Hanging out with Kangaroos and Koalas at Cleland Wildlife Park

One of the biggest reasons I came to Australia was to experience its unique wildlife parks and see some of the native animals here.  Whenever I go to a new country, I try to do some volunteer work with animals or donate to a sanctuary because I truly care about their well-being.  Unfortunately Japan’s zoos are quite cramped, and I do not have as many options to volunteer for animal programs here as I do in other countries.  That is why I was delighted to discover Cleland Wildlife Park in Adelaide, because it is one of the the two places in Australia where you can hold a Koala (the other being in Sydney).

What I liked the most about Cleland Wildlife Park was that it isn’t a zoo; it’s an animal sanctuary.  That means the animals are preserved in a natural enclosure, but are free to roam over acres of land.  Visitors are free to approach them with animal pellets purchased for $3 at the park and interact with them.  I had heard rumors that kangaroos in the wild can be quite territorial, but was surprised to learn that the ones here are extremely friendly!  They act a lot like huge hopping dogs when you approach them with food and are very soft to pet.

In addition to kangaroos, I also learned about wallabies, which belong to the kangaroo family, but are smaller and more timid.  You can also spot them by the slightly darker color of the fur.  I tried to approach a few, but they were adorably shy.

The Koala encounters are the most popular exhibit here.  Since we came to the park on a Monday, we fortunately had no problem being able to see one.  Meet Brownie the koala introduced in the video below:

I was happy to see that the koalas seemed to be well taken care of, and the zookeeper was very enthusiastic about her job.  She placed Brownie in a tree and fed her so we could pet and hold her briefly.  It was an extremely pleasant encounter, and I was so happy that I made the trip here!

After snapping many photos, we decided to walk around the bird sanctuary.  On the way there we saw Dingos, which are like wild Shiba Inu dogs in Australia.  We also saw a wombat that was lazily sleeping (I wished we could trade lives for a day), and a number of cockatoos roaming around.  I was surprised to see how large the park truly was.  It was extremely easy to spend at least 2-3 hours roaming around, because the experience is truly relaxing.

To get to Cleland Wildlife Park from central Adelaide, you will need to take 2-3 trams to get to Mt. Lofty, then you can easily enter the park and see a beautiful view of the city.  You can also use Uber to get there easily, but be wary of the park’s closure time.  We actually got locked in the park while riding our Uber because it was just past 5pm and the gate had closed, so we had to call a park ranger to let us out!

The entrance fee is $30 for one adult, which I think is well-worth the price.  For information regarding the Koala encounters, please see the official website.

Not far from Cleland Wildlife Park is a German Village called Hahndorf, so I recommend going there if you have time after.  We stopped by for drinks with a friend, but there are also a number of things you can experience during the day such as strawberry picking and goat-petting.   The possibilities are truly endless in the wilderness of Australia.

Seeing Penguins on the Beach at St. Kilda

While selecting activities for my trip to Australia, I came across many tours for penguin watching on the beach online.  As an animal lover, I decided that this was something I must definitely experience!  However, most of these tour packages were priced at over $100 to go on a two hour trip to Phillip Island, which is a bit expensive for people who are backpacking.  With a little more research, my friend and I figured out that you can see them pretty much every night at the beach in St. Kilda, which is just 20 minutes away via tram from central Melbourne.

After knocking back a couple drinks at the bars in CBD, we hopped on the tram from Southern Cross Station and made our way to the pier at St. Kilda Beach around 7pm a little after the sun set (we confirmed this time via the weather app).  At first we weren’t sure if they were going to come out, as spring had just started in Australia and it was a bit chilly.  But we saw a large group of people gathered at the pier and sure enough, a group of penguins started to emerge from the rocks!

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Sometimes they are hard to see in the dark, so usually a fluorescent light is shone over them so people can view them from the wooden docks.  Park rangers are present to ensure the penguins’ safety, but sometimes they wander close to people.  One even climbed up to say hello to us (I apologize for the low video quality, as no flash photography was allowed):

I really enjoyed this experience a lot because it wasn’t like going to a zoo–it was a completely natural phenomenon!  Compared to other penguins I’ve seen in other countries, these ones looked a lot tinier.  In addition to Melborune, there are several other places in Australia where you can see penguins frolic on the beach.

St. Kilda also has botanical gardens that I recommend going to during the day!  My friend and I were able to see some sakura blossoms here and along the Yarra River.  Though I thought the weather here was quite cold compared to Tokyo, I am really happy I was able to see the beautiful sakura once again this year!

