Monthly Archives: April 2016

Chiang Mai

The following day we were headed to Chiang Mai. The bus took longer than expected and didn’t make a single toilet break in the six hour journey. It seems Thai people don’t have bladders or food intolerances but somehow I made it there without disasters. Once we got to Chiang Mai, we got a hair-raising Tuk Tuk to our hostel. The woman driving would go on the wrong side of the road to avoid traffic jams, she under took then cut up another tuk tuk driver whilst screaming at him. Then we came to a small traffic jam and she got out of the vehicle, stormed out to the driver behind us and started screaming at him and rocking his tuk tuk until it nearly fell over. I was convinced we were about to be involved in some kind of road rage incident but once again, we somehow survived.

At the hostel the owner warmly greeted us and sat us down for a good hour and half whilst she showed us maps and discussed trips etc. All the while I was just thinking “JUST LET ME GO TO THE SODDING TOILET” haha. We booked a trip for few days afterwards to go and see the elephants, which I was really excited about! That evening, the owner cooked us a meal along with two Germans who were also staying, which was really kind, and delicious!

The following day we had a lie in, missed breakfast, staggered out into the heat… Couldn’t figure out what to do or find a restaurant so had a pot noodle (they’re much better this side of the globe, honest) and then caught a small bus up to a temple on the top of a hill just outside of Chaing Mai. The bus, which is standard in Thailand, was basically a pick up truck with a roof and two benches inside, one against each window side. It hurtled in and out of the traffic and then up the mountain. Because I could only see out sideways, and had a dodgy tummy anyway, I began to feel horrifically travel sick. It got so bad that I thought I was about to be sick when the bus finally stopped 40 minutes later. I am not exaggerating when I say I was about two minutes away from vomiting. Tom said I was completely grey. I sat on the pavement with my head in my hands for a few minutes, waiting for it to pass, then the driver came out and smeared some peppermint oil onto my nostrils. This was quite alarming, as I didn’t really know what was going on but felt too ill to care. The peppermint helped a bit, and also made my eyes water so much it looked like I was crying. HA.

 

image

(The only photo I got of the temple as I felt too lousy.)

Eventually I dragged myself up the 200 or so steps up to the temple. This was in the midday heat and I just felt awful. Anyway, it was good to see the temple I guess. On the way back down the driver let me sit behind her front seat so I was facing forwards and didn’t feel so awful. I also was sat next to an American bloke who told me some horror stories about using a moped in Vietnam and Laos, so Ive decided bikes and mopeds are definitely off the agenda, and that we will just stock up on travel sickness tablets instead!
When we were back in Chiang Mai, we had a wander around the Saturday market. There’s lots of lovely things for sale. Tom wanted some food, but when we went to the food stalls there were lots of mussels and god knows what else covered in flies and strong smells so I found myself with my hat pressed to my mouth and clutching my belly and just had to go and chill at the hostel for a bit. A few hours later, we ventured out and had some eggy chilli soup which I managed to splash into my eye… Not a very good day for me really haha!!

The next day was Sunday, and a fairly lazy one for us. We just chilled out and in the evening went to the Sunday market, which was really nice and arty. Had an early night in preparation for the ELEPHANTS.

I barely slept that night because I was really excited and also really hot. We got up at 6.30 ready for our pick up and had some breakfast in the hostel. We were put in one of my favourite trucks, but as there was only me and Tom on it, I managed to hang my head out of the window and face forward, a bit like when you see a dog hanging out of a car on the motorway. Not feeling sick this time, yay!

We drove for an hour out of Chaing Mai and up into the jungly mountains. When we arrived we were greeted by our guide, and sat down for a briefing. We were delighted to discover it was only Tom and me, so we were eager for lots of elephant time! The Hug Elephant Sanctuary had a pet monkey called Chilli, who was kept chained up to a tree. This made me feel really apprehensive about how the elephants would be treated….

….But it ended up being fine!

