Saturday, February 18, 2017

[Japan 2016] Gion, Kyoto: Yasaka Shrine + Maruyama Park

Photo By: Elin Chow

After lunch, we left Kiyomizudera Temple and continued down the stone paved Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka in Higashiyama District. The sloping stone alleyways that are crammed with traditional wooden shophouses, restaurants and cafes selling pottery, sweets, pickles, crafts and souvenirs.

Most of the shops open around nine or ten in the morning and close around five or six in the evening. Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka is a prime destination for tourists who wish to see the old Kyoto. Thus, the stone paved streets can be touristy and packed with tourists at any time of the day.

The historic stone-paved lanes eventually lead to the Gion District, which is the main Geisha district in Kyoto. Lined with modern entertainment establishments such as restaurants, shops, bars and clubs, the Gion District is not only a major tourist hub, but also a popular nightlife spot in Kyoto.

With the help of Google Maps, we arrived at Yasaka Shrine (previously known as Gion Shrine), a famous Shinto Shrine located along the bustling crossroad in the Gion District, Kyoto. The shrine is located about 30 minutes walk away from Kiyomizudera Temple.

Alternatively, you can take bus 100 or 206 from Kyoto Station and alight at Gion Bus Stop. Other than bus, Yasaka Shrine can also be reached by train. The nearest train stations are Gion-Shijo Station on the Keihan Line and Kawaramachi Station on the Hankyu Line, both of which are located about 10 minutes walk away from the shrine.

However, I would recommend walking from Kiyomizudera Temple to Yasaka Shrine through the narrow lanes of Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka. These two lanes are the best preserved historic areas in Kyoto. Walking through the stone-paved lanes will allow you to see and experience the beauty of the traditional old Kyoto.

Walking up the cobbled stone steps, through the two storey vermillion entrance gate, we left the noisy and bustling streets behind.  Yasaka Shrine is open all day and admission is free.

The approach to the shrine is lined with food stalls selling a variety of local specialities.

Yasaka Shrine is dedicated to Susano-o-no-Mikoto, Kushiinadahime--no-Mikoto, Yahashira-no-Mikogami. Susano-o-no-Mikoto is the god of good health and prosperity, who was known for his defeat of Yamata-no-orochi (a large serpent with eight heads).

Yasaka Shrine is famous for Gion Matsuri, one of the biggest festivals in Japan. It is a month long festival that takes place over the entire month of July, attracting thousands or even million of tourists every year.

In the center is a roofed wooden stage that is used for religious ceremonies. The stage is decorated with hundred of hanging lanterns bearing the names of companies that have donated, which gets lit up at night.

On the left, you will find the Honden (Spirit Hall), a single storey building with several large bells draping over its entrance. The Honden is one of the most important building in the shrine. Ringing the bell is said to wake up the god and repel evil.

Just like any other temples and shrines in Japan, there is also a roofed water basin (known as Temizuya) with wooden water laden for purification. Worshippers are required to wash their hands, mouth and handle of the water laden to purify themselves before entering the main hall.

Yasaka Shrine is especially crowded during New Year where locals flock here to pray for good fortune. Being located in one of the main shopping district in Kyoto, the shrine also attracts a reasonable number of locals and tourists at any time of the year.

Located just behind Yasaka Shrine, you will find Maruyama Park, a popular cherry blossom viewing spots in Kyoto. The park is extremely crowded at that time of the year when the cherry blossoms are in bloom. An enormous Torii gate stand at the main entrance of the park at the back of Yasaka Shrine. Passing through the gate, we found ourselves at the foot of a mountain, surrounded by nature on all sides.

Standing at the base of Higashiyama mountain, Maruyama Park is the oldest park in Kyoto. Covering a total area of 86,000 square metres, the park is open throughout the year. Just like Yasaka Shrine, admission to Maruyama Park is also free.

