Japan: 5 Best Spots To View Mount Fuji In Kawaguchiko

When in Japan: Catching a good glimpse of Mount Fuji is a must.

After years of trying, my dream of a Mount Fuji holiday finally materialized in November 2019. I have always been fascinated by Japan’s tallest peak (at 3,776 metres)—and an active volcano at that—and thus for my second trip to the Land of the Rising Sun, I wanted to be at the best spots to view the iconic mountain.

I have always managed my own travel arrangements but for the first time (in forever), I gave all my requirements to Joey Sim of Atlas Travelz agency and let her handled all the arrangements of this Japanese trip for me.

My original plan was to travel to just Hakone and Tokyo, but upon knowing my wish for “a hotel with onsen and a Mount Fuji view, with or without lake”, Joey recommended that I go to Kawaguchiko instead, before moving on to the other two destinations. And her recommendation was truly appreciated as the opportunities to view Mount Fuji at different angles in the Yamanashi Prefecture – about 2.5 hours by bus from Tokyo – went beyond my expectations.

Thanks to the great sunny autumn weather we had during our stay at Kawaguchiko – my BFF had joined me by then – my Mount Fuji obsession was totally satiated. (It also more than made up for the disappointment of our totally rained-out Hakone jaunt.) If you too would like to be at good locations to admire the picturesque peak, here are 5 best spots in Kawaguchiko to do so.

5 Best Spots to View Mount Fuji at Kawaguchiko

  1. Fuji View Hotel

Of course, there are other hotels, resorts or ryokans in the vicinity which may also boast good views of Mount Fuji, or are much closer to the central Kawaguchiko Station, but then again, there is a very good reason why this hotel is named “Fuji View”. Thanks to Joey’s recommendation, the awesome view from our 2nd-floor room balcony (see above) was worth the price alone. The fact that the hotel also has a well-equipped onsen, as well as beautiful gardens bursting with autumn colors made it even more worthwhile.

2. Mount Fuji 5th Station

About an hour ride on the Hiking Bus from Kawaguchiko Station will bring you to Mount Fuji 5th Station, located at 2,300m above sea level and the closest you can get to the peak (unless you plan to climb it of course). Upon disembarking from the bus, I asked my travel mate, “Where’s Mount Fuji?” “You are on it,” she deadpanned. And whoa, she was right! Just look up and you can see the breathtaking snow-covered summit in all her glory, against a clear blue sky and beautifully lit by the sun. Besides many areas for visitors to take selfies/wefies with the mount, the tourist hotspot also houses a shrine, a post office, shops, eateries, and platforms to view the Fuji Five Lakes area.

3. Lake Kawaguchi

A cruise on Lake Kawaguchi – from its eastern shore to and fro Kawaguchiko Ohashi Bridge – will provide you with unblocked views of Mount Fuji, ie, if you could get a good spot by the side of the boat. It was a tad misty the day we were there but the view was still absorbing nonetheless. Along the promenade, the trees were a delightful sight with their autumn colors of reds, orange, and yellows. Cherry blossoms are said to be in abundance here around mid-April. You can get here via the Red Line Bus or the Mount Fuji World Heritage Loop Bus from Kawaguchiko Station.

4. Mount Fuji Panoramic Ropeway

Directly across the Lake Kawaguchi cruise pier, you will find the Mount Fuji Panoramic Ropeway which provides great, yes, panoramic views of the sacred mountain and the lake districts. You can actually skip the cruise and go directly up the ropeway, but you get a discount if you buy a combo ticket for both attractions at the pier, so why not? Unless you stand at the ropeway carriage window facing the lake, there’s not much to see but trees until you reach the observation deck which is about 1000 metres above sea level and near the peak of Mount Tenjo. If you get here just before sunset, there’s a lovely reddish-orange glow over Mount Fuji, Lake Kawaguchi, and the provinces around them.

5. Chureito Pagoda

“Visit Mount Arakura Sengen Shrine for undoubtedly the best postcard view of 5-storey Chureito Pagoda against the backdrop of Mount Fuji”, trumpeted my itinerary. Guess I missed out on the tiny detail that there is also a hefty 398-step climb up before one reaches the observation deck for the famous image of Mount Fuji flanked by a pagoda and cherry blossoms seen on many a Visit Japan brochure! But thanks to my trekking stick, and lots of rest stops, have to admit that the view was ultimately worth climbing for. There’s a slight jostle for the best spot to take the above-pictured view but once you get it, do take time to check out other areas on the hill where you can admire the grandeur of Mount Fuji.

