Kyoto beckons with calm and culture
The Golden Pavilion temple, Zen rock garden and swaying bamboo forest - the city is a balm for city slickers
For some people, Kyoto may conjure up images of dainty geishas in traditional kimonos and heavy make-up scurrying around the corner.
For me, this charming city is nothing but a picture of calm and peace, an antidote to the rest of the often crowded and busy country.
The best time to visit would be in the spring and autumn months when the weather is most beautiful, with November being one of the busier months, when leaves start to change colour, welcoming winter.
Once the capital of Japan, Kyoto is a well-preserved ancient city and reputed to be its most beautiful. Home to thousands of architectural wonders, it is famous for its numerous Buddhist temples, shrines, blooming gardens and palaces, giving it that distinctive Zen feel.
Of the many temples and shrines, the most iconic would have to be the tiered golden temple of Kinkaku-ji, known as the Golden Pavilion. Surrounded by a vast pond and beautifully crafted garden, the temple pavilion is coated in gold leaf that glistens in the sun, mesmerising visitors. The temple was rebuilt in 1955 after it was destroyed by a fire.
Another icon of Kyoto is its most famous Zen garden, the Rock Garden at Ryoan-ji temple. Its simple setting and seemingly random display of 15 rocks of varying sizes placed on a bed of raked sand is highly intriguing.
The temples are popular and often crowded. Go either early in the morning or just before closing to avoid the tourist rush hour.
Behind the cultural preservation lies a city with a dynamic music and arts scene, with streets lined with vibrant markets and restaurants that serve delectable local cuisine.
If you are a manga fan, head to the Kyoto International Manga Museum, where most of its walls are lined with shelves of manga that are free for browsing. Housed in a renovated elementary school in the centre of Kyoto, the museum boasts over 300,000 items.
Or perhaps, you prefer the experience of a tea ceremony. What sets a Japanese tea ceremony apart from those of Taiwan and China is that it exemplifies the artistry of Japanese cuisine.
Infused with the Zen spirit, the ceremony is a cultural encounter with its handcrafted ceramics and utensils that are used to prepare the tea, in a room decorated with calligraphy and flower arrangement.
But the highlight for me was a visit to the Arashimaya district, where the famous Sagano Bamboo Forest is located. No visit to Kyoto is complete without taking a slow, hour-long stroll through the magical, towering green plants. The sound of swaying bamboos in the wind is profoundly calming.
Countless pictures have been captured in this forest and yet there are still angles, colours and corners unexplored.
If your tired legs fail you or if you want to feel like royalty, then hop on a rickshaw for a small fee.
The next must-do in Arashimaya is the Sagano Love Train. While the attraction first welcomed its passengers in 1991, the whole experience transports you back to a movie scene in the 1950s when lovers had to bid goodbye at an antique train station.
The romance extends from the antique-looking train to its journey - it passes the Arashimaya mountains and scenic foliage with a bright turquoise river flowing below.
Tourists in long wooden boats are often seen as they cruise along this amazingly clean body of water. It is such a unique experience.
You can get to Arashimaya easily by the JR Sagano Line (train), or by the sleek Shinkansen bullet train from major cities such as Osaka, or city buses from Kyoto Station or Shijo Kawaramachi (central Kyoto).
The Love Train station is just outside JR Arashiyama Station.