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Kyoto Fushimi Inari shrine: famous red-orange Japanese temple gates! Hotel Gracery Sanjo, kabuki themed room.

kyoto fushimi inari gates, fashion travel blogger girl

Kyoto! Hello! Even though I’m frequently in Tokyo, I haven’t been to the city of temples in years.

I had the perfect opportunity to visit Kyoto with my Japan Rail Pass, which gave me unlimited access to Japanese trains, buses and ferries for a week. In less than 3 hours, I arrived by bullet train and made it to the famous gates of Fushimi Inari shrine.

Heian Shrine Kyoto, famous temples

I have a feeling you might be seeking a sense of peace… so in this post, I’ll show you some of Kyoto’s magnificent temples. This was the Imperial capital for over 1000 years, and is still considered the cultural and spiritual center of Japan.

Kyoto was spared from the WWII bombings, which makes it one of the best preserved cities in the country. With nearly 2000 Buddhist temples, 500 Shinto shrines and world class art museums, this is a culture-lover’s dream destination.

kyoto temple travel guide, day tours

If you only have a brief time in Kyoto, I urge you not to stress about seeing all the temples. Go with the flow, wander into small shrines and graveyards, eat the seasonal and local cuisine, browse artisan shops — that’s the magic of Kyoto, Japan.

(I’m wearing an Alien Botany dress by Zoetica Ebb, illustrator and designer. Here are more detailed photos of me in this dress, shot in NYC.)

kabuki theme hotel room design

I wanted every aspect of this trip to be immersive — so we stayed at Hotel Gracery Sanjo Kyoto, which has a special kabuki themed room!

This hotel is affordable, and in an ideal location: right in Teramachi Shopping Arcade, which is filled with antiques, cute goods, kimono shops, you name it.

kabuki dancer performer painting

You can request to stay in their unique kabuki theme room, which is inspired by the classical Japanese drama. Kabuki performances date back to the Edo period, and are characterized by stylized movements, elaborate makeup and traditional tales.

hotel gracery sanjo kyoto kabuki room

I was impressed by how Hotel Gracery captured the ambiance of Kyoto’s theater culture. The room is gracefully decorated with cherry blossoms, glowing red lanterns, and silky red floral prints that match the kimono in the painting. Even the ceilings are painted with elegant panels.

(I’m wearing a circular metallic choker similar to this necklace.)

alien undercut hair tattoo

All of the hotel’s rooms are comfortable, with modern toilets and giant bathtubs. There’s a fantastic spread of international and Japanese food at breakfast: every morning, I ate my fill of soft tofu, matcha, seaweed, and rice with tiny fish.

Hotel Gracery Kyoto Sanjo has my thumbs up. You can book a stay and find out more here, including room prices and options.

heian jingu shrine main gate

Our hotel was a quick walk to Gion (the geisha district) and the major attractions in Kyoto. Many tourists rush around trying to see everything, and end up getting “templed out.” I preferred to explore at a leisurely place, an approach that jived with the peaceful atmosphere of the city.

We walked to Heian Jingu, one of the most famous Shinto shrines. Built in 1895, this shrine is dedicated to the Imperial family, and commemorates the first and last emperors to live in Kyoto.

sake barrels in front of shrines, japan

Let’s talk about the rituals and objects you’ll usually encounter, and their special meanings.

Outside many Shinto shrines, you’ll see a stack of empty sake barrels. These are “kazaridaru,” or decoration barrels marked with brewery labels. Sake represents the spiritual connection between humans, brewers and gods, who drink and rejoice during festivals.

平安神宮 heian shrine courtyard

In the courtyard of Heian Shrine, I made my way to the chozura or temizuya — a Shinto water pavilion found at the entrance of shrines. Before entering, visitors perform a purification rite: they scoop up some of the water to wash their left hand, right hand, mouth, and handle of the ladle.

shinto shrine wash hands water purification

A Japanese dragon watches over the water ablutions. To the right, a closeup on the ema: Shinto worshipers write their wishes and intentions on these wooden plaques.

