Running Around the Kyoto Imperial Palace

As someone who’s been a cross country runner for over 10 years, I have a tradition of going on an average length run (around 5km) every time I’m in a new place. Not only does it help me get better acquainted with the area, but it also gives me an incredible endorphin boost that will keep me in a good mood throughout the day. If you do this, just be sure to take your phone along so you don’t get lost!

The hilarious part about my 5 day trip to Kyoto was that my shoes randomly broke while I was hiking. Fortunately I was able to borrow some cheap ones from my hotel, but I really need shoes with good support to continue to high level of activity.

I found a shoe store chain called ABC Mart near Nishiki Market in central Kyoto. They have Nike, Puma, Converse, and a variety of brands but my favorite is the Japanese brand ASICS. I settled on this pair of red ones so I could continue my streak of running around the city:

ASICS is a reliable brand with gel support, and they tend to last for a while. I set off for the Kyoto Imperial Palace which has a beautiful park that you are free to roam around in outside of the gates. It’s so peaceful and quiet here, and you can choose to do laps around it or run down the street nearby towards Nijo Castle. I love the sense of peace I get coming here in the morning. Even if you’re not a runner, this is an area I definitely recommend checking out!!

Secret Agent Woman: Going to James Bond Island in the Rain & Getting Jumped by a Monkey

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James Bond island, also know as Khao Phing Kan, is undoubtedly one of the most popular tourist destinations in Thailand due to its appearance in “The Man with the Golden Gun”.  Though it is somewhat overrated, I wanted to go for the sake of photography and also to learn more about its unique geology.  I learned during my tour with Phuket Sail Tours that its Thai name means “hills leaning against one another” because that is how it is thought to be formed.

The rock floating in the middle is called “Ko Ta Pu” and was originally thought to be a barrier reef that eroded by natural causes including wind, waves, and tides. All of these formations around the island and their limestone caves are actually a part of Ao Phang Nga National Park, which is a picturesque place to sail through and go swimming.

According to Geology Page, the legend surrounding the island is:

Once upon a time, there lived a fisherman who used to bring home many fish every time he went to the sea. However, one day he could not catch any fish despite many attempts and only picked up a nail with his net. He kept throwing the nail back into the sea and catching it again. Furious, he took his sword and cut the nail in half with all his strength. Upon impact, one half of the nail jumped up and speared into the sea, forming Ko Tapu.

Curious to learn more, I set sail from Phuket on a group tour just before the sunset.  The advantage to going later is you avoid most of the crowds, and on clear days you can get golden lighting while photographing these landscapes.

The tour began with a trip to Phanak Island where we got off the boat, and explored the hidden caves and lagoons via kayak.  It was quite a pleasant trip, as the caves were like nothing I had ever seen before!  I met some interesting wildlife there, including a tiny blue crab.

On the way through the lagoon, a wild monkey jumped from a rock formation and onto my canoe!! Fortunately I had left most of my belongings on the main boat so he didn’t have anything to ransack.  He seemed to be merely curious; maybe he thought my blonde hair was a banana.  I tried to keep on rowing slowly while taking a video, and eventually he got bored and hopped off.  Though our encounter was brief, it was an experience that I’ll never forget!  It is wild moments like these that make me really love going on these adventures in Thailand.

After saying goodbye to my monkey friend, I headed back to the main boat and onwards our main destination: James Bond Island.  I was happy to find that there weren’t many tourists there when we arrived–just monks, vendors, and a few other people.  I was able to get a few good pictures right before the rain started to fall!  I took cover in a nearby cave, and despite the weather I felt like I was on a legitimate mission.  It was actually kind of fun being there on a cloudy day because it fits the atmosphere of a secret hideout.

The captain then called us back to the ship for dinner.  We had some very delicious grilled fish, curry, vegetables, and beer with the same name as my cat, Leo!

Even though it was raining, the tour still continued.  On our way back to shore, we stopped at Hong Island and the bat caves.  Within the caves you can also see rare blue plankton.  It is a chemical reaction that scientists hypothesize is possible due to the plankton wanting to confuse their predators with a a bioluminesce glow.

Though many people slam James Bond Island for being too touristy, I would recommend it because the destinations around it are beautiful, and it’s actually very fun to see!  This trip is perfect for those looking to see the limestone caves up close and learn more about the unique geology this country has.  Just be sure to watch out for the monkeys!

