Tokyo is often a top holiday spot for people who wish to immerse themselves in a landscape of soaring skyscrapers, bright neon lights and cutting edge technology. If you think that rapid modern development has obscured much of Japan’s rich heritage, Kyoto is a beautiful city that offers you a place of scenic natural beauty and a taste of traditional Japan.
For city dwellers like most of the parents in Singapore, Kyoto is an amazing city to take the kids to reconnect with nature, a great respite from urban stress and cacophony. So I am delighted to travel to the Bamboo Forest and Monkey Park of Arashiyama in Kyoto with my family to embrace nature and beauty.
I was fortunate to book a hotel within 5 minutes of walking distance to Kyoto main station and it was extremely convenient as there is a Isetan located right inside the station. We have heard so much about the sheer beauty of the bamboo forest and with much anticipation, we took a train to Saga Arashiyama station via the San-In line in high spirits. Upon arriving at the station, we simply followed the signboards or hordes of tourists eagerly and took a 20 minutes stroll to the Bamboo Forest while enjoying the scenery along the way. Phew! My kids were patient throughout the causal walk.
The Bamboo Forest
There were a few food stalls at the entrance of the Bamboo forest for famished travellers. We found that the beginning path to the bamboo forest is not the most beautiful part but as we ventured further inside, the bamboo groves became more beautifully dense and lush. My kids marvelled in awe at the towering green stalks of the famous trees as the sunbeams filtered through the canopy. Many tourists were looking for a good spot to take pictures while others strolled leisurely down the path to further explore the natural beauty of the surrounding area, not forgetting the Tenryu-ji temple, one of Kyoto’s many UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Don’t fret If your legs start to wobble from fatigue as you can take a Rickshaw ride around Bamboo Forest with one of the well-built Japanese men to relax and enjoy the lovely views of the enchanting nature.
To avoid the crowd, we went deeper and walked past the Sagano scenic train track and took some beautiful pictures. Finally, we found a great spot where the masses had diminished. For a brief moment, we had a chance to take a breath of fresh air and enjoyed the scenic landscape in tranquil silence. Then, I quickly told my kids to pose for some shots before the tourists swarmed here. A helpful family member approached us from behind and volunteered to help us take a family photo that put a smile on my face.
Overall, the magical Bamboo Forest lives up to its reputation of being one of the most fascinating forests in the world that captured our hearts with its charm. A truly must-visit place in your lifetime.
The Monkey Forest
We wasted no time and headed straight to the Monkey Park right after the Bamboo Forest. To our delight, there is a stretch of souvenir shops and food stalls along the street towards the Togetsukyo Bridge, Arashiyama’s most iconic landmark. My wife was over the moon when she found a prominent Miffy Sakura Kitchen and Bakery Shop that sells an impressive range of Miffy licensed merchandise which includes an array of exclusive Miffy Sakura crockery. They also have an assortment of bread and pastries with Miffy’s face to satisfy your hunger pangs. Needless to say, my wife spent her time browsing through the merchandise and bought some souvenirs. A real surprise discovery!
We finally reached the Togetsukyo Bridge, which crosses the Oi River with a lush and gorgeous mountain range in the background. Surrounded by the picturesque surroundings and soothing melody of the flowing river, we lingered around the area and posed for some great family pictures.
Excitement set in when we reached the base of the Monkey Park. My younger son wanted to get assurance from me repeatedly if the monkeys would bite as they are not caged. “Only if you purposely irritate them like how you often annoy me,” I replied cheekily. He rolled his eyes as we prepared to ascend the park with a guiding map given by the staff.
The hiking path started with a long flight of stairs, followed by a steep winding path. My boys seemed to have no qualms about climbing up the slope and perhaps the only worry was the macaques would jump onto them out of the blue. While hiking uphill, there was a signboard that warned “Don’t stare the monkeys in the eyes”, “Don’t feed them outdoors” etc…so my boys were aware of what they should not do.
After around 30 minutes of vigorous uphill walk, we successfully reached the summit, huffing and puffing and wiping the sweats away even though the temperature was 23-degree celsius.
The first thing that came to sight was scattered bunch of playful monkeys of various sizes and distinct faces engaged in a game of run and chase while others were relaxing comfortably in their own selected spots. There are around 130 macaques living happily there and there is even an enclosed area where visitors can go in and feed the monkeys with snacks such as peanuts and bananas. The furry creatures seemed to listen and obey the staff instructions there when I saw the staff gesticulating to them to keep a distance from the tourists or stay away from some specific areas. It was indeed heartwarming to witness animals living and enjoying life in their natural habitat.
The climb was made even more worthwhile with the stunning and breathtaking view of Kyoto city and we were super lucky when one of the friendly staff there took a fabulous family picture of us with a mother monkey and her infant posing in front of us. Yippee!
My boys had fun feeding the starving monkeys through the fence in the enclosed hut but the bigger ones often muscled their ways to snatch the snacks away much to the annoyance of my boys.
Once we were done with the feeding and captivating scenery, we took the path down on the other side of the mountain in a relaxed manner and exited at the same entrance. Without a doubt, the Monkey Park is a highly recommended attraction for people of all ages, especially families who want to expose their kids to animals and nature.
Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
Address: Arashiyama, Ukyo-ku
Opening hours: 24hrs
10 min walk from Saga Arashiyama Station, JR Sagano line
Arashiyama Monkey Park
Address: 8 Arashiyama Genrokuyama-cho, Nishikyo-ku,
Kyoto 616-0007, Japan
Opening hours: 9:00 am ~ 5:00 pm