O-mikuji japanese shrines paper wishing strips

Both Shinto and Buddhist shrines often have wire racks or tree branches covered in strips of paper. These o-mikuji are fortunes that you randomly choose from a box. If the news is good, you can keep it or tie it up. If it’s bad, you’ll want to tie the paper securely so that it doesn’t go home with you.

buddhist zen temples kyoto gion

Finally, these zigzag paper streamers are called shide. They’re often attached to a wand and shaken, as a Shinto blessing. These ones hang from a prayer rope called a shimenawa, warding off evil and delineating a sacred space.

kyoto temple architecture tours, tourism

While it’s nice to see the biggest and most popular sights in Kyoto, they have their downsides. Some places, like Nijo Castle, have entrance fees and hoards of tour buses, which can spoil the mood.

I highly encourage you to wander around and visit the smaller, local temples. My friends and I came across this one (we don’t even know the name of it) on a walk, and it turned out to be one of my favorites.

old kyoto temple, most beautiful temples shrines

The dark wood architecture was beautiful and rather Gothic. There was also nobody else there, which let me pause and take in the surroundings in peace.

japanese shrine graveyard, tombs

Another bonus: we discovered a traditional graveyard in the back! These tall wood tablets or sticks are sotoba. They’re carved with the Buddhist names that practitioners receive after they die. (Photos by John S.)

travel instagram accounts follow blogger

Kyoto is one of my favorite destinations for architecture. So many forms, natural materials and textures in a single photo.

(I’m wearing an Alien Botany dress by Zoetica Ebb, you can see more photos here.)

kyoto japan temple tour, photography

Kyoto is home to Ryoan-ji, the most famous Zen rock garden. However, in the little temples, you’ll find unexpected and lovely gardens such as this. Don’t miss out on these little-known gems.

fushimi inari fox protector statues

On the other hand, I encourage you to see one of the most famous sights in all of Japan: Fushimi Inari Taisha. I’m sure you have seen photos of this unmistakable shrine, with a path lined with thousands of orange torii gates.

You’ll likely to take a taxi or subway to Fushimi Inari, which is about 20 minutes from Gion. This is the head shrine of Inari, a Shinto god with thousands of dedicated shrines (as well as Buddhist temples) all over Japan. These fox statues (kitsune) are the messengers of Inari, bearing symbolic objects in their mouths or paws.

shinto priests ceremony ritual worship

We saw Shinto priests performing a ceremony, clad in white robes and black hats.

red orange famous shrine gates path japan

Founded in the year 711, the shrine sits at the base of Inari mountain, and has trails that go up several kilometers. If you walk the entire pathway, lined with vermilion torii gates, it’ll take you about two hours. (We only went up part of the way.)

kyoto fushimi inari taisha gates

The gates are arranged so that everyone walks upward in the same direction, and down on the opposite side. If you want a photo without anyone else in the shot, walk further up and be patient, since the path can be quite crowded.

fushimi shrine kyoto 伏見稲荷大社

There are about 5000 red-orange gates in total. Walking through these seemingly endless arches turns into a type of meditation; you feel protected by the warm tunnel, and can peer through the posts into the trees and sky.

(The engraved Japanese characters, or kanji, represent the names of donors.)

kyoto shrine shinto wishing boards

The kami Inari is the god of foxes, fertility, agriculture, and general prosperity. We couldn’t resist buying one of these blank wooden boards shaped like a fox for 500 yen. Fushimi Inari provides black marker pens for you to draw a face on the front, and write down your name and wishes on the back.

japan most famous popular shrine temple

Who else but La Carmina and friends would decorate it with a Miffy X-mouth, Satanic pentagram, decadent eyelashes, and kawaii cheeks? 

When the ema is complete, you hang it up with the others. How fun to see the creativity of everyone’s drawings.