Although a popular spot for cherry blossoms viewing, Maruyama Park is a lovely place to enjoy the fall colors in Autumn too. During autumn, the leaves on the trees change colors from green to yellow, bright orange or red. The trees have shed their leaves and become bare and sparse as winter approaches.

The trees seem lonely and barren, but equally stunning. Furthermore, they were quite photogenic too. Around the park, you will find lots of little spots where you can sit and enjoy the cool autumn breeze while listening to the sound of birds chirping.

Sitting in the center of the park is the famous weeping cherry tree which will lit up during night time. The tree is a star attraction of the park and is over seventy years old. It is said that the tree have grown from a cherry blossom tree that is over 300 years old.

There are protective fencing placed around the tree to protect it from any damage. During Spring, the tree is overflow with cherry blossoms. But it was bare when we were there in Autumn. Nevertheless, it was still an impressive sight.

Next to the tree, there is an enchanting pond surrounded by beautiful landscaping. In the pond, you will find many fish, a couple of Mandarin ducks and turtles. There is a stoned footbridge spanning across the pond.

We strolled through the picturesque park at a leisurely pace under the shades of red and yellow leaves. It was a lovely day and the atmosphere is very calm and peaceful.

All around the park, there are benches where you can take a rest and enjoy the quietude of the park. You can easily spend an hour in the park doing nothing. It is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.

The area of the park is quite small and easy to navigate. For those who wish to get close to the nature, this is a good place to enjoy some tranquility. It is a surprisingly a good place to enjoy the autumn leaves in Kyoto too.

All around the park, there are also a number of teahouses in the park selling snacks and drinks. You can enjoy matcha tea and local cuisines under the shade of colorful maple trees while enjoying the cool autumn weather.

If you are interested to know more about our trip, you may want to check out our 7D6N Osaka - Kyoto - Nara - Kobe Trip Itinerary + Overview for the list of attractions that we had visited during our 7 days in Japan. For anyone planning your first trip to Japan but have no idea where to start, you should read my "How To Plan A Trip To Japan" post.

Be sure to follow me on Facebook or Twitter for the latest updates on my 7 days adventures in Japan! You might also want to check My Wanderlust page for some of my other travel adventures.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

[Sponsored Review] Estee Lauder Nutritious Vitality8 Radiant Moisture Creme

Photo By: Elin Chow

As we age, our skin becomes more susceptible to free radical damages which caused it to lose volume, elasticity, radiance and glow. Our skin also becomes dry and dull, with fine lines and unsightly breakouts starting to appear.

Dull skin often looks old, tired and lifeless. As a result, I started looking for skincare products that can protect the skin from environmental aggressors and boost hydration and radiance.I love skin care, and I always ensure that my face is cleaned and well-moisturized before I go to bed every single night. Even though I can never stop aging, it is impossible slow it down.

In this post, I would like to share with you the Estee Lauder Nutritious Vitality8 Radiant Moisture Creme that I have received to review for free. Even though I received the product for free, all opinions expressed in this post are purely mine. I can ensure you that everything I wrote in this post reflects my honest opinion.

The Estee Lauder Nutritious Vitality8 Radiant Moisture Creme is an antioxidant rich moisture cream that moisturize all day long. Its antioxidant ability helps to neutralize and protects your skin from free radical damages caused by environmental aggressors while recharges it with the power of 8.

Formulated with Pomegranate 8 Complex, Estee Lauder Nutritious Vitality8 Radiant Moisture Creme helps to activate 8 key dimensions of healthy looking skin with a unique blend of 8 powerful ingredients in just 8 days!

The 8 powerful ingredients include:
- Pomegranate
- Soapberry
- Mangosteen
- Berry Extract
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
- Anti-oxidant Booster
- Mineral Water

The unique blend helps skin to neutralize free radicals, battle environmental aggressors and provide skin with essential nutrients, leading to 8 signs of healthy looking skin. It keep it nourished, hydrated, calm and energised, creating refined,supple, radiant and smooth skin.

