Sunday, 28 October 2012

Golden Week in Japan and the Philippines

Hikone Castle
China doesn’t take holi-days, they take holi-weeks. For both the National Day (establishment of the PRC was on Oct 1, 1949) and Chinese New Year the country shuts down for an entire week. So we decided to take advantage of the time off and tour some parts of Asia. With so many options to choose from, we decided to spend one week in Japan and then take an extra one in the Philippines.
Aquaduct at Nanzenji
The week in Japan was the mommy & daddy vacation where we spent a lot of time with the kids on our backs and trying to make things interesting for them while still getting to appreciate the sites and culture that we wanted to see. 
Discussing the art at the Hakone Open-Air Museum
Walking near Lake Ashi
After arriving a day late due to a typhoon, we explored the beautiful national park area around Hakone and Mt. Fuji. Despite not being able to see the mountain as it was clouded in, we enjoyed hiking around and taking in the natural landscapes. And the kids had fun on the various trains, gondolas, cable cars, and boats, as well as the wonderful Hakone Open-Air Museum, which we highly recommend for both adults and kids alike. There we all loved discussing and interacting with the installations in a beautiful mountain setting. 

Kiyomizudera Temple

Tristan waits for a bus
We then spent a few days in Kyoto which is daunting in the number of temples you feel compelled to visit (including 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites). We selected a few highlights and toured around for a couple of days at a relaxed pace and even caught a glimpse of two Geisha slipping out of a cab and into a tearoom one evening in the Gion distirct (though I wasn't fast enough with the camera). And then we would return to our shoebox hotel room in the evening and take a glorious Japanese bath. Amelia especially liked the ritual of showering and then climbing into the various baths of different temperatures. It was a very relaxing way to end a touristy day. We also did a day trip to the nearby Hikone to see a Japanese castle.

Hiking in the 2,000 year old graveyard
Amelia loved the dressed-up grave stones
After Kyoto we took a train to the mountain-top town of Koyasan where some of the 50 Buddhist temples have opened themselves up to overnight lodgers. So we had the opportunity to sleep in the temple, sit down to our private dinner (eating on the floor with pillows can be good with tired children!), take another Japanese bath, and attend ceremonies in the morning. After taking in quite a few temples on the journey, I wasn't sure how the kids would feel about staying in one, and was pleasantly surprised when Amelia said "that is so cool!" She didn't find the different tastes and textures of the vegetarian cuisine nearly as cool, but I quite enjoyed it. 
Enjoying dinner in Shukubo Temple

Joining in the Serenade 
We then left Japan for our more kid-oriented vacation in the Philippines. We stayed in a small resort in Bohol by the beach, but, as usual, the highlight of the trip was the swimming pool. Amelia and Tristan are getting much more confident in the water. Tristan can “swim” with floaties without any support from us, and Amelia is super close to being able to swim on her own without her water wings. She likes to jump into the pool so she goes completely underwater, and on this trip she practiced swimming with her snorkel mask (the snorkel got a little complicated). So when we went on a snorkel trip she jumped into the water with us and we strapped her mask on. She swam around with us looking down and saw lots of fish and even a blue starfish! She would put her head in the water for 10 seconds and then come up and very excitedly describe everything she had just seen. I think we might have a water girl on our hands. She wants to go back to the Philippines when she’s ten so she can learn how to scuba dive.
First of the boat to hit the dance floor
In addition to the pool and the ocean, we took the opportunity to take in some of the sights on the island on a day tour, including a butterfly farm, a sanctuary for tarsiers, some of the worlds smallest primates, the chocolate hills, and a river cruise. The kids really enjoyed all of these activities, and it was a great day out. 
Butterfly farm
It was great to take a two-week vacation from the Chinese hustle and bustle. And, us being us, the next planning is already underway. We’ll be in USA (California & Oregon) for the Christmas holidays and we've just purchased tickets for our February trip…Vietnam and Cambodia! For more photos of the trip, click here (and I'll be adding more in the next week or so). 

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