Kyoto, Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine

Fushimi Inari is rich with history, and the gates are magnificent to see in person. There’s no entrance fee, so you have no excuse for missing it!

daruman kyoto restaurant だる満

Now, how about lunch? I could spend weeks in Kyoto simply trying all the fantastic food.

On the recommendation of DJ Mistress Maya, we ate at Daruman Kyoto (8-4 Okazaki Saishojicho, Sakyo Ward). This is a vegetarian obanzai restaurant, which means everything is cooked in the traditional style, and at least half the ingredients are produced locally. Obanzai cooking is simple, healthy and focuses on avoiding waste — and yet, the dishes are imaginative and incredibly tasty. 

kyoto vegetarian vegan restaurants

I love homey, local restaurants such as Daruman. The interior is filled with adorable touches such as this owl toothpick pot, and a chopstick holder shaped like a daruma (round dharma doll). (My Pokemon Go nail art is by Glam Nail Studio.)

The owner is an electro/techno musician, and he came by the table to personally greet us and offer suggestions. We chose the hot sake that he recommended, and at the end, he brought out a special green tea and red bean dessert — on the house.

daruman obanzai restaurant kyoto japan

How enticing is this vegetarian “moriawase” spread? Obanzai cooking relies on seasonal produce: I was happy to see kabocha, or Japanese pumpkin, for the fall. The matcha (green tea) tofu is a local specialty, made by monks at a nearby Zen temple. We also got to choose between hot or cold soba, perfectly prepared with a side of crispy tempura.

japan vegan vegetarian restaurants menus

You’ll find fantastic vegetarian or vegan food in Kyoto, and Daruman is proof of how well it can be executed.

On the non-veg side, I am still salivating over the spicy miso ramen I had at Sen no kaze, a counter-style restaurant run by women wearing hats. It’s quite possibly the best ramen I’ve ever had — and I’ve had a lot.

cafe dong kyoto, sfera

Later, I stopped by Cafe Dong, located inside the modern Sfera design building. I slowly sipped at a whisked matcha and took in the surroundings — such a change from fast-paced, go-go-go Tokyo.

sfera modern tokyo architecture minimalist design

The Sfera building also houses a design shop and museum with changing exhibitions. The minimal, Zen interior decor gave me inspiration for my apartment.

hotel gracery kyoto sanjo lobby reception

I hope you enjoyed reading about the temple culture of Kyoto. Coming up, I’ll post photos of the vintage and artistic boutiques I found during my stay, as well as another cute shrine.

Arigato to the kind staff at Hotel Gracery Kyoto, and JRailPass  for a week-long unlimited train pass that made these travels possible.

red gates japanese shrine kyoto

Have you heard of Fushimi Inari shrine before? If you’ve visited Kyoto, what did you love best about your experience? I hope this post brings you a sense of tranquility, in these crazy times…

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Grand Central by Scandic, Stockholm’s hippest hotel! Cocktail bar & restaurant review, Long Clothing hexagram skirt.

long clothing hexagram skirt

I’ve got Stockholm on my mind. Let’s flashback to Scandinavia, where I spent a few weeks in the late summer!

It was my first time in Sweden, and my team got a warm welcome at Grand Central by ScandicThis is the hippest hotel in the city, with a visual identity inspired by New York’s theatre scene. Every aspect of our stay was infused with music — from band posters in the bar, to live DJ parties and stage shows in a late 19th century theater. 

(Find out more about Grand Central Stockholm and book a hotel room here.)

stockholm sunset, pink skies sweden

My junior suite even had a vinyl record player, with a selection of LPs including Madonna. One of the walls opened into a picture window, which let me watch these otherworldly pink sunsets every night.

grace neutral long clothing streetwear top

Directions: It was convenient to roll our suitcases to Grand Central by Scandic (address: Kungsgatan 70) as it was only a few blocks from the central train station (we took the 30-minute direct Arlanda Express line from Stockholm airport). The hotel is located in Norrmalm, which made it easy for us to walk south to Gamla Stan and Sodermalm, home to the trendy SoFo area.

