankyu Railway Tourist Pass. For 800 Yen ($7.00 USD), you can ride the Hankyu Railway anywhere for the day (they sell 2 day passes as well). She suggested we go to Kyoto and then head to Kobe to have some authentic Kobe beef. I told her I`d have to save it for next time because we were on a mission to clear our list.
- Kyoto Unlimited Bus Pass - We got off at Saiin Station and we knew about this special bus pass that would let us hop off and jump on anywhere in Kyoto. This is a must have especially because Japanese taxis are notoriously pricey. You can purchase it on the bus or at Lawson Convenience Store for 500 yen ($4.50).
After purchasing it, these were our favorite sites to go see:
Kinkaju-ji Palace (Golden Palace) - Since we got off at Saiin Station, it was only a 15 minute bus ride there. This place is beautiful and it only cost 400 Yen to get in. If you love taking pictures, this is a must visit place while in Kyoto. After walking the palace grounds (35-40 minutes), we did some shopping as there are some items that you can only purchase at Kinkaju-ji Palace.
Sagano Bamboo Forest in Arashiyama - You can take a bus from the Golden Palace to here but it will require a 1 bus transfer. When I turned the corner, I was honestly in awe of this place as there were meters upon meters high of bamboo that line a walking path. However, getting there in the afternoon meant that there were so many tourists. Luckily, there was a clearing and we both were able to take a picture. If you want to get a great picture, it is best to come in the early morning around 6-7AM and if you are lucky little or no one will be there.
Kiyomizu-dera Temple - I had seen so many pictures online about this place and I knew it had to go there. From the bamboo forest, it takes about 1 hour by bus. It does seem like a long time, but Kyoto is polar opposite of its neighbor Osaka. Fairly quiet, no skyrises, and friendly people. We got a bit lost, but this elderly lady showed us the way. The friendliness of the Japanese is amazing to me. In any case, you walk up a street lined full of souvenirs and street food and at the top of the hill you can see the temple entrance. It does cost 400 Yen to enter but it was well worth it. The view of the Kyoto skyline matched with the temple is quite possibly the highlight of my trip.
Like I mentioned before, we tried to do all of these activities and then some all in one day. It wasn`t a complete success, however it wasn`t an utter failure either. If you want to see more famous places like the Ginkakuji Silver Temple and Nijo Castle, you better opt to stay an extra day because most tourist attractions close early. Also, we couldn't even stay to see the lively Gion District open up in the evening. Since Kobe is nearby, you can find many restaurants serving premium grade Kobe beef and Wagyu beef (since we ran out of time, we ate Wagyu beef in Osaka). You can also experience a traditional Japanese tea ceremony and one must try green tea flavored desserts which is what Kyoto is famous for. Kyoto is by far one of my favorite places I have been to while living in Asia and I know I will be back again!
Marc Gonzales has been living in Seoul working at the ChungDahm's Gangdong Branch for 5 years now. During those 5 years, he worked his way up from being a teacher and is now a faculty manager for that location. He majored in Finance and Marketing at the University of Nevada Las Vegas while working as a manager for a national bank. In his spare time, he enjoys outdoor activities like hiking the numerous mountains around Seoul and biking along the massive Han River. To know more about him and his adventures living in Korea, follow Marc on Twitter @geonmakku and on Instagram @geonmakku.