Ho Chi Minh City – Intro

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Notre Dame

About 10 days after returning from my Jakarta trip, I was back on the road again. There was a great fare to Tokyo, but then another good fare to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) popped up. Although it cost more than the fare to Tokyo, I had never been to Vietnam and it was on my radar.

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People Watching

I didn’t know much about traveling to Vietnam, let alone that I needed a tourist visa. From the time I bought my ticket until my scheduled flight there were several changes to the tourist visa. If I would have known what was going to transpire, I probably would have delayed going to Vietnam until things got better.

At the time I purchased my ticket, you could gain entry via tourist for $25 for a one time entry. The US apparently changed their tourist visa policy towards Vietnam, and they likely changed their visa policy. Gone was the one time entry visa of $25, and introduced was a one year multi-entry visa for $135.

From what I read, there was a lot of pushback from tour operators in Vietnam as they knew this new policy would likely decrease tourism, and therefore their livelihood.

Days before I departed, they supposedly re-instituted the one time tourist visa of $25, but every visa service I saw was still offering only the multi-entry visa. Perhaps they were slow on implementing the change, as they were charging more for the mutli-entry visa than the one time visa entry.

If going to Vietnam, I suggest that you have all of your paperwork ready, including your visa entry letter, passport photos, and cash in USD. It will save you a lot of time. I used Vietnam Visa Pro and had no problems with them.

After deplaning, you must deal with your entry visa prior to heading to immigration unless you already have a multi-entry visa.

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New Buildings

Ho Chi Minh City seems to be a city undergoing a big change. It is a city mixed with old and new. Construction is abounding, and a metro system is being constructed, but probably won’t be finished for a few years.

I didn’t have the opportunity to explore the country outside of Ho Chi Minh City, but I guess that’s where the motivation comes in for having a multi-entry visa, LOL.

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Hokokuji Temple – Kamakura

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Hokokuji Temple

Hokokuji Temple is a Buddhist Temple in Kamakura. It is probably most famous for its bamboo garden.

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Torii Gate

Once you enter through the torii, there is a small narrow path leading you past some statues and a small bamboo water feature.

The temple and grounds are somewhat small.  There are small stone statues adorning the courtyard area in front of the temple.

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Courtyard

Past the temple is another smaller courtyard with a tree and a very small rock “garden”.

Beyond that, is Hokokuji most famous feature, the bamboo forest.

Through the thicket of bamboo lies a small tea house where, for a small fee, you can enjoy a glass a matcha while contemplating life and enjoying the view of the bamboo forest.

After leaving the tea house, the trail leads through more bamboo and onto another garden.

This garden peers out to three small caves, which are inaccessible to visitors.

The path then leads to a tranquil rock Zen garden.

Hokokuji is quite far away from Kamakura station, and the other main sites that I visited. It was somewhat disappointing in that I was expecting the bamboo forest and grounds to be a lot larger.

If not pressed for time however, I would recommend a visit as the grounds are very calming, relaxing and beautiful.

Hasedera Temple – Kamaura, Japan

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Hasedera Temple
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Hasedera Entrance

The Hasedera Temple in Kamakura is a large Buddhist Temple. From the outside, it doesn’t really look like much, but the grounds are expansive and impressive.

As you enter the grounds there is a small pond and garden.

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Chozuya

Next to the pond is the chozuya, where you wash your hands and mouth.

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Smiling Statues
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Smiling Statues

The temple grounds contain a lot of stairs, which are pretty steep at times. On the first level, are perhaps the most iconic statues of Hasedera, three little smiling statues.

Further down the path are more statues.

There is a small bamboo forest, along with a small Zen garden.

Temples are also located close to the Zen garden, which are very impressive.

There is a small torii gate, and there is also a small area for ema to be placed.

Once back down the stairs and to the right of the entrance, is a larger Zen garden, which is very beautiful and peaceful.

One of the most unique features of Hasedera is a cave that contains many figures.

After exiting the cave there is a larger area to place ema.

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Further down, there is a larger smiling statue like the smaller figures up on the hill.

I think Hasedera Temple is a definite must when visiting Kamakura. You can easily spend a few hours there, as time just seems to fly by when visiting.

Croquette Stand – Kamakura, Japan

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Croquette Stand

After my visit to Kotoku-in Temple in Kamakura, my original plan was to wait and eat lunch later, as I was planning to eat at one of the more highly regarded restaurants in Kamakura.

I was hungry, but didn’t want to have a real meal. After exiting Kotoku-in, the street leading up to the temple is filled with restaurants, snack places, and coffee shops, especially close to the temple.