No matter what time of year you come to Australia, I think you can always find something beautiful to enjoy!

Exploring Hikone: A Castle Town with a Mythical Island and Fierce Cat Samurai

Over the weekend I made the amazing discovery that samurai cats are real!  About an hour east from Kyoto lies a quiet castle town called Hikone with the adorable samurai cat mascot you see here: Hikonyan.  Hikone is in Shiga Prefecture and borders Lake Biwa, one of the most famous lakes in Japan due to its lovely scenery.  I decided to start my trip by taking a ferry from Nagahama Port, which is just a few stops north of Hikone Station on the JR Tokaido-Sanyo line, and visit the mythical island in the middle of the lake called Chikubushima.  See the ferry schedule for reference–a roundtrip ferry ticket is around 3000 yen.

Chikubushima is known as the “Island of the Gods” and is said to be imbued with magical powers.  Though I am not a religious person, I appreciate going on journeys like this because it gives me the chance to see rare parts of the world!  You can walk around the whole entire island within 30 mins and see shrines, a beautiful view of the lake, and also try some local cuisine at the cafes (though the selection is very limited).

The main point of interest here is visiting Hogonji Temple and making a wish with a daruma doll.  Daruma Dolls are a special kind of talisman here that you can write your wish on a slip of paper and put it inside the doll for good luck.  The Japanese people at the shrine were extremely kind and helped me do this.  Though this island was tinier than I expected, it was a very nice way to start my trip!

After the pleasant ferry ride back (which only takes 30 mins), I then decided to go directly to Hikone Castle to see the Hikonyan Show!  During this time, the fiercely adorable samurai cat will come out before the castle gates to greet his visitors.  Hikonyan is treated as a celebrity by Japanese people.  I was surprised to see a line of people with cameras out waiting to see him, but he is definitely worth the hype!  He appears every day and you can see the timetables here.

In addition to Hikonyan, you can walk through the Hikone Castle, see the Genkyu-en Gardens, and also visit the Yume Kyōbashi Castle Road that has shops and souvenirs.  I visited all of these places by foot from Hikone Station, but you can also take buses around the city!  By 6pm, I was exhausted from all the travel so I decided to go back to my capsule hotel in Kyoto.  Hikone makes for the perfect day trip from Kyoto because it is easy to access and full of history.

Making the Most of a Rainy Day in Kyoto at Cozy Coffee Cafes

With its historic temples, crowds of people wearing colorful kimonos, and perfect view of the mountains from its central station, Kyoto is hands down one of my favorite cities in Japan.

However, a rainy day can definitely damper plans! Instead of going hiking in the mountains and risk being stranded in a downpour, I decided to check out the local cafes and stumbled upon Alpha Foods & Drink near Nijo Castle. This is a relatively new cafe with a hipster vibe that will definitely brighten your day!

Mimicking the weather, I decided to order the “clouds over coffee” cotton candy drink. You can choose other drinks like hot cocoa, banana milk, and soy milk coffee (which I chose). The cotton candy stick is creatively balanced so the steam from the drink will slowly melt it in for a subtle sugary taste. Additionally, you can choose to eat the cotton candy separately if you prefer or request a cold drink instead.

Another reason to come to the cafe is to meet the owner’s extremely adorable miniature schnauzer! She was an extremely polite yet energetic dog that sat quietly on the couch but was friendly when I approached her:

My Japanese friend also took me to this extremely charming % Arabica Coffee store in Higashiyama which is unique to Kyoto but is gradually expanding due to its popularity with the locals. He claimed it was one of the best coffee shops in Japan due to the founder exporting coffee beans and owning his own coffee farm.

Was it really worth the hype? Yes, it was! Usually I don’t always try coffee shops with large crowds like this one, but the wait time wasn’t too bad. However, I tried the iced coffee latte, and was extremely impressed with not only the taste but also the cup design:

Overall, I had an amazing time exploring both of these places even though the weather wasn’t favorable. Both of these drinks were cheaper than Starbucks and more delicious too! I’ve been to Kyoto nearly 5 or 6 times, but there are always new things to explore each time I come!

Sailor Neptune Nails from Nail Salon Glory (Tokyo)

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Since I decided to cosplay a swimsuit version of Michiru Kaioh/Sailor Neptune for a photoshoot, I wanted the most suitable nails for this character.  I looked at various nail catalogs online, but no design fit the one I had in mind so I decided to create my own.  Fortunately, most nail salons in Tokyo are able to create original nail designs using stencils, hand-drawn art, studs, and various gradients of polish.