All photos by Marguerita Tan.
No text or photos to be reproduced without the blog author’s permission.

Langkawi: Sunset Over Pantai Cenang Beach

Photo by Marguerita Tan

When in Langkawi: Sunsets in the Malaysian 99-island archipelago are usually between 7.20pm and 7.45pm. In end July, it’s roughly 7.35-7.40pm and if you are on the western shoreline of the island district of Kedah, the best spot to catch one in full glory is to seat yourself anywhere along the 2km pristine white sands of Pantai Cenang beach.

I knew staying at the Casa del Mar Langkawi resort would plonk me right in the midst of the popular beach, but I didn’t realised that the hotel restaurant La Sal actually placed their al fresco dinner tables right by the edge of the sands so that guests—if they are seated at the right time⁠—will be able to enjoy the full course of the sun setting over one of Langkawi’s mini islands on the horizon.

So, as I sipped my chilled pre-dinner beer, it was blissfully joyful to watch the sun lighting the clear blue sky, from glaring whitish gold to a lovely golden-orange yellow hue, as it slowly disappeared behind the island on the horizon.

Definitely one of my favorite sunset watch in recent times…

Photo by Marguerita Tan

Myanmar: Sunset in Lashio

Photo by Marguerita Tan

When in Myanmar: If you are visiting in the later months of November and December, the sunsets are earlier, starting from around 5.15pm. After arriving in Yangon at about noon, we took a 2-hr domestic flight up north to the town of Lashio in Shan province. We then travelled further north by coach where the region lies on the outskirts of a mountainous range. Half an hour in, at the farm beside an acquaintance’s roadside shop and eatery, we observed our first Myanmar sunset which had beautiful golden orange hues that lit up a cloudy blue sky as the sun set behind the tallest mountain peak. We could have stand there for another hour in the midst of planted crops admiring the view but when it gets dark, it gets really dark, so we quickly carried on with our journey, hoping to see more of God’s handiwork in the Land of the Golden Pagodas…

Northern Ireland: ‘Game of Thrones’ Locations To Visit North Of Belfast

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The Dark Hedges a.k.a. The Kingsroad [Credit: Marguerita Tan]

As 2018 marks the final year of filming for Game of Thrones, I reckoned it was a good time as any to check out the HBO megahit’s picturesque filming locations in Northern Ireland (NI) before its eighth and final season rolls out in 2019. In my previous Travel post, I highlighted the GOT filming sites located south of Belfast that one can easily get to via a coach tour. In this post, it will be the locations north of Belfast.

As Northern Ireland’s most famous natural attraction – the Giant’s Causeway – is in proximity to many GOT film locations up north, most tours include this attraction. So I booked the Game of Thrones and Giant’s Causeway Full-Day Tour via Viator as at £36, it was cheaper than most. Managed by McComb’s Coach Travel (mccombscoaches.com), its claim to GOT fame is that they were a longtime transport provider for the show and its GOT Location Tour along the Causeway Coastal Route also received a 5-star rating from Tourism Ireland.

From Belfast city centre, the tour first took us along the scenic Antrim Coastal Road flanked by the robust Irish Sea on the right and the charming Glens of Antrim on the left. Our driver-guide Derek is a chatty chap who gave us much GOT and NI information, as well as some of the lamest dad jokes ever.

1. Carnlough Harbour

About an hour in, we arrived at the small coastal village of Carnlough where the GOT attraction is the cobblestone harbour steps featured in Season 6 Episode 7 when Arya Stark resurfaces from the Braavos canal after being attacked by the Waif. Not sure how clean the waters are but much respect for Maisie Williams considering how immersed in the waters she was while shooting the scene!

2. Cushendun Caves

A half-hour drive further north is the quaint village of Cushendun where, next to the mesmerizing sight of big waves crushing onto gigantic rocks along the coastline, you will find the 400 million-years-old caves depicting a cove in the Stormlands in which a horrified Ser Davos Seaworth witnesses Melisandre giving birth to a shadow assassin that eventually kills Renly Baratheon in Season 2 Episode 4.

SPOILER ALERT: Weeks after our visit here, the area was closed off for what Irish GOT location watchers suspected to be filming for Season 8. Will there be action in Storm’s End or the Stormlands in the final season? Your guess is as good as mine.