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Partial Selection

There was a small croquette stand nearly across the street. There were a bunch of school kids in line to buy croquettes, so I figured it must be good, and it also wouldn’t fill me up too much.

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Pork & onion croquette

I opted the for pork & onion croquette, which was ¥200.

The croquette was light and crunchy on the outside, although just a tad on the oily side. The interior was a nice mix of potatoes, ground pork, and onions.

It was the perfect snack to hold me over until lunch.

Kotoku-in Temple, Kamakura, Japan

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Kook-in Temple

The Kotoku-in Temple in Kamakura is home to “The Great Buddha”, which stands over 40 feet tall. The Buddha is hollow inside, and you can tour the inside for about 20 cents.

The Great Buddha was originally made of wood, and was completed in 1243. A storm damaged the Buddha and the hall in 1248. The wooden Buddha was then replaced with a bronze statue that was completed in 1252. The hall housing the statue was damaged or destroyed on several other occasions, the last being in during a tsunami in 1948.

Since that time, The Great Buddha has been sitting outdoors.

There is a small garden area in front of the temple, which is surrounded by residences, as well as the main street with shops and restaurants.

There are two figures “guarding” the entrance to the temple.

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Chozuya

Past the two figures, the familiar sight of the chozuya welcomes you.

There is a small tree garden located to the left, in which most of the trees were donated by the former Thai king.

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The Great Buddha
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The Great Buddha

The Great Buddha sits in a large courtyard, where he sits peacefully in a zen-like state. The statue is both imposing and calming at the same time.

As previously mentioned, you can see the indoors of the Buddha by paying about 20 cents. There has been lots of graffiti and thefts inside of the Buddha over the years. The interior of the statue is currently undergoing restorations.

The walls of the courtyard holds various pictures and tells the history of Kotoku-in Temple, as well as the history of the Buddha. The things that stood out most, was a visit by the Dalai Lama, and Buddha’s slippers.

Past the rear courtyard wall is a small area which holds a small temple and garden.

 

Any trip to Kamakura is almost incomplete without coming to Kotoku-in Temple and The Great Buddha.

Zeniarai Benten Ugafuku Shrine – Kamakura, Japan

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Money Instructions

The Zeniarai Benten Ugafuku Shrine is a very popular shrine in Kamakura for one special reason. It is believed that if you wash your money in the shrines water, your money will double.

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Street Signs

After leaving the Starbucks Kamakura Onarimachi, I turned right and followed the signs. Unfortunately, either the signs are very wrong or I took a very circuitous route in getting to the shrine despite following the signs. Instead of being 800 meters away, I probably walked over a mile, which is all uphill.

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Entrance Stone

There are no signs in English announcing the shrine. Instead, look for this large stone structure which sits to the left of the entrance tunnel to the shrine.

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Tunnel Entrance

Next to the large stone, sits the opening to a short tunnel that will lead you to the shrines grounds.

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Chozuya

Once you exit the tunnel, the chozuya is located to the right. This is where you purify yourself before entering the by cleaning your hands and mouth, along with the ladle.

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Torii
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Torii

Next are the torii, or the shrines gates.

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Shrine

There is a small shrine located to the right.

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Shrine
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Waterfall

Further to the right is another shrine, along with a small waterfall.

There is a small open courtyard, in which ema, little wooden plaques where you write down your wishes, hang.

The main attraction Zeniarai Benten Ugafuku Shrine are the magical waters to wash your money.

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Cave Entrance

This waters are located in a small cave-like structure, which is actually fairly large.

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Basket Rental

Before entering the cave you can rent a basket for ¥100.

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Money Washing

I’m not sure if your money will double after washing it at Zeniarai Benten Ugafuku Shrine, but you will certainly get a good workout.

Starbucks Kamakura Onarimachi – Kamakura, Japan

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Starbucks Kamakura Onarimachi

I know what you’re thinking. Why is a visit to Starbucks so special? Well, the Starbucks Kamakura Onarimachi used to be the home of Ryuichi Yokoyama, a cartoonist and manga artist. There are even works of his art hanging on the walls, but they do take some time to locate.

This Starbucks has lots of wood and glass, along with very high ceilings.

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Seating

The tables are fairly spread out, which is more of an anomaly these days.

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“Coffee Bar”
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“Coffee Bar”

There is also a “coffee bar” of sorts in the middle of the store, however nobody was working there during my visit. Perhaps when it is very crowded.

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Veranda/Deck

There is a large plate glass window in the back that overlooks the veranda/deck.

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Pool

Perhaps the most distinctive feature of this Starbucks is the outdoor pool.

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Bathroom
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Bathroom

And as you would expect while in Japan, there is the famous “Japanese” toilet in the bathroom.