Kurokawa Onsen

Any trip in Japan would not be complete without a day well-spent at an onsen. For our penultimate day in Kyushu, we booked a room at Sanga Ryokan in Kurokawa Onsen area. Getting here involves changing buses, so renting a car is highly recommended. A car is cheaper than the transportation fee for a party of 3 and above.

From Kumamoto, we took a little detour to Mount Aso. It should take us about 1.5 hours to get to the Mount Aso, but the road was blocked. There was some damage on the road and landslides caused by the earthquake in April. We saw abandoned houses on the foot of the mountain. It reminded me of a scene my husband and I saw during our donation drive in a village nearby Mount Kelud. There were ashes everywhere, but the villagers were still living in their houses. Their cows and plants have died, but they refused to give up their home. Maybe it has something to do with their attachment to their birthplace, but most probably because they have no money to move elsewhere. Having a very incompetent government makes us tough. We had a terrorist attack in January. Gun shootings and dead bodies in the middle of the street. AND we had people taking selfies in the scene. Indonesians are very resilient that way. Anyway, I’m now lost in my own thoughts. I should get back to my Aso writing.

So we didn’t get to see Aso, all we managed was to take photos of the surrounding area of Mount Aso.

And actually, it was a really good thing that we gave up on seeing Aso and decided to quickly get to our ryokan. Because an hour or two later, Mount Aso erupted. We didn’t even know about this until Mother-in-law called us up to ask if we were OK. Lucky us!!!

Another one of a half hour drive from that picturesque spot above, and voila, we finally made it to Sanga Ryokan! And it is way better than I thought it would be.

Sanga is nestled in a forest next to the river. Far away from the sort-of-busy Kurokawa Onsen town. Almost all of the ryokans are located downtown next to each other. I’m glad the one we picked is further apart.

And the highlight of Sanga, their beautiful rotenburo.

And your typical ryokan food! Serving Kyushu specific food items.

Compared to other ryokans in Honshu, I think Kyushu is quite reasonably priced. For 20,000 yen per person, you get to stay in Sanga, and your breakfast and dinner are already included in the price. We are only here for a night, but I think two nights would be a better choice. Ryokan has a strict 3pm check-in and 10am check-out policy, which means for the amount of money you are paying, you only get to enjoy your accommodation for 19 hours. No early check-ins or late check-outs allowed either.

Would I return? Yes! Planning to take my family here on our next holiday. Yay Kyushu!

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Kumamoto

The ferry trip from Shimabara Port to Kumamoto Port was a brief 30 minutes. There’s an outdoor deck for those who prefer to be outside (that’s us!) and there’s the full AC indoor section. The deck gives a very nice view of the ferry departing from Shimabara, but, the outdoor section is also the smoking section. As long as you don’t mind the smell, then it is fine. We had seagulls following our ferry at quite close distance, and I was wondering why until I saw the couple standing in the corner with their hands stretched out. They were feeding them!

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There were many more than just these two

We only had one night in Kumamoto, so we had to be selective on what we should visit. Here’s our to-see and to-eat list:

1. Kumamoto Castle

We stayed at the Nikko Hotel which is within walking distance to Kumamoto’s main attraction, namely, the castle. Unfortunately the castle went through a rough earthquake in April, and we were stupid enough to not check whether the castle would still be open for public.

It wasn’t. It is currently under reconstruction until who knows when. Donations are still pouring in to rebuild Kumamoto, and the government is trying to push Kyushu tourism by offering discounts and the likes for accommodations. It is speculated that the castle won’t be open for a few years at least. Which was sad, because the castle itself was going through a major restoration project, which was due to be completed in 2019.

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Kumamoto Castle wall in its current state

2. Suizenji Garden

This beautiful garden was constructed in 17th century by the Hosokawa Clan, and strolling around in it made us feel better about not being able to see Kumamoto Castle.

3. Basashi, or horse sashimi

Basashi is the traditional food of Kumamoto. Unlike whale or tuna or anything else that might come from dubious, unsustainable source, the horse meat in Kumamoto comes from respectable horse farms. So in this case, I personally think eating a horse is the same as eating chicken or cow or lamb or any other farm animals.

There are many restaurants selling horse meat in downtown Kumamoto. Head into any one of them, and they all should roughly taste the same.

It tasted a bit chewy for a sashimi, but tasted great as yakiniku. Having said that, I still prefer beef.

4. Kumamoto Ramen

The other famous food in Kumamoto is Kumamoto ramen, which was said to be influenced by Hakata Ramen.

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Thick soup. YUM!

I felt that one day was not enough to experience Kumamoto. It is a lovely cultural city and it would have been great to spend another two days there. Definitely a much better city than Nagasaki. This, would be on my to-revisit list!

Noma

Three hours of a very fulfilling lunch at Noma, Copenhagen.

The gimmick started right in front of the front entrance. There lies a small patch of green moss, where we could see one of the chef selecting moss for today’s plating.

Because we were a big party, we could not sit in the main dining room. To accommodate us, we were given the staff’s dining room.

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Big Asian family (plus one Swedish)

(Some of) the food.

Backstage.

Yep, they have a foosball table in the staff room.

Was the food good? Yes, it was. Was it worth it? I’m not entirely sure. Their menu is seasonal, and this season served no meat, at all. Would I fork out hundreds of dollars for a vegetarian meal? Most definitely not. Nevertheless it was a fun experience. One restaurant to tick off my list! 🙂

Faviken

World’s most remote restaurant. Currently number 41 on the San Pellegrino list. Getting to Öre was not an easy feat, but it was extremely worth it. I personally think Faviken deserves to be somewhere in the top 10. The overall experience was just so wonderful that my husband and I often still talk about it. The food. The service. The pairing. The view. There’s just too many things I love about the place!

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Like this rustic farm table

And their unbelievable venue!

Love love love! Would I return? YES!