3. The Dark Hedges

This beautiful 18th Century avenue with about 100 beech trees leading up to Gracehill House has become arguably the most iconic Game of Thrones location ever since it appeared as the Kingsroad that Arya and Gendry travel on to escape King’s Landing in Season 2 Episode 2. Located further inland away from the eastern coastline, Derek brought us here during “lunchtime” in order to avoid the crowds from other tours, yet many people still there were. To see the “most recognisable” part of the trees with the distinctive arching branches, you have to walk at least halfway down the avenue. I’d have loved to walk down the entire avenue but on a coach tour with a packed schedule, we don’t have that luxury.

4. The Fullerton Arms, Ballintoy

Lunch was at the Fullerton Arms in Ballintoy after a jaunt to the Giant’s Causeway. Besides great food and beer, what’s cool about the pub/restaurant is that it has a replica of the Iron Throne, complete with cloak and sword for you to pose with, PLUS Door 6 of the Door of Thrones series depicting Season 6 events. The ten pubs with the doors indicate that there are GOT film locations nearby. This one highlights House Targaryen, namely Daenerys Stormborn’s dragon Drogon and the Dothraki horses finally crossing the Narrow Sea towards Westeros. The doors were specially crafted from fallen branches from the Dark Hedges after a storm hit them in 2016. Ingenious marketing, really.

5. Ballintoy Harbour

Just a few minutes away from the lunch venue, at the end of a long and winding downhill road, is the quaint Ballintoy Harbour that stands in for Pkye and the Iron Islands. Theon Greyjoy is baptised here in Season 2, and is also the venue for Euron’s drowning and rebirth in Season 6.

SPOILER ALERT: According to Derek, this location was much used for Season 8 filming. Maybe we will get to see Theon completing his redemption arc, like saving sister Yara from uncle Euron maybe?

6. Larrybane

Another popular NI attraction located nearby is the Carrick A Rede Rope Bridge which, after crossing it, leads to Larrybane Quarry which not only offers breathtaking panoramic views of islands and headlands in the Atlantic Ocean, it’s also the site for Renly’s camp in the Stormlands in Season 2 and where Brienne of Tarth was named to Renly’s Kingsguard. In Season 6, it was used as the Kingsmoot setting. From here, it was about a two-hour scenic drive down south back to Belfast.

All in all, there are about 18 GOT locations north of Belfast but not every one is easily accessible. One example is Fair Head – located further east of Larrybane – which provides the spectacular cliffs of Dragonstone in Season 7 on which Danerys, Jon Snow and Drogon share a special moment, among other significant scenes.

For a GOT fan, this McCombs tour is adequate with sufficient information and videos played in the bus before we set off on foot for most locations. Don’t get me wrong – our driver-guide was great but for a “total” GOT immersive experience, you might want to consider tours that have a separate guide who could accompany the tour group to every site and explain in detail how each sequence was filmed at the spot. Also, during long distances, past episodes of Game of Thrones episodes will be shown instead. Some even have costumes and props thrown in.

Still, for £35 (not including lunch and rope bridge fee), this tour is still a good alternative. If you are keen to cover every location, customized tours are available with various GOT tour groups. Or download the GOT Filming Locations Northern Ireland app which provide directions to the locations and you can adventure on your own (just read the instructions carefully as many are inaccessible or are private land).

Things to Note for the Tour:
1. There’s a lot of walking (uphill, downhill) so dress right with proper outdoor shoes and clothes befitting the Northern Irish weather
2. You need to have moderate fitness; not recommended for anyone with limited mobility
3.  Bring water, although there are locations where you can buy drinks

(All Game of Thrones images – Credit: HBO)

Read also:
*
8 ‘Game of Thrones’ Fan Theories About Daenerys Targaryen’s Endgame

* ‘Game of Thrones’: Who’s Likely to Die in Season 8?
‘Game Of Thrones’: 5 Heroic Deeds Jaime Lannister May Achieve in Season 8
* ‘Games Of Thrones’: 10 Essential Reunions At Winterfell We’d Like To See In Season 8
‘Game of Thrones’: Why Jon Snow May Use Greatsword Dawn to Slay the Night King in Season 8

Belfast: Stunning Street Art

I can’t recall the first time I fell in love with street art but visiting cities renowned for outstanding murals such as Penang in Malaysia and Brisbane in Australia only grew my fascination for them. And although my primary reason for visiting Belfast recently was for Game of Thrones related interests, the fact that the Northern Ireland capital is also filled with stunning street art certainly made my trip much more memorable.