The Estee Lauder Nutritious Vitality8 Radiant Moisture Creme is specially created for Asian skins and is perfect for all skin types. Based on research results, Estee Lauder claims that 99% of women have felt their skin look more plump and radiant in just 8 days.


The Estee Lauder Nutritious Vitality8 Radiant Moisture Creme comes in beautiful red glass jar with reflective gold twist cap containing 50 ml of the product. There is a plastic divider that separates the cream and the cap to prevent spills and leakage.

Being a luxury skincare brand, having a stunning packaging is a must. For that, I would say the Estee Lauder packaging have not failed to impress. The packaging of the product exudes a feeling of quality and feels incredibly sturdy in my hands.

However, I actually find the packaging a little bulky, thus it is not actually very travel friendly. Furthermore, it does not come with a spatula for application. This means that I have scoop out the product from the jar with my fingers, which can be a very unhygienic thing to do. But overall, the red and gold packaging adds a feel of luxury and exclusiveness to the product.


The texture of the cream is white and thick with a mousse like consistency. Since this product is targeted for people with dry skin, I was worried that the cream might be too rich for my combination skin, resulting it to break out.

Surprisingly, it did not. Despite being luxuriously rich, the cream has a gel like texture. It is non-greasy, light weight and easily absorbed by the skin. Most importantly, it does not leave a greasy residue after application. I have been using this cream for a week now, and so far, it has not break me out.

Brighten, Moisturize & Radiance

Coming from such a luxury skincare brand, naturally I have higher expectations, and I am not disappointed. The cream works miraculously on my skin and I am happy to see noticeable results after a week.

Just like what Estee Lauder has claimed, this luxurious and moisturizing cream has keep my skin moisturized all day long. My well-hydrated skin looks plumper with a radiant healthy glow. But for some reason, I have noticed some tiny spots of redness on my cheeks area since I started this product. However, I am not sure whether the redness is caused by the cream or by other products that I am using. The redness does fade away after a few days.

I woke up with brighter skin every morning without a greasy feel, which feels silky soft to the touch. Overall, I feel that the cream works really great as a daily night time moisturizer. However, it might be too rich for the hot and humid weather in Malaysia, especially for people with oily skin.


I love the scent of the cream. It is so lovely! The cream has a delightfully fruity scent that is not overpoweringly sweet. The scent is very clean and fresh - it makes me look forward to applying the cream every night!


Sephora is currently selling the Estee Lauder Nutritious Vitality8 Radiant Moisture Creme for RM 290 on their retail website, which makes it the most expensive skincare product that I owned so far.

To be honest, I would not purchase this product with my own money because I find it a little too pricey. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that it will work for my skin. After all, there are too many beauty products in the market that often offers too good to be true results. Sometimes we might end up wasting our money because these pricey products simply does not worth the splurge.

However, this will not be the case for the Estee Lauder Nutritious Vitality8 Radiant Moisture Creme. I fell so deeply in love with this product since I started using it. Only need a pea sized of the cream is needed to cover my entire face and neck area, so I believe a 50 ml jar of it is going to last me for more than 6 months. I look forward to applying it every single night!

How Do I Use The Product?

I use the Estee Lauder Nutritious Vitality8 Radiant Moisture Creme as a night time moisturizer after cleansing and toning. After washing my face clean with a facial cleanser, I proceed to apply toner before applying the cream.

My Thoughts

With its exquisite packaging, silky light formula and an intoxicating scent, the Estee Lauder Nutritious Vitality8 Radiant Moisture Creme is sure not to disappoint. Even though it is more suited for dry or aging skin, it works amazing on my combination skin too! Now I am happy to adopt the Estee Lauder Nutritious Vitality8 Radiant Moisture Creme into my nightly skincare routine!

So what are you still waiting for? Shop your favorite Estee Lauder products online at best price on Sephora now! Free Shipping is available for all order above RM 80!

