Travel Writing Contest
The following itinerary is written by the first runner up of our writing contest, Nabilah.
Kyoto, west of Japan, has been the subject of interest to me and my sisters.
The simple and quiet lifestyle of locals, as well as quaint shops dotting the area, called to us. With a tight budget and schedule, we sought out hidden gems and dined at wonderful, yet affordable eateries that are away from the hustle and bustle of tourists.
Join us, as we take you around Kyoto in just 3 days!
Plan Your Stay
Being on a budget means to sacrifice luxurious hotels and taxis. Instead, opt for hostels or Airbnbs around Kyoto to enjoy affordable accommodation.
However, many budget-friendly hostels or Airbnbs require a little bit of walking to get to train stations.
Don’t be discouraged by this because many interesting shops can be discovered by walking around the neighbourhood.
Take for example our experience finding a small vegan cafe and an onsen (public bath) near our Airbnb.
Check out sites such as HotelsCombined, Booking.com or Agoda to find the perfect place to stay.
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Here in Japan, train lines can be confusing. But don’t worry, we got you. For our trip, we made use of Hyperdia, a site that helps you navigate your way around Japan.
All you need to do is enter your location and your intended destination. Hyperdia will then show you the train line, track number, train type, ticket price, and your estimated arrival time.
Using Hyperdia to plan for the route to take
We also suggest purchasing an ICOCA card which acts as a travel card and is very handy for travellers who frequent public transportation.
Unlike train or bus tickets, simply top up a certain amount of money into the card and you’re good to go! An ICOCA card can also be used to purchase snacks from convenience stores or drinks from vending machines.
Purchasing an ICOCA card from a machine at a train station
Day 1 – Kamogawa River & Shopping Arcades
To start off the day, take a walk down the Kamogawa River. This spot is one of our highly recommended places to visit because not only is it away from crowds, the view is truly breath-taking.
Suitable for travellers who enjoy peaceful walks down scenic spots, the Kamogawa River is a landing spot for ducks, storks and home to other aquatic species. You can also find locals digging around the bank of the river in search of clams.
Walk further down the path and find a set of stepping stones that can be crossed to get to the opposite side of the river. You won’t see many people attempting it, however, as the current is fast, and the stones are widely set apart which can be tricky for someone like me who has short legs.
Chubby Cat attempting to cross the Kamogawa River
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The Kamogawa River is also a great place to visit as it’s close to 3 shopping spots.
Teramachi Kyogoku Shopping Arcade, Shinkyogoku Shopping Street Union and Nishiki Market Shopping District are perfect places to shop as they offer a variety of products. These shopping arcades are also all walking distance from one another!
One interesting thing that I’m always on the lookout for is vintage shops and in Kyoto, they have plenty of that. Such shops are quite popular with the young locals as these vintage shops carry unique items such as vintage shoes, windbreakers, jeans and sweaters.
If you’re looking to find interesting and unique pieces, we highly recommend visiting vintage shops to find amazing hidden treasures.
JAM, one of the many vintage shops around Kyoto
After a brief shopping spree, head to the game arcades at Teramachi Kyogoku Shopping Arcade. As memorabilia, try out the Purikura or Print Clubs, to take groups pictures with your friends and decorate them however you please!
Priced at only ￥400, the Purikura is a fun experience and worth trying when in Japan.
Salman & Sohel Halal Kitchen
Travelling outside of Singapore means having to search for Halal-certified eateries or vegan restaurants. For our trip, we didn’t mind spending more on food since halal dishes are pricey as they can be hard to find.
At Salman & Sohel Halal Kitchen, they serve a mix between Indian, Middle Eastern and Asian cuisines such as kebabs and briyani.
With friendly staff and a warm and cosy atmosphere, it’s the perfect place to sit down and relax after exploring the streets of Kyoto.
If you’re interested in trying out a different cuisine, Salman & Sohel has got you covered!
Address: 88-3 Miyagakicho, Kamigyo, Kyoto 602-0853, Kyoto Prefecture
Opening Hours: Mon-Sun: 11 AM – 11 PM
Day 2 – Romantic Train & Bamboo Forest
Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
Take a trip to Saga-Arashiyama and head to Torroko Saga station to book a ride on the Sagano Romantic Train. Visitors may also book tickets for a boat ride or rafting down the Hozugawa River.
We suggest arriving at the station early to book your tickets as tickets can get sold out quickly, especially the “Rich” car which is an open carriage at the end of the train. Depending on the season, the “Rich” car is one of the most sought-after spots in the train.
Torokko Saga Station
During our trip, we booked our ride at 11 AM and had free time to explore the grounds. There’s an old steam locomotive outside of the station that visitors can take pictures with.
Chubby Cat and a steam locomotive
We also took the time to walk towards the Bamboo Forest which is just a 10-minute walk from the station. There’s a bicycle rental service for visitors to rent bicycles to cycle up to the forest.
At the Bamboo Forest, take in the sight of tall bamboos lining the path and reaching up to touch the sky!
Visitors can keep walking along the path to admire the bamboos or visit the shrines and temples in the area. Keeping to our budget, we didn’t peek inside these temples and kept walking around the path.
The Bamboo Forest can get busy from 10 AM onward. The best time to head to the forest is between 8 AM to 9 AM to fully experience the tranquillity of the forest.