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Building-high mural located opposite the Albert Memorial Clock in Belfast Cathedral Quarter [Photo: Marguerita Tan]

Everywhere you turn in Belfast, you are likely to spot a mural or two on a building close to you. There is actually a black taxi tour that brings you (I think) to every notable mural in the city but if you are not that fussy, a thorough walk around the city centre or Cathedral Quarter will offer you a good number of outstanding paintings on the walls.

2018-05-21 19.10.21 (640x640)This lively mural, for instance, is located close to Kelly’s Cellars in Bank Street – where you can find “the best Guinness in the city”, according to my Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus guide. There are many other eye-catching murals in this area on and around the popular pub’s outdoor premises too.

2018-05-24 12.37.45 (620x640)Located in an empty parking lot close to the Belfast Cathedral (a.k.a St Anne’s Church) is this amazing larger-than-life caricature of Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, one of my favorites found on this trip. Various murals can also be found on other buildings around  the magnificent church.

2018-05-26 10.32.58 (640x640)There are also tons of colorful murals to be found all along the nearby North Street. Whilst trying to find a reported mural of Game of Thrones‘ King in the North, Jon Snow, I walked all the way to the northern most end of the street, which although also showcased lots of intriguing murals and graffiti, the buildings were also rather isolated and creepy even in broad daylight, so I quickly walked back towards the city centre.  Only after a Google search later did I learnt that the Jon Snow mural has been painted over as the building it was on is undergoing renovation. Sob. Oh well, luckily there were other fun murals to see.

2018-05-25 11.12.07 (640x640)Like this cool Dali-inspired mural I found in a covered alleyway close to another famous pub, Duke of York, reportedly the oldest pub in Belfast. The mural, which features many Belfast landmarks and of cos the famous Guinness, is very long – covering the entire alleyway which was too narrow for me to photograph the whole painting in one shot. Just glad I stumbled onto it while taking a shortcut.

2018-05-22 16.39.09 (640x597)Most of the murals in Belfast are also very political. One of the city’s main attractions is the main Belfast Peace Wall located at Cupar Way and which you can get to easily via a Hop-On, Hop Off Bus (which is also a good way to give you an idea of where the notable murals are across the city).

There are reportedly about 100 “peace walls” throughout the city – majority which are six metres high with barbed wire on top and with colourful artwork painted on the side, most of which do not necessarily contain messages of peace however. The walls are still up – with gates at certain junctions that are locked at night – to divide communities (mainly Catholics and Protestants) that were responsible for a very troubled warring period in Belfast’s history infamously known as “The Troubles” where thousands were killed and many more injured. The walls run for kilometres so if you want to cover it all, best to ask for a detailed map which alas I was unable to find for myself.

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Murals with political overtones are also aplenty along the Falls Road and Shankill Road areas. Thanks to the city tour bus, I was able to catch most of them ‘cos I don’t think I could or would possibly see them all on foot. (There’s a lot of ground to cover.)

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You need to be extremely flexible, agile and seated on the top of an open-top bus if you want to capture them all on camera cos the guide will rattle like a machine gun with instructions such as “over your left shoulder, and over your right shoulder, and back to your left, and now right!” while the driver sped on as if he’s late for an urgent family matter. Still, a very good (and cheap) way to see and learn about the history and significance of some of the murals in the city.

If you love murals as much as I do, Belfast is a great city for it. Just wished I could have found at least one Game of Thrones mural though…

All photos by Marguerita Tan. No text or images from this post are to be used without the blog author’s permission.

Sunshine Coast – Sun, Sand & Sea @ Noosa Heads


When in Brisbane: Take a day trip up north to Noosa Heads in the Sunshine Coast to take in some of the most beautiful sights of sun, sand, sea and sky you will ever see. This is Laguna Bay where you can folick in the waters, build sandcastles, or stretch your leg mucles on the boardwalk that takes you all the way to the top of Noosa National Park where a lookout offers breathtaking views of the entire area. Actually, considering the long drive – 3 hrs each way – best to stay a night or two cos you still need time to check out all the shops and cafes along the main street, Hastings Lane. Hmm, should I go again?… 

Photo by Marguerita Tan

Brisbane: Sunset over the River

When in Brisbane: Catch sunsets (about 5ish during winter) over Brisbane River by positioning yourself on the extremely busy Victoria Bridge. Just be careful and avoid being knocked down by vehicles or pedestrians. Besides sunsets, you can see beautiful fluffy clouds posturing themselves in a clear, blue sky almost everday in the city. Naisee.

Photo by Marguerita Tan