Kyoto, Japan

IMG_3188From Osaka I headed to Kyoto by Shinkansen. Shinkansen is Japan’s high-speed train system connecting most of the country. I found transportation in Japan to be easy to use and to navigate. During my time in Kyoto I utilized the Japan Rail Pass. The Japan Rail Pass gave me access to JR trains and transportation, which were convenient to most tourist sites in Kyoto.

My first day in Kyoto I tried to visit a sake brewery, which unfortunately wasn’t open at the time. From there I headed to Nishiki Market, a long narrow shopping street filled with small restaurants and shops. There were over 100 stalls in the market selling items related to food or cooking. One of my favorite shops I looked at was a knife store. The knives were all handmade in Japan, though I passed since I was using a carry-on for my trip.

The next day I decided to head to Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum. This was one of the few Sake experiences I could find in Kyoto that was actually open to the public. One thing Kyoto could do is embrace Sake tourism, especially in providing more education.

The entry fee to Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum was only 300 Yen. The ticket gave me entry, a free souvenir Sake bottle (with Sake), and a Sake tasting. The museum is self-guided and smaller, though it provides a lot of information about how Sake is produced and the history of Sake in Japan.

From the museum I next headed to Nijo Castle. Nijo Castle is a designated World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The castle was the residence of shogun Tokugawa Ieyas. The complex dates back to the early 1600s. Some of the buildings have been rebuilt due to damage from fires and storms.

The castle is surrounded by two moats, which provided protection to the palace and gardens. The complex at Nijo Castle is impressive. Much of the gardens are covered in cherry and plum trees. Nijo Castle is probably a great site to visit later in spring when the trees blossom.

On my final day in Kyoto I went to Fushimi-Inari. This shrine is dedicated to Inari (Shinto god of rice) and is considered the most important shrine to Inari. You’ll find many fox statues across the shrine, which are thought to be messengers for Inari. The earliest known structure at Fushimi-Inari predates Kyoto becoming the capital of Japan in 794.

In my opinion, Fushimi-Inari is probably the most recognized shrine in Japan due to the thousands of torii gates. The torii gates span a network of trails, which lead to the forest of Mount Inari. The further you walk along the trail, the less visitors you’ll encounter. The hike can take about 2 to 3 hours, but you can turn back before reaching the summit. Along the hike you’ll encounter small shrines and miniature torii gates.

My huge mistake with visiting Fushimi-Inari was not getting up early enough. I arrived about 10:00 AM and the site was filled with tourists. If visiting Fushimi-Inari, I highly recommend visiting the shrine around 8:00 AM. This will help with avoiding the main crowds.

In general, I found Kyoto to be packed with tourists. Part of the reason may have been due to Chinese New Year. I guestimate around 60% of the tourists I encountered in Kyoto were from China. If you travel in Asia during the beginning of the year, just be aware Chinese New Year may increase the number of tourists traveling.

Accommodation: Ibis Styles Kyoto Station

During my time in Kyoto I stayed at the Ibis Styles Kyoto Station. The hotel is located right across the street from Kyoto Station, which made it convenient to reach local transportation.

Hotel RoomBesides the location of the hotel, the price was good! Kyoto hotels are fairly expensive, yet Ibis was budget friendly and modern feeling. This was my first time staying at an Ibis property and I wouldn’t shy away from their properties in the future.

When arriving at the hotel, I was able to check-in a few hours early and was even given an upgrade. The room was small but easy to move around. The room even included a mini-refrigerator. The thing I liked the most about the property was the laundry room on the second floor. This was easy and convenient, plus made it nice not having to send out laundry to an expensive service.


Sugar Beach Resort – Unit PH14

IMG_4899My previous post went over Sugar Beach Resort and the features of the property. This post I’m going to focus only on the unit (PH14) we rented directly through the owner on VRBO. Previously we have only stayed in 1-bedroom units at Sugar Beach, but this time we IMG_4811decided to go with a 2-bedroom / 2-bathroom unit.

This was our first time renting PH14 and we really lucked out with our choice. Before booking the unit, both my Mom and myself looked at all the 2-bedroom units available to rent at Sugar Beach. We felt like none of the other units or photos on VRBO really even came close to this unit. The pictures online were 100% a perfect representation of what the unit was like, which doesn’t always happen with rental properties.

The unit was spacious and had been remodeled throughout. The condo directly overlooked the ocean, along with a view of Kahoolawe and Molokini.

The most noticeable area and really the highlight of the condo was the kitchen. The kitchen had a large granite island and all the appliances were stainless steel and relatively new. The only appliance that was a bit odd to use was the dishwasher. The kitchen was well stocked with cooking supplies, though a few odds and ends have obviously disappeared overtime (seems typical in most rental units I’ve stayed at).

Besides the kitchen, the rest of the condo felt comfortable and made for a relaxing vacation.  Unfortunately now I’m home I realized I’m forgot to take a photo of the couch area in the living room and a photo of the bedroom with the king bed. The living room had a large sectional, small chaise lounge, and a television.

Both bedrooms were the same size, but one had a king bed and the second bedroom had 2 twin beds. Additionally both bathrooms were remodeled similarly and had completely tiled showers. There were no bathtubs in this unit, which I personally prefer.

The washer and dryer were the new front loading ones as well. On top of this the unit had nice tile throughout, while the bedrooms ware carpeted. This is probably my favorite unit I’ve stayed in at Sugar Beach and I would stay here again instantly.