Grand Central turned out to be the perfect place to unwind between stretches of sightseeing. (I’m wearing a Long Clothing x Grace Neutral top. The same mandala design is also on this label’s black jacket.)

fashion blogger, grand central scandic hotel

The hotel’s modern design matched with my outfit of the day. Clean and geometric, that’s how I like it.

♥ My apocalyptic black top is by Michi. They also make this similar off-the-shoulder black shirt, perfect for stylish activewear or to fight zombies when the world ends.

♥ I’m wearing a Long Clothing hexagram skirt (they also make a dress). This brand uses the same print and fabric in their Infinity Clip pants version of my maxi skirt.

long clothing nu goth geometric clothing

♥ My cut-out platform sandals are by Le Babe shoes. They’re very similar to these Jeffrey Campbell Brianna shoes that come in black, or tan suede.

For more about the clothes I’m wearing, click the thumbnails below:

scandic grand central junior suite, window

Grand Central by Scandic has various types of rooms, but I love the Junior Suite. Every evening, I perched on the windowsill and watched the skies change color. 

My room was decorated with paintings of musicians, to fit with the vibe of the hotel.

gothic geometric nail art, rings

Close-up on my silver cuff bracelet and ouroboros ring, by Alex Streeter. A perfect match for the hotel: Alex is the legendary NYC downtown silversmith whose devilish designs are worn by rock stars around the world (like Marilyn Manson and Hyde).

I’m also wearing a silver cat ring from Hong Kong, and black diamond skull ring from Sapphire Studios.

grand central scandic hotels stockholm blogger

The glass windows by the elevator made me feel like I was about to blast off into a space fantasy. (I love Michi, the indie designer that makes my cutaway top. More from them below:)

stockholm trendy hip hotel

The rooftops of Stockholm made me want to sing: Chim-Chimney, Chim Chim Cher-ee.

miffy nail art, alex streeter cuff bracelet

Can you see Miffy peeking from my thumbnail?

I adore Long Clothing’s hexagram fashion. Their streetwear is eye-catching and alternative Gothic, yet can be worn on all types of occasions. The black and white geometry is also easy to style.

stockholm sweden theater vasa

My team and I got a backstage tour of Vasa Theatre, which dates back to 1886 and adjoins the hotel. While we were there, workers were still working hard to restore the space to its former glory.

vasa theatre stockholm

The opulent theater is open now at Grand Central by Scandic, and hosts all types of contemporary stage shows as well as private events. The hotel is doing a great job of bringing in both Swedish and international artists to Vasa, for public performances.

We crept into a dressing room that was supposedly haunted by the ghost of an old actor. If a male enters the room, nothing happens. But if females walk in, the phantom gets enraged — and supposedly starts shaking the chandeliers!

geometric oversize top, long clothing designer

Maybe there are also ghosts haunting this gilded and mirrored theater bar. It reminds me of one in The Shining…

(My mandala top is from the Long Clothing and Grace Neutral collaboration, and also comes in a bomber jacket version.)

Restaurant & Bar at Grand Central by Scandic in Stockholm

Time for a drink at Teaterbaren, Grand Central’s hip cocktail bar. We chatted with the expert mixologists, who let us examine local spirits such as O.P. Anderson aquavit. 

The cocktails were magnificent, with colors that matched the Swedish sunset. (In the summer, daylight lasts until 11pm!)

acoustic bar stockholm, grand central djs parties

The bar brings in live DJs for late night electro parties. Grand Central also has rotating photographic art / design exhibitions. During my stay, there was a showcase of alternative street fashion portraits.

stockholm red caviar, swedish appetizers

We sat down for dinner at the hotel’s restaurant Teaterbrasseriet. This relaxed space has plush leather couches, and offers a Scandinavian menu inspired by modern cuisine. Of course, we started with Swedish red caviar — the above photo says it all!