I booked an appointment at Nail Salon Glory through Hot Pepper, and these were the amazing results I got:

My nails were absolutely gorgeous!  Since I have short nails, I requested the scalp nail course that will extend your tip to a custom length.  The nail artist used a combination of beige and turquoise glitter polish to create a gradient that looks like an ocean.  After painting a shiny coat over it, she added sea shells and pearl studs, as well as hand-drew the insignia on Neptune’s mirror that I requested.  I was almost speechless when our session ended because I was so impressed!

Most fancy nail courses start at 10,000 yen ($93), but they are worth the price for the amount of detail and effort that is put in.  There are various coupons that can be used to lower the price, like the ones featured on HotPepper.

Scalp nails last for typically 3 weeks and are perfect for every occasion.  Not only did I use them for my photoshoot, but they also matched the color of the ocean when I was swimming in Thailand.  I’m sure I’ll be back in the future once I think of more anime-based designs!

Hello Kitty Desserts at EGG & SPUMA

A diner and dessert restaurant called EGG & SPUMA located in the Shinjuku Lumine building serves up some of the most delicious Sanrio collaboration items you’ve ever laid eyes on.  They serve a lot of comfort food like omelettes, risotto, and pancakes on their menu that changes with new featured items each season.  Cocktails and sweet drinks are also available.

I ordered Hello Kitty pancakes topped with apples slices, custard, and whipped cream.  They melted like butter in my mouth and had an extremely soft texture!  I also tried pink lemonade topped with a Hello Kitty donut.  Thought it was an extremely unlikely combination, it was amazing!  The donut was extremely thick and completely covered in strawberry frosting.  The lemonade size was noticeably large compared to most drinks here.  I wanted to try more, but felt extremely full after this!

Overall, I was extremely impressed with the quality of food here for it being part of a theme cafe.  Be sure to try their seasonal pancakes if you ever get the chance to stop by!

A Somewhat Magical Time at the Unicorn Cafe in Bangkok

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A magical land where all dreams come true, serving up rainbow food and more!

Bangkok is a bustling city riddled with markets, temples, food stalls, clubs, red light districts, and many more curious things, so picking exactly where to start your trip here can be challenging.  After doing some thorough research, I finally decided on the perfect place–one that stood out like a gem from the other places in the city.  A magical land in a not-so-faraway place with rainbow food and dangling stuffed unicorns overhead in the pastel sky.  Yes, you guessed it, the very first restaurant I went to in Thailand was the Unicorn Cafe!

Though some of my friends may shun me for not trying something more authentic as my first meal here, my idea was to try the themed cafes first and then go for the authentic food for the best tasting experience.  Additionally, this cafe has mixed reviews that appear with a quick Google search; some stating it’s the most magical place on earth and others refuting it’s most certainly not.  The controversy surrounding this cafe made me even more curious about it, so I decided to come here and witness firsthand exactly how magical it was for myself.

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The great debate on the Unicorn Cafe: Is it the most magical place on earth or not?                        My answer: It’s somewhat magical.

Coming here directly from the Bangkok airport with my luggage in tow, I took a short taxi ride and reached the so-called magical unicorn haven an hour before they closed.  This was actually a really good time, because it wasn’t as crowded as during the rush hour and I could admire all of the unicorns overhead in peace.  It nostalgically reminded me of the old room I had in America growing up in the 90s, except with 10x the unicorns!

Featuring rainbow spaghetti, waffle cones, cupcakes, burgers, and more, the menu is quite dazzling with a lot of different options!  The downside is the price is a bit expensive–you could get a larger quantity of food at the markets just a few streets down from here and at most restaurants in Bangkok.  However, I came here for the novelty of eating rainbow food, and I wasn’t about to back down after coming this far.  After some more debate, I decided on the rainbow unicorn cupcake:

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A unicorn in cupcake form.

My stance on this magical debate is that if you are looking for something different, you will definitely find it here.  This place has a bright and welcoming interior with an English-friendly menu, extremely unique desserts, and unicorns as far as the eye can see.  However, some may be disappointed by the price and lack of healthier options here, not to mention the cafe is normally overly touristy.  Some reviews have questioned the quality of food here, but it’s pretty much the same for all themed restaurants I’ve been to.  I enjoyed my time here, but I agree there are even more magical places to be discovered despite my love for unicorns!

I will be detailing a lot of unique destinations in Bangkok and Phuket in my next series of blogs, so please stay tuned for more.