Swimming through the Picturesque Phi Phi Islands (Thailand)

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I started the first day of my trip to Thailand during Golden Week by traveling to the picturesque Phi Phi Islands in the Krabi province. These islands have been used as film locations for several movies due to their beautiful formation consisting of many beaches and caves, and also are a popular resort destination. Whereas my first trip to Thailand focused on seeing 3 major cities of the country (Bangkok, Phuket, and Chiang Mai), this trip focused on exploring tinier islands and beaches for their unique charm.

To get to Phi Phi, it is easiest to take a speedboat from Phuket so I booked a group tour through Phuket Sail Tours to reach the chain of islands.  This tour was awesome because all of the people were around my age (mid-twenties), and the tour guide provided us with free beer.  It felt amazing to go diving off the boat and get lost within the Emerald waters of the Andaman Sea!

The first stop was Maya Bay, which was used as a film location in the movie “The Beach”. Unfortunately this beach has been closed until mid 2021 by the The Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation according to Bangkok Post due to it being overcrowded with tourists, but most tours will stop so you can take pictures of the island.

We then stopped at Pileh Lagoon for swimming and diving, and headed towards Phi Phi Don for snorkeling.  I was able to see a colorful assortment of fish and even swim with some!  I also saw tiny sting rays and sea urchins at the bottom of the ocean.  The time allotted for each location was adequate for seeing a lot of amazing sights. The bright atmosphere, bountiful schools of marine wildlife, and colorful assortment of boats really makes this a pleasant trip!

Next we sailed by Viking Cave, which we were unfortunately unable to enter due to the preservation of bird nests inside of it (according to our tour guide), but it was still interesting to see.  One of the most amusing stops was Monkey Beach, where we swam and watched monkeys ransack kayaks and backpacks for bananas.

The monkeys in Thailand are a lot like the ones in Japan–usually non-violent, but definitely handsy!  These monkeys were self-trained to open backpacks and knew exactly where to find the bananas.  Fortunately I did not get anything stolen, but it is advised to keep your luggage with you or on the boat so they do not ransack it.  Regardless, I had a lot of fun watching the monkeys here skillfully snatch food while relaxing on the beach!

To end the trip, we had a buffet lunch and chilled on the white sands of Bamboo Island.  Most tours have curry buffets with mixed vegetables, chicken, seafood, and rice because they are easy to make and are very filling.  I only eat seafood and vegetables, but fortunately I still found a lot of options.

For more information, please watch this video by Phuket Sail Tours, and please keep an eye on my future posts!

ASICS Gel Quantum Infinity Launch Party in Tokyo

Have you ever walked into a shoe store with interactive light fields, DJs blasting house music, and been immediately offered free alcohol by smiling salesman? I was not expecting this series of events when I walked into my favorite shoe store in Tokyo after work, desperately needing new shoes for my trip to Thailand. But here I was, drinking “Gel” berry flavored cocktails and trying on the latest Gel Quantum Infinity Series. Have a look below:

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As an avid runner, I have always been a huge fan of ASICS. When I participated in 5k cross country races in the US, I always used the Gel Noosa series. I love both the design and how comfortable these shoes are, I even wear them to work! It’s hard to think about owning another brand of running shoes since I have trusted this brand for so many years. That is why I was happy that I coincidentally walked into the launch party for the Gel Quantum Infinity release party! I have been to many parties in Tokyo, but this is one of the first that I have accidentally walked in on.

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With the “tech midsole” and the full length gel, the cushioning on this shoe is state of the art not to mention has a futuristic design. After I tried on these shoes, I could definitely feel the difference of the Gel when I stood up. I could also feel a bounce in my step when I started jogging in the store. Figuring that stumbling into this release party was destiny (and because I really liked the feel of the gel), I happily bought the shoe for 20,000 yen ($180).

Some of the highlights of the Gel Quantum Infinity include its lightweight and multipurpose usability. Though in America ASICS are mostly branded for running, I think a lot of Japanese people like them for fashion as well as I saw a lot of families shopping there. After finding the perfect fit (a size 25.5 in Japan), I happily decided on this shoe. I am excited for the future places that I travel with these sweet kicks (next being Bangkok)!

The only real negative point I’ve seen brought up about these shoes is the gel insole wearing down after 6 months of use. I am hoping since Tokyo mostly has fair weather without snow, that these will last a long time. Regardless, I will never forget going to this launch event because they really hyped it up.