hipster stockholm restaurant Teaterbrasseriet

When you’re in Sweden, order fish and seafood, as it’s some of the best in the world. Look at the color of the smoked salmon starter, with lemon and dill to taste. My friends also enjoyed a Toast Skagen appetizer with shrimps and horseradish.

best stockholm swedish meatballs

Swedish meatballs are legendary, and something you must try. At Teaterbrasseriet, they’re made with Viking heartiness: paired with potato purée, lingonberries and pickled cucumber.

dessert restaurant stockholm

Eat all the berries when you’re in Scandinavia. We ate up this antioxidant-rich ice cream sundae. I’ll agree with the restaurant menu, “There is no sincerer love than the love of food.”

grand central by scandic lobby lounge

“Tak” (thanks) to Grand Central by Scandic for the inspiring stay. I loved how the hotel pays homage to theater, starting from the moment we stepped into the lobby lit by stage lights.

stylish sweden hotels, scandinavian design hotel

If you want to stay in a hip Stockholm design hotel, this is where it’s all happening. Find out more about Grand Central by Scandic, and book a room here.

(Photography by Joey Wong.)

sweden sunsets, orange skies

There’s still more from my Scandinavian journey to come. If you missed my first post about the Yayoi Kusama exhibit, you can see it here.

japanese girl bowing

Curious to learn more about my clothes in these photos, including prices and sizes? Just click below for all the details. Arigato!

Where to find Halloween costumes & makeup in Tokyo, Japan! Kiddyland, Morph8ne clothing, unicorn hairstyle.

morph8ne goth girl clothing thailand

Happy Halloween! What is your costume this year? Will you be partying over the weekend?

Thanks for your sweet comments on my new light pink and baby blue hair! Here’s part 2 of my photoshoot for Attitude Clothing, featuring this exact Teacher’s Pet Crop Top sweater by Morph8ne, a Gothic Thai designer.

halloween miffy toy

I’ll also continue with Halloween coverage from my Japan Rail Pass trip. If you’re looking to buy a costume or cosplay outfit in Tokyo, this shopping guide is for you.

(Above, I was tempted to get this vampire Miffy holding a pumpkin from Kiddyland Harajuku.)

mermaid pink hair, pastel rainbow dyed hair

Can you believe I went from grey-green hair to pastel pink dyed hair? My stylist Stephanie Hoy at Sugar Skull Studio is brilliant at hair color. She added layers of purple and blue, and did an ombre fade with darker pink roots. (Ask for her, if you’re looking for a hairstylist in Vancouver, BC!)

My wood sunglasses are by Moat House. These Godiva frames are handmade in the UK, and have an appealing cat-eye shape. Moat House’s eyewear sits well on the face without being heavy, and the frames are beautifully crafted. I have the violet mirrored lens, but you can customize it with different lenses as well.

goth crop top choker sweater

Attitude Clothing sent me a few designs from their shop (I modeled a dress and hat in this post). They ship worldwide and carry many of my favorite Gothic brands, including Killstar and Long Clothing.

I’m wearing this Teacher’s Pet sweater by Morph8ne. which has a crop top cut and a 1990s feeling. Love the choker detail made from the same material (which attaches via a snap button at the back of the neck).

morph8ne skirt, dolls kill

Close-up on my Day of the Dead tights from Gal Stern. The luxury legwear designer has a new Halloween collection, featuring metallic printed skulls over the knees.

My Morph8ne skirt from Attitude Clothing is reversible, and can be worn  either way around. I chose to put the logo on the front, and feature the side-tag detail on the back.

pink hair tumblr girl, instagram

Thanks to Attitude Clothing for the fall fashion, which goes well with my new pastel pink hair.

(If you like these Morph8ne designs, you can shop more below, including my exact crop sweater):

final fantasy lightning hair, asymmetrical pink haircut

Flashback to MySpace poses. If you’ve been reading this blog for years, do you remember when I was on this social network?

