Ryokan - Pax Yoshino - Hakone, Japan
One of our favorite experiences was staying at a traditional Japanese inn called a Ryokan. True Ryokans are very luxurious (read:expensive) but we were able to find an affordable one in the hills of the area near Mt. Fuji. It has the feel of a spa, and most people chose to wear traditional robes around the building (provided in the rooms) which is quite an interesting site to behold. One of the special elements of most ryokans is the onsen, or thermal bath. Similar to other traditional baths, this one was particularly nice because it was outdoors. The water was almost too hot to stand for our allotted hour but luckily the outside temp was refreshingly cool. Before bedtime, the staff came in to lay out our pallet-style beds, which were much more comfortable than expected. Breakfast was one of the best spreads I've ever seen, but unfortunately, we couldn't figure out what almost anything was. I eagerly poured myself a cup from a hot carafe only to bring it up to my mouth and inhale the distinct smell of soy sauce. Only later did I find the coffee pot. From start to finish of our one night in the ryokan, we felt immersed in the beauty of Japanese culture.
The idea of sleeping in a cave, bathing in a cave and breathing in a cave sounded claustrophobic to me. However, staying in so-called “Cave Hotels” is one of the quintessential experiences when visiting Cappadocia in Turkey. The bizarre landscape and unique rock formations have been used as dwellings for local people, especially monks seeking solitude, for millennia. How could we miss this experience? Beautifully carved into the natural rock and enhanced with modern features, our cave hotel was charming and run by a lovely family. The room was actually quite spacious and to ease my claustrophobia, there was even a decent-sized window. Our room had at one time been used a pigeon room of a monastery (ironic since I despise pigeons) and retained the pigeon perches carved into the walls. Not my favorite detail about the place, but an interesting part of a room with a real history!
From one natural setting to another, the treehouse we slept in was by far our most rustic accommodation of the trip. The bed was draped with mosquito netting that was for more than just decoration. It was less of a house and more of a platform in the treetops with a roof. It overlooked a small bay and a mangrove forest and the only word that fits to describe the view is paradise. The island was minimally populated and there was no electricity or running water, which is my idea of true luxury in some ways. Luckily, there was a bar with surprisingly great food and umbrella drinks. Who needs WiFi in such a situation? This was also the island where we could see the bioluminescent plankton and there was an organic Absinthe distillery in a make shift cabin footsteps away. The only real problems with a treehouse are climbing up the ladder in the dark (headlamp was handy!) and nighttime bathroom trips (bottles are handy!).
Located in the world’s largest salt flat, there are several hotels built entirely out of salt. The bricks, tables, bed frames, chairs and chandeliers are from the salt flat. The floor was even loose gravel sized salt. Surprisingly, of our three nights in southern Bolivia, the salt hotel we stayed in was by far the most comfortable. These hotels are mainly set up to accommodate tour groups with dormitory-style bedrooms and bathrooms and because of the cost of water, it cost $3 to use the shower. After a few smelly days of going without, it was well worth it. It was however, incredibly drying because of the high altitude and the natural salt. Maybe it had some therapeutic properties!