Be sure to follow me on Facebook or Twitter  for any latest updates on my blog. So stay tuned!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

[Japan 2016] Kyoto: Baggage Storage At Kyoto Station + Kiyomizudera Temple

Photo By: Elin Chow
Official Website: Kiyomizudera Temple

Rise and shine! We started our third day of our 7D6N Osaka - Kyoto - Nara - Kobe Trip early this morning. After packing up, we checked out of our Airbnb apartment in Kyoto. Our destination for the day was to visit the famous Kiyomizudera Temple in the eastern part of Kyoto before embarking on a train journey to Osaka.

While most hotels would be able to hold your luggage even after you have checked out, this was unfortunately not an option if you are staying at an Airbnb apartment. We were unable to store our luggage like we usually do at hotels. Since we do not want to drag our luggage around, we have to find a temporary storage for them.

You will find coin lockers throughout the Kyoto station building. In fact, almost all major stations in Japan have coin lockers. The coin lockers comes in various sizes and are available at fees of 300 Yen, 500 Yen and 700 Yen.

However, please note that there are a huge demand for coin lockers in Kyoto Station and they tend to get full really fast, especially the largest sized ones. So if you are planning to store your luggage in the coin lockers, please make sure that you get there as early as 7.00 am.

However, if you have large and bulky pieces of luggage like us, you can consider using the Baggage Room located on the B1 floor of the Kyoto Station building. The Baggage Room is very easy to access. Simply use the escalator located in the central part of Kyoto Station down to the B1 floor. You should find an opening with sign pointing to the Baggage Room.

The Baggage Room is open from 8.00 am to 9.00 pm daily and the fee is 500 Yen per luggage for one day storage. Generally, we find the Baggage storage service cheaper and more convenient than coin lockers. Why do I say so? Well, it is because we carry one large and one medium-sized luggage. To store them, we will need to rent one large and one medium-sized coin lockers, which will cost us 1,200 Yen (700 Yen + 500 Yen) in total. However, the total fee to store our luggage at the Baggage Room is only 1,000 Yen. This is also why we decided to use the Baggage Room instead of the coin lockers.

The Baggage Room also provides baggage forwarding services. You can have your luggage forwarded to any hotel in Kyoto or anywhere in Japan at a fee. Please do not keep your valuables or any dangerous items in the baggage.

The luggage storage service enables us to do sightseeing without having to worrying about carrying heavy luggage.

After leaving our luggage at the Baggage Room, we made our way to the Kyoto Bus Station to take a bus to Kiyomizudera Temple. Buses are the best way to get to those areas of Kyoto that are not easily accessible by trains. Since there are no train stations near Kiyomizudera Temple, the best way to get to it is by the Kyoto city bus. Of course, you can also get to the temple by taxi, but this is definitely not going to be the most economical way. 

At Kyoto Station, you can take either bus 100 or 206 and get off at Gojo-Zaka or Kiyomizu-mich Bus Stop. From the bus stop, it is another 10-15 minutes uphill walk as no public transportation can go directly to the temple.

The Kiyomizudera Temple is also reachable by train. Take the Keihan Railway and alight at Kiyomizu-Gojo Station. The temple is located about a 20 -25 minutes walk from the station. So, if you are arriving by train, be prepared to take a long walk.

In Kyoto, buses are boarded on the left side through the back door and the fare are paid only when you exit via the front door. You can pay at the coin machine in the front by the driver's seat.

Buses are probably the cheapest mode of transportation in Kyoto. The fare is a flat 230 Yen for adult and 120 Yen for children under the age of 12 if you travel within the designated area. You can be paid either by cash or by the IC cards. If you are paying by cash, you will need to pay by exact fare as there will not be any small change given.

If you plan to use the buses a lot to travel around Kyoto, you might want to consider buying a City-Bus All Day Pass, which will provide unlimited travel on the city buses for one day. The City-Bus All Day Pass cost 500 Yen for adult and 250 Yen for children and will pay off only if you plan to use the buses more than three times that day. Please note that it can only be used within the designated areas.