(Images by Joey Wong.)

japan halloween decorations

September-October is my favorite time to visit Tokyo and shop — because all the stores have Halloween displays and special items for sale! I always make my rounds of the boutiques in Harajuku, Shinjuku and Shibuya to check out the latest fashions, as well as scary-kawaii toys and gifts.

cute halloween nail art stickers, barrettes

This is the time to stock up on Halloween hair and nail accessories. I found goodies like these in various department stores (Marui Annex, Studio Alta, Laforet, and even random places around Tokyo.)

(If you aren’t anywhere near Japan, don’t worry — you can find Halloween nail art templates online as well.)

tokyo halloween makeup

At Okadaya, Don Quixote and other stores, you’ll find lots of limited edition Halloween makeup. Doesn’t the kawaii packaging make you smile?

japanese horror makeup, special effects sfx

These horror temporary tattoos turn you into a blood-drooling vampire, undead zombie, fierce animal and more.

japan goth makeup, halloween eyeshadow

Halloween inspiration is everywhere. These “real make palettes” let you transform into a variety of creatures.

halloween colored contacts, circle lens

At Don Quixote, I saw a display of “shiny edge” colored contact lenses. The red circle lens would be perfect for a Dracula or Walking Dead look.

darth vader socks, star wars

I recommend stopping by Kiddyland Harajuku, which is four floors of character goods (Miffy, Totoro, Rilakkuma, you name it). Around October, the mascots get in the spirit. These socks are great gifts, and feature Pompompurin, Darth Vader and more.

(Here are Nightmare Before Christmas over-the-knee socks available online too.)

disney halloween socks japan

Disney gets spooky as well. Purple, orange, red and black are the colors the season.

hello kitty halloween products

In the Sanrio section, I found very creative (yet still kawaii) Halloween items. I like the “Noooo!” in the poster, featuring the mischievous Kuromi. There’s a Cinnamon Roll with bloodshot vampire eyes, and Hello Kitty as a ghoulish zombie. 

sanrio halloween hello kitty vampire

Hello Kitty turns into an evil vampire, ghost and pumpkin in these cute tattoo stickers. (Here’s where you can get more Hello Kitty stickers.)

line friends halloween stuffed toys brown cony

The Line friends couple, Brown and Cony, dress up as Dracula and a witch. I love how the bear’s expression never changes, even when he’s in costume.

tokyo weird masks, costumes

Now, where can you shop for a Halloween costume in Tokyo, Japan? The first floor of Don Quixote (which has various locations) always has tons of cosplay and outfits featuring all types of characters. These ghastly masks hung outside the Kabukicho store.

best costume stores tokyo japan

At Studio Alta in East Shinjuku, the Sadistic Action store is a great place to play dress up.

(Here’s a similar Alice in Wonderland costume to the one pictured above.)

halloween buy rent costumes, cosplay shops

The costumes are cute and sexy versions of witches, jokers and more. In the background, you can see Hello Kitty ghost socks too.

harley quinn suicide squad costume, wig japan

I’m sure you’ll see a lot of Suicide Squad cosplay this year. Here’s where you can find this Harley Quinn costume.

(I’m also selling costumes and Japanese fashion on my Depop shop – come browse!)

bat purses, gothic lolita bags

At Swimmer (locations in Laforet, Alta and more), I encountered bat and coffin purses.

coffin purse, lolita shops

Don’t you just want to pinch that ghost’s cute cheeks?

pumpkin stuffed animal, plush toy

And how can you resist squeezing these pumpkin bears!

steampunk mask, tokyo japan

The crafty department store Tokyu Hands (locations in Shinjuku, Ginza, Shibuya and more) is a great place to get creative with a DIY Halloween costume. THis steampunk apocalyptic puzzle mask on display was a perfect example.

tokyu hands halloween crafts

At Tokyu Hands, you’ll find everything from cute baking supplies to Trick or Treat bags. You can build an outfit from scratch using fabric and trimmings, or buy a pre-made one from the costume section.

japan baking supplies

“Boo-yeah” to this Halloween cookie decoration kit.

horror latex masks japan

For the more DIY supplies, head to Okadaya Shinjuku. The store sells special effects makeup, latex and other monster magic.

halloween party poster japanese

Isn’t it wonderful how Tokyo celebrates the spooky season in such a big way?

romantic goth dresses boots

I’ve also been having fun browsing Octer, a mobile app and online shopping platform. The site and search are fast-loading, and let me easily compare brands and products. For fall fashion, I’m loving Octer’s selection of high boots by Stuart Weitzman, lace-up bodysuits, and romantic dresses by For Love & Lemons.

