Head south-east out of central Taipei for a short 20 minute drive, and you’ll be in the foothills of Wenshan district, which offers much more than gondolas and tea. With historical towns, trails that seem to never end, night markets, and well-hidden spaces, Wenshan is a quirky respite from Taipei city life that offers plenty without sacrificing convenience. In fact, my love for Taiwan started here almost 6 years ago when I first arrived, and it’s all thanks to a number of hidden gems I’ve found while moseying about understated Wenshan. Continue reading
Back to lovely little Okinawa, my first Japanese travel adventure which really didn’t disappoint in any way. I was there for five days and although two of the days were spent diving beneath sea level, I felt Okinawa is a place I could really get used to, mainly because those remaining three days were filled with plenty of unique and interesting places to explore. This is the second and final part to my adventures in Okinawa, but if you missed out on the first one, (which includes an excerpt about diving the Kerama Islands) feel free to make a detour read here.
Shurijo Castle Park
A short distance from Naha Centre, Shurijo Castle Park could be reached by taking the Yui Rail and alighting at the last station of Shuri. After an easy stroll, you’ll come to the Castle’s elevated grounds, which will eventually lead you to the main entrance of Shurijo itself. Here stands what once was the political stronghold of the Ryukyu Kingdom, which ruled over what is now Okinawa for about 500 years before its collapse and was eventually annexed to Japan.
It’s quite a standout castle to see unlike the only ones I have previously come across in their gothic or Hapsburg-esque style.The bright vermillion red against the green parklands that surround the castle make a striking contrast and if you didn’t know much about Shurijo like I did, you’d think that it has had a more recent makeover. If you did, then you and I are on the right track. Shurijo Castle Park was completely devastated in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 and was restored in 1992. Though Shurijo has seen better days, it is uplifting to know that the small oceanic kingdom of the Ryukyus was proud to stand as a bridging nation between those of Korea, China, Japan and even some Southeast Asian countries. It enjoyed a wealth of unique products and treasures at the height of the regime, so as always…in great attempts it is still glorious to fail.
Shuri Ryusen Coral Art
Now this is a gem of a place that I happened to come across while doing a blind walk in the suburbs surrounding Shurijo Castle. I was hunting for a good place to eat, but found an art studio specialising in dye printing. What is unique about Shuri Ryusen is that it uses coral fossils to create unique print designs. I had a great time getting all artsy, albeit hungry for almost an hour creating and printing my own design. If you’re short on time, or making your own art really doesn’t entice you much, then there are plenty of interesting fabrics and products downstairs for you to oggle at.
What made it doubly rewarding for me is that upon finishing my print, I asked the lovely shop ladies to recommend me a place to eat, and what followed was everything a foodie could dream of…
Dining in What Possibly Could be the Best Restaurant Setting in Okinawa – Ryukyu Sabo Ashibiuna (琉球茶房 あしびうなぁ)
I don’t even know for sure if this is the proper English name of this restaurant! Fortunately, armed with the careful instructions of the ladies of Shuri Ryusen and a business card, I walked back towards the direction of Shuri Castle Park to find what was for me, the best dining experience of my short time in Okinawa.
Set in a quiet street, the entrance of the restaurant is adorned with greenery, and a short path led me past a garden and its small water fountains. Shoes were requested to be taken off, and my first step into the traditional restaurant, already gave me a great sense of calmness. I walked passed rooms, partitioned by wooden screen doors. Guests were seated on mats in the traditional Japanese seiza style. At this point it was closer to 3pm and all I had were biscuits and tea – I was more than ready to join them. But what caught my eye despite the doors being closed, was the zen garden outside. Oh nothing makes me more happy than to fill my empty stomach with tasty morsels while overlooking a great view. I ordered a set of pork trotters soba noodles, served with an extra bowl of mixed-grain rice, pickles and a tumeric tea. I took in the aromas, the sights, the traditional Ryukyuan music playing to the gentle rain and gratefully ate my flavoursome meal. All my senses were alive. My belly was getting full. And all is right with the world.
Home to the world’s second biggest aquarium, this place is a bit of a hike to get to if you’re based in Naha like I was. If I didn’t mention it before, I really recommend going around Okinawa by car. The coastal drives are amazing, and it’s just quick and easy to get around if you’re not planning to spend your entire holiday in Naha. I love roadtrips so why I didn’t heed to my own creed, is still something that annoyed me! Next time…
So why make the 3 hour hike (that’s right…each way by bus) from Naha to Churuami?
Need I say more? If you don’t scuba dive, or if you like me have been diving for sometime but a sighting of a whale shark still eludes you, then this is probably the next best place for you to see the world’s biggest fish up close. They are still pretty darn impressive even in a tank, and though I’m a bit sad that these beautiful giants aren’t in the wild where they truly belong, at least this way more people will learn and appreciate these friendly beasts. Swimming right along side the whale sharks are other sharks of smaller stature, schools of fish, and nearly every ray species I know of. The aquarium grounds, also hosts pools for manatees and has an interesting dark room for visitors to see deep-sea creatures with their natural glow sticks and what have you. Whether by car or by bus, it makes a worthy destination for the commute.
So there you have it! A bit of everything in a couple of days on this island paradise. What is further surprising is the things I got up to outside of what I’ve already explored on this blog. I did not expect to come across the fun and easy-going residents, of those who seem to share the same sense of wanderlust and appreciation to be completely immersed in a different culture. These moments though small, are what I enjoy immensely about my adventures…not just in Okinawa but in all my travels. You just never know who you will meet, who will end up inspiring you to continue what your passionate about, or to just go crazy and enjoy a whole new experience. Certainly for this trip, I didn’t count on finding myself at an air force base with newly acquainted friends, or at a strip club and getting into misadventures (of which won’t be divulged)…
…well I’m certainly not one to say no to anything new.
So thanks Okinawa, it’s been a real treat!