However, the buses tend to get extremely crowded during rush hours and it can be very time-consuming to get around due to heavy traffic conditions. Announcements are made in English and other languages as well as Japanese. There are also electronic signs with the next bus stop displayed in front of the bus.

We alighted at Gojo-Zaka Bus Stop. Kiyomizudera Temple is located high up a hill and is accessible via a fairly steep road. The approach to the temple is lined with beautiful wooden houses, traditional tea houses and shops selling souvenirs and traditional wares. Simply follow the tourist crowds if you are unsure which way to go.

However, the attraction was not very wheelchair or stroller friendly. Even though the temple has put in significant efforts to make the attraction wheelchair accessible, people with mobility problems might still find it a challenge to visit and move around the area.

After a steep ascend, we finally arrived at the gorgeous entrance to the temple. Standing at the entrance of the temple is the vermillion-colored Nio-mon gate, a two storey structure guarded by two Koma-inu (Lion dog)

Kiyomizudera Temple, also known as Pure Water Temple, is one of the oldest and most popular temple in Kyoto. Its name is derived from the pure water flowing from the Otawa Waterfall. An iconic landmark of Kyoto, the temple is registered as an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.

Kiyomizudera Temple is open from 6.00 am to 6.00 pm daily. However, hours of operation is extended to 6.30 pm on weekends and holidays from mid April through July and everyday in August and September. You can check its operation hours from its official website. 

The temple attracts tourists all year round, and is overwhelmingly crowded during spring and autumn. Hundreds and thousands of tourists flock to this temple to view the beautiful cherry blossoms in spring and fall colors in autumn.

Outside the main hall's entrance of the temple, you will find various other temple buildings and a ticket office. Among which is Sanju-no-to, known to be the tallest three-storied pagoda in Japan. The pagoda is renovated and repainted in Vermillion color in 1987.

While the general grounds of the temple are free to wander, an entrance fee is required in order to enter the temple's Main Hall (Hondo). Admission to the temple is 400 Yen per person. Unlike our visit to the Tenryuji Temple in Arashiyama (or any other temples in Kyoto), we decided to pay the admission fee to enter the Main Hall this time round.

The Main Hall of the temple is built on the steep cliff of Mt Otowa using a traditional Japanese method of construction. No nails are used to constructed this impressive wooden structure. The entire wooden structure is supported by 18 giant pillars made from over 400-year old Zelkova trees. It was truly a sight to behold.

From a distance, the entire wooden structure looks fragile. But surprisingly, it was incredibly durable and well-maintained, surviving over 1,200 years in its original form. Furthermore, it is highly earthquake-resistant even on a steep hill.

The Main Hall of the temple houses a small statue of the eleven faced, thousand armed Kannon Bodhisattva. However, we did not enter the Main Hall to catch a glimpse of the Kannon Bodhisattva statue. In fact, only very few people are interested in the prime object of worship of the temple.

Instead, we were attracted by the wide-open veranda that juts out from the main hall over the hillside, just like anyone else. Called the Kiyomizu Stage, it is undoubtedly the main attraction of the temple. This is also what attracts the thousands of tourists flocking to the temple every single day!

Standing at 13 metres tall (almost equal to a four-storey high building), the stage offers a spectacular view of the cherry blossom during Spring and fall colors during Autumn. During Autumn, the stage is surrounded by a sea of red and yellow leaves amd is always bustling with people eager to capture the beauty on their camera.

Just behind the Main Hall, you will find Jishu shrine, a shrine dedicated to the deity of love and matchmaking. In front of the shrine, there are two stones, each positioned 18 metres apart. Legend says that if you can find your way from one to the other with your eyes closed, you will have luck finding love.

Passing the Jishu Shrine, you will arrive at the Okunoin Hall, which is a smaller version of the Main Hall. Just like the Main Hall, the Okunoin Hall also has a wide open stage, but much more smaller, and is constructed using the same unique method.