More coverage from my JRailPass train journey to come, stay tuned and please feel free to share this post if you enjoyed. Happy Halloween!

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Goth Tulum! Valladolid folk art museum, sugar skulls, Mexican graveyard with Loco Gringo Tours.

Valladolid cemetery

Happy Dia de los Muertos — Day of the Dead! To celebrate, let’s explore the spooky side of Tulum, Mexico. (I was there earlier this year with Yukiro, and have been saving this special post until now.)

Yukiro and I enjoyed relaxing at Karisma El Dorado resort, but we didn’t want to leave the country without seeing a sugar skull or two.

We put our trust in concierge / tour company Loco Gringo, and they truly delivered. Our local guide Paulina arranged a perfect day that included a visit to a colorful Mexican cemetery, and folk museum with hundreds of Day of the Dead skeletons! 

mexican gravestones, tombs

Wherever in the world I travel, I seem to end up in a graveyard. It’s no surprise that my Goth friends and I are interested in how different cultures honor their dead.

mexico graveyard

In the ancient city of Valladolid, the tombstones are painted in bright, colorful hues. Many people think of cemeteries as fearful or depressing places. However, in Mexico, death is represented by smiling and dancing skeletons.

mexican tombstones

Every year from Oct 31 to Nov 2, Mexico celebrates Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) with skull facepaint, music and raucous parades. It’s believed that the deceased come back to visit during this time of the year.

On this special day, families tend to the graves of their loved ones. They leave offerings of bright sugar skulls, flowers, and the favorite food and drink of the departed.

goth graveyard fashion

Outfit details: yes, that’s my Scottish Fold cat peeking out from under my leather jacket!

My top is a gift from illustrator Lili Chin. She makes custom pet portraits that can be printed onto shirts and other products. If you’re interested in a custom drawing of your cat or dog drawing, check out her site.

tulum cemetery

This is not your typical orderly graveyard, with plots in a row. Each resting place is festively decorated in ways that celebrate the deceased’s personality and life.

mexico burial rituals

No two headstones were alike. Despite being a home for the dead, Valladolid cemetery felt like it was bursting with life.

vampire burial

According to local legend, a vampire is buried in this giant grey mausoleum

goth in cemetery

These bright coffins seemed to be inviting us to join the party. The decorative elements were a mix of Christianity and Mexican folk traditions.

mayan carving, sacrifice

We even spotted a sacrificial tribute to the ancient Mayans, who once ruled over this area (Tulum and Riviera Maya).

(Loco Gringo also took us to see the famous pyramids Chichen Itza and Ek Balam — read about it in this post!)

offbeat weird mexico cancun

Dancing with the dead. I wonder who lies beneath the hot pink grave…

colorful graves mexico city

Our guide Paulina answered all our questions about these traditions. I can’t think of a single Riviera Maya tour that will take you to the graveyard… but Loco Gringo is extraordinary, and tailored the day exactly to our interests.

gravekeeper ghost stories

Paulina introduced us to the “old graves-keeper” (who didn’t seem that old), and translated Spanish for us. He told us an eerie ghost story about the time he dug a grave, and felt someone grabbing onto his arm… eek!

mexican graves

Without Loco Gringo‘s expertise, we would never have visited this magnificent cemetery.

Valladolid folk art museum

We climbed back into the van, and our driver took us a short distance to Casa de los Venados: Valladolid’s folk art museum. 