The Bamboo Forest is open 24/7 so visitors can arrive earlier if they wish. However, the temples may not be open.
Address: Japan, 〒616-0007 Kyoto, 右京区
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A stall selling sweet potatoes and other savoury dishes
The trip back to the station is lined with stalls where visitors can purchase souvenirs or Japanese food. We tried out some sweet potatoes sprinkled with sugar and it was a unique and delicious snack!
A cup is sold at ￥600 and it’s great to share with friends while walking back to the station.
Sagano Romantic Train
The “Rich” car is the 5th car of the train and it’s the only car with open windows. Many visitors enjoy sitting as they can feel the wind as the train rush by and hear the calls of nature and the gushing river that the train will pass by.
5th car, known as the “Rich” car, of the Sagano Romantic Train
The Sagano Romantic train is the best ride to view Kyoto’s breath-taking scenery and brings you closer to nature!
The ride consists of 4 stops – Saga station, Arashiyama station, Hozukyo station and Kameoka station.
Passengers can board or alight at any of the stations and visit many interesting locations at each of the stops. One thing to take note is that once passengers alight before the last stop, they’re required to purchase another ticket to board the train once again to reach the last stop.
Throughout the train ride, passengers are rewarded with mountaintops, rows and rows of tree and a sparkling river that stretches the whole ride. Those seated at the last car can see past the grilles below their feet to the running water below!
The best time to take the Sagano Romantic train is during Sakura season where passengers will be surrounded by cherry blossom trees.
Overall, the ride is not to be missed as it gives visitors an insight into Kyoto’s wonderful landscapes.
Address: Sagatenryuji Kurumamichicho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-8373, Japan
Tracks at JR Umahori station
At the last stop, head to the JR Umahori station that’s a 10-minute walk away. Take a train towards Kyoto station and using Hyperdia, alight at Shijo station for lunch!
Dine at Halal Ramen Ayam-YA is a halal alternative for those who want to try out authentic Japanese dishes.
Spicy Curry Ramen at Ayam-YA
A quaint restaurant run by Indonesian staff selling dishes such as ramen, rice bowls and other side dishes.
Customers order by first selecting their dish then inserting the required amount of coins at a mini vending machine. A ticket will be issued for customers to hand it over to the staff who will then prepare the dish.
The restaurant also has a small prayer room for those who wish to perform their prayers before or after dining.
It’s advisable to arrive earlier to the restaurant as it has limited seating and tends to get very packed.
Address: 京都府京都市中京区室町新町 の 間錦小路下る 観音堂町 470, Kannondocho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8222, Japan
Opening Hours: Mon-Sun: 11:30 AM – 2:30 PM, 6 PM – 9:30 PM
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Day 3 – Fushimi Inari Shrine
For day 3, take a hike to Fushimi Inari Shrine to view thousands of tall, red torii gates lining the path up a mountain.
The climb up the mountain can take up to 3 hours but visitors can hike halfway up the summit and rest at the Yotsutsuji Intersection.
During our trip, we stopped at the intersection and was greeted with several fox statues surrounding a small lake. Those who need a break from the climb, can explore that area and walk among the shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice.
A lake at the Yotsutsuji Intersection
Once the hike is complete, head to the stalls selling delicious Japanese snacks at the entrance of the shrine to boost your energy after your exercise.
Snacks like takoyaki, spiral potatoes, taiyaki and many more are sold at the various stalls. Aside from snacks, souvenirs are also sold along the path leading to the entrance of the shrine.
Address: 68 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, Fushimi Ward, Kyoto, 612-0882, Japan
For lunch, there is a halal restaurant called Halal Curry Udon Inari just a walk away. However, during our trip, the shop was unexpectedly closed so we didn’t get the chance to try out their curry udon.
Address: Japan, 〒605-0981 Kyoto, Higashiyama Ward, 府京都市東山区本町２１丁目４６２−１７
Opening Hours: Mon-Sun: 11 AM – 3 PM (closed on Tuesdays)
Hana Miso Soft-Serve
Down the long street that leads towards Fushimi Inari is a small miso soft serve shop called Hana.
Hana serves original-flavored soft-serve as well as matcha-flavoured soft-serve. The shopkeeper was such a sweet lady and offered us to sit in a small room adjacent to the shop to enjoy our sweets.
There’s also a notepad for customers to write done small notes and it was a sweet way to leave our mark in Kyoto!
Matcha-flavoured soft-serve at Hana
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We then took a bus to Gion and had our lunch at Halal Ramen Gion Naritaya.
Gion Naritaya was a warm and small restaurant so we had to walk quickly to ensure we had seats as it fills up quickly. They serve authentic Japanese ramen as well as rice bowls. They also offer set meals which comes with a choice of gyoza, karaage or both as sides and a hot beverage.
Rice bowl with sides at Halal Ramen Gion Naritaya
This shop also has a small prayer room for those who wish to perform their prayers.
Address: Japan, 〒605-0062 Kyoto, Higashiyama Ward, Shinbashi, 東入林下町424 アビリティ祇園1F Hanamikoji Dori
Opening Hours: Mon-Sun: 11 AM – 9 PM (closed on Wednesdays)
That concludes our 3-day stay in Kyoto. We thoroughly enjoyed the quiet and serene atmosphere and will be back to explore more places!