Just like Kiyomizu stage, the smaller stage at Okunoin Hall is extremely noisy and insanely crowded. The elevated wooden walkway is filled with hundred of pictures crazy tourists and its smaller size also made it more difficult to move around.

The smaller stage of Okunoin Hall offers a spectacular view of Kiyomizu Stage and Kyoto cityscape. It is probably the most photographed sight in Kiyomizudera Temple. However, we find it relatively difficult and challenging to take a nice picture. Almost everyone around us are fighting for the best spot to take the best selfies with the temple, causing the path to be blocked.

The view was certainly much more impressive from here. Far in the distance is the city of Kyoto, with Kyoto Tower standing proudly against the blue sky. The autumn colors are especially stunning in their full swing andthe Main Hall looks amazing being surrounded by colorful leaves. Absolutely stunning!

To be honest, my husband and I are never a fan of religious architecture. So even if our budget permits, we would never want to pay an admission fee to enter a temple. The magnificent view is the reason why we decided to pay to it.  Luckily, it was an experience worth paying for.

Please note that the main hall is currently undergoing extensive repair works. From February 2017 to March 2020, the main hall will be covered up by scaffolding for the renovation of its roof. The scaffolding work is scheduled to be completed in June 2017, which is expected to block the pictureque views of the temple. During this period, visitors are still allowed to enter the Main Hall for worship.

Following a paved path through the trees down the hill, you will find Otowa Waterfall at the base of the temple. The water from the waterfall fall from three separate streams into a pond. According to legend, each stream of water is said to have different benefits.

Drinking the sacred water from the waterfall is believed to bring longevity, success in studies or luck in love. However, it will be considered greedy to drink from all three streams, so make sure you choose carefully. To drink, use the tin cap attached to long poles collect the water from the stream.

Passing the Otowa Waterfall, we continued along a stone paved path lined with hundreds of maple trees,  forming the perfect fall colors. Enjoy a relaxing stroll amongst the hundreds of maple trees that erupted into a sea of red and yellow colors in Autumn.

Near the exit of the temple, there is a small pond surroundedby maple trees that were at their peak.

Exiting from the temple, we continued our way down Sannen-Zaka and Ninen-Zaka, a steep downwards-sloping shopping street that leads to Yasaka Shrine in the Gion District.

The street is lined with traditional wooden shophouses selling talismans, incenses, paper fortunes, sweets, pottery, pickles and other usual tourists souvenirs. There are also plenty of restaurants and tea houses to refresh yourself after a tiring day of exploring. All in all, it is a great place to get some souvenirs and gifts for yourself and your loved ones, so do take your time to explore these streets.

We stumbled upon this restaurant called Saryo Seihan - Tei while looking for somewhere to eat lunch. Tucked in a little alley, off the main shopping street, the restaurant specializes in soba and Udon.

It was a very cozy restaurant with a pleasant atmosphere. English menu with pictures is available, but choices are a little limited.

Price: 1,250 Yen

Both my husband and I ordered Cold Buckwheat noodles with Tempura. Complimentary tea or water was served upon being seated and are refillable at the self-serve station to your heart's content. Although a little pricey, the quality of food and service offered were very high. We have an very enjoyable dining experience.

Being one of the major attraction in Kyoto, Kiyomizudera Temple is definitely a must-visit. I suggest allocating at least 2-3 hours for your visit to the temple. When visiting, remember to bring your camera along as there will be plenty of opportunities for photography around the area, especially during the cherry blossom and fall seasons.

If you are interested to know more about our trip, you may want to check out our 7D6N Osaka - Kyoto - Nara - Kobe Trip Itinerary + Overview for the list of attractions that we had visited during our 7 days in Japan. For anyone planning your first trip to Japan but have no idea where to start, you should read my "How To Plan A Trip To Japan" post.

Be sure to follow me on Facebook or Twitter for the latest updates on my 7 days adventures in Japan! You might also want to check My Wanderlust page for some of my other travel adventures.