The name translates to “house of deer,” hence the blue man mascot with the animal on his poncho.

mayan statues, carvings art

Loco Gringo suggested that I visit Casa de los Venados, since it has the largest private collection of Mexican folk art in the world.

We stepped into a home that had multiple rooms and courtyards filled with fascinating works.

mexican folk art collection

The hacienda’s owners, John and Dorianne Venator, began their collection decades ago. Today, their home has over 3000 pieces of art, and is open for the public to appreciate.

la catrina, day of dead

The curators have a fine eye for works that reflect the history and humor of Mexico.

To our delight, there was an extensive collection of spooky art. Devils, skulls and monsters — oh my!

devil spirits mexico scary toy

We had fun turning the dial of this toy, and watching the parade of demons, skeletons and coffins march into the mouth of Hell.

mexican nun on currency pesos

We saw many interpretations of sugar skulls (I got nail art from Glam Nail Studio to match).

Who is the nun holding a head? We learned she is Juana Inés de la Cruz, a nun and poet who is the face of the 200 peso note. (Perhaps she inspired The Conjuring 2 movie?)

frida kahlo mosaic mural

The folk art spanned all mediums and sizes, from the ancient Mayans to modern-day artists.

In one of the many mini-courtyards, I found a tile mural of Frida Kahlo, with a black monkey on her shoulder.

frida kahlo decorated room

Frida Kahlo is one of Mexico’s most celebrated artists, and a personal favorite of mine.

An entire room is dedicated to the female painter. How many Fridas can you count in this image?

devil skeleton mexican art

Yukiro and I had never seen so many Day of the Dead representations in a single museum.

We smiled at the Calavera Catrinas, or Dapper Skeletons. First depicted by Jose Posada in 1919, these elegant skull-people are always dressed aristocratically.

dia de los muertos musicians

In Mexican folklore, the dead are joyful during Dia de los Muertos. I wouldn’t mind rejoicing with these smiling musicians skeletons.

devil sculptures

Even the devils like to have fun. They’re represented as cheerful, naughty creatures, rather than as beings to be feared.

Casa de los Venados

Casa de los Venados’ owners did a wonderful job in re-vamping the original house. They added a fabulous outdoor area, with a glass bridge spanning several pools of water.

day of dead ceiling painting

Look up, and you’ll see these happy Mexican skeletons waving at you! I thought the undead pet was a cat, but it’s actually a dog wearing a bandanna.

Casa de los Venados Valladolid

I didn’t know much about Mexican folk art before visiting this museum. It was fantastic to see so many high quality works under a single roof.

tulum swimming pool

Cheers to this glorious pool, fed by multiple overhead streams!

Mexican folk museum Valladolid

I found a cat-face fountainhead to match my tank top.

la catrina skeleton painting

We ducked into the dining room and paid ode to La Catrina, the grand ol’ dame of death. 

Casa de Los Venados museum

At this point, our eyes were popping out of our heads — there was so much to see, in every conceivable space! Even the carved dining chairs and chandeliers were Mexican works of art.

day of dead skull figures

You’d think that a Goth lived here, with all the skulls and bones.

surreal mexican art

The corner table had a surreal display. I want that monkey for myself.

Mexican Folk art collection

These photos show only a fraction of Casa de los Venados. I encourage you to visit the Valladolid folk art museum, and see the rest.

weird mexico goth skulls

Muchas gracias Loco Gringo for being the perfect local guides!

We’re not exactly “regular tourists,” and would have been bored with a cookie cutter tour. But Loco Gringo took the time to learn about us, and tailored the itinerary to our dark fascinations.

bizarre tulum attractions

We hope you’ll reach out to them if you visit Tulum, Riviera Maya and Cancun, Mexico. 

Do you share our fascination with Day of the Dead? Have you ever dressed up and celebrated it?

PS: thank you TripHappy for interviewing me about my work in travel blogging and TV. I talk about my family heritage, inspirations and more.