Sugar Beach Resort (Maui)


This last May I went to Maui for a few weeks on vacation and met up with my parents who flew in a few days before me from Seattle. On this trip to Maui we decided to stay again at Sugar Beach Resort since the property has worked best for us on our trips to Maui. A few years back we stayed at another rental property and had a pretty poor experience, so this time we decided to go back to the property we knew best. This post is just going to be focusing on Sugar Beach Resort and not the unit we rented. I’ll cover the unit (PH 14) in another post later this week.

IMG_4883Sugar Beach Resort is not like your typical resort since the units are actually all individually owned since the property is condominiums. We like renting condos in Hawaii since it works best for our Hawaii vacation style. Condos are convenient since most offer a full kitchen and some also have in-room laundry facilities. One great feature about Sugar Beach Resort is all the units have air conditioning and laundry.

The property is located in Kihei on Sugar Beach and is only a short drive over to Kahului. This makes for an easier trip back and forth to the airport. Plus most of the main shopping areas are in the Kahului area like Costco, Target, Walmart, and Whole Foods. There are a few grocery stores and numerous restaurants located throughout Kihei, which are convenient to get to from the condo.

The property has been around since the 1970s and actually my Mom stayed here not long after in opened. My first time to Sugar Beach Resort was in the mid-1990s and I have IMG_4882stayed at the property more than a dozen times since. Unfortunately no one in the family
ever bought a unit here so we always rent. The property hasn’t changed a whole lot of the years, but is well maintained and in my opinion one of the nicer rental properties in Kihei.

Now the property does not have some of the features an actual resort offers like daily maid service or a 24-hour front desk. If you are wanting that type of service, Sugar Beach Resort definitely won’t be the place to stay. The property does offer great features like a large pool area and hot tub. There also is a small mini-golf area, a restaurant, and a sightseeing office to help book tours for those who don’t know the area or how to use the Internet (I’m kidding on the Internet part, but it is really easy to book tours and luaus yourself online now).


All the condos and the pool area have key code instead of an actual key, which makes it convenient to come and go as you please (plus no worries about losing the key). There also is a grill area near the pool with views of the ocean. The grills are cleaned daily and seem to be well maintained, though the occasional one may not heat as well as the rest.

The best part of the complex is the location right on the beach with easy access. The beach is actually pretty nice with some snorkeling right off the beach. A lot of people rent boogie boards and paddle boards to hangout in the water. We typically just stay around the beach and swim a bit in the water. Sometimes the water may be a bit murky and rough depending on the time of year, so just be aware conditions may not always be the best.

Over the years we have rented various condos either directly through an owner or a rental agency in Maui. Now we like to go directly through an owner since you know which condo you are getting. This time we went directly through the owners on a unit we found on VRBO. There also are a lot of units available on Airbnb, but those are mainly one-bedrooms. The property has both one and two-bedroom units.

Now the one downfall of the property is some units are not as well maintained/updated as others, which unfortunately is the big issue here. Some owners have really remodeled their units with nice features and lots of kitchen supplies, while others feel like they are in a time capsule or have been raided by thieves. I recommend if you go directly through an owner and know which unit you are renting, to really research that unit and read reviews. Read the reviews on VRBO (the owner may filter those), TripAdvisor, Yelp, and any blogs you may find. If you find negative reviews on a unit, I would probably stay away from that unit. I don’t want to scare anyone but we’ve stayed in some great units and some poor units here over the years. The poor units really can put a damper on the vacation experience.

Luckily this time we stayed in a fantastic unit, which I’ll review in the next post.


Overnight at Crowne Plaza LAX 

img_4784Last week I was stuck with a long layover choice out of LAX since I wanted a one-stop flight to Maui. One option was waiting around LAX all-day or flying out early the next morning.  I decided to go with the second option and spent the night at the LAX Crowne Plaza.

This hotel was located right near the airport with a shuttle service that continuously ran throughout the day. When I exited the luggage area at LAX, I waited for the shuttle at the hotel shuttle pickup and was picked up in around 20-minutes.

Even though I was at the hotel around 11am, I was able to check-in early and get a room. I had a king room, which I used IHG points to pay for. The room was located on one of the quiet floors and faced towards a small section of the runway, which I could hear at times throughout the day. The room was newly remodeled with a comfortable bed, which worked perfect for the overnight stay. Wi-Fi is available at the Crowne Plaza and was included with my IHG level.

After dropping off my luggage I went for lunch. There were some food trucks in the hotel parking lot, but I just ate at the restaurant off the lobby. There are actually 3 restaurant food options available at the Crowne Plaza. A taproom, sushi restaurant, and a pizza/fast-service place. I ate at the Century Taproom for lunch. The menu had sandwiches, salads, steak, and other typical foods of a taproom. There also was a halfway decent beer menu as well. For lunch I just had the club sandwich which sounded the best when flying the next morning.


Even though I was in LA for  an afternoon and evening, I just stuck around the hotel for the day since I had an early  flight the following morning. In the morning I was able to catch the shuttle back to the airport. I did have to wait for around 30-minutes since the first shuttle filled up right when I got there. Luckily the shuttle only serviced the Crowne Plaza and not any neighboring hotels.

Overall the Crowne Plaza at LAX was a nice hotel and somewhere I would definitely stay again when stuck with an overnight layover. I found the hotel to be relatively quiet and comfortable for a one-night stay.