We walked up a hill into the forest where we saw the two elephants just chilling. We each had a bag of bananas and we were shown how to feed the elephants. This was just an insane experience. The elephants are so huge! And they instantly recognised the banana bags so their trunk just came straight at you and into the bag. We held the bananas out and they took it in their trunks and popped them in their mouths. The trunk was like something off a Star Wars film! So flexible and snake-like and it was constantly making a sucking noise whilst grappling for a banana. The elephants were so quick, you’d hand them a banana and before you had time to reach for another, their trunk was already in the bag! So funny.

image

 

imageWe learnt how the elephant sanctuary was formed. A lot of elephants in Thailand are used for tourist rides, which aren’t good for the animals. It’s a tricky issue, because most of the time, a poor family will own the elephant, which is their only source of income. The solution made by the Hug Elephant Sanctuary is that the elephants and their human families move to the sanctuary, where they are much better looked after, and fed and bathed by the tourists, plus there’s still a source of income for the families.
So, the elephants are used to human company, but are much happier than when used for treks.

image

(That trunk is just saying “excuse me?? Banana please!)

image

The whole day felt like such a privilege, and I’m so glad that I got to hang out with the stunning creatures when it was just me and Tom and the trainers. In the afternoon, we were joined by four British lads and we took the elephants for a walk down to a big mud bath. The bath is really cooling for the elephants and they love it! We patted mud onto their skin, which feels like really rough old leather, with wirey hairs all over it. Then we headed to a big pool where the elephants kept lying down under the water and then sticking their trunks up to breath. So funny! It was hilarious when they trumpeted and squirted water everywhere.

All in all, it was a wonderful day!

image

image

image

image

 

 

image

image

 

image

 

(Exit stage left, pursued by an elephant)

blogsignature

Suhkothai

We got the bus from Phitsanulok to Suhkothai which was quite manageable because it was only an hours journey. Suhkothai is a city split into two halves: old and new. We were staying in the new side, and eager to visit the old side which is full of more ancient temples. We found our hostel, checked in, and then went for a wander to find some lunch.

To my absolute delight we came across a restaurant called “Poo Reastaurant.” As it had the best name I think I’ve ever heard for a food establishment, we decided to eat there. The food was good, and not at all pooey! The rest of the day was spent in the air conditioned bubble of our room.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

We’re currently in April, Thailand’s hottest month. It’s averaging 40 degrees each day. I’m currently struggling with guilt, feeling that I’m in such an incredible place, I don’t want to spend the day reading, or browsing the Internet when I should be exploring…. but in reality, it’s just too hot to be walking around. The ideal thing is to get up and out early, siesta through lunchtime and then at around 4pm head back out. In our hostels when we get back from sight-seeing around lunchtime, it’s very common for the staff to just be asleep on the floor with a fan on them. It takes me back to when we visited Morocco one August and just spent the majority of the time in bed because it was so hot haha!

So the next day, we were up and out early. We caught a bus to the gates of the Suhkothai Temple park, where we hired a bike each (I realise that I’d sworn to never cycle again in Thailand, but the alternative was even worse)

We ended up having a really lovely morning cycling all around the ancient ruined temples. It was one of those places that really captures the imagination. There were lots of monks everywhere, their orange robes beautiful against the blue sky and reflected in the water. We saw one monk who had loads of gear and a big Gandalf stick who’d been on pilgrimage. There were also lots of young boy monks walking in a long line following their teacher. It’s wonderful to imagine the temples and monks being pretty much the same for the past few hundred years. In the true style of travelling juxtapositions, we had to leave the beautiful park abruptly because I was having a stomach eruption. HOHOHO Asia with a stomach that is dodgy at the best of times…. It’s a good job I’ve got a sense of humour!

image

image

image

image

blogsignature

 

Ayutthaya and Phitsanulok

Disclaimer : apologies about the rubbish photos in this post. I cleared my phone before I got a chance to upload the photos so I had to take them off Facebook and some have ended up miniature!!

In Kanchanuburi, the Songkram celebrations were just rounding up, so we got completely soaked whilst we had our lunch and didn’t manage to dry out before our minibus to Ayutthaya arrived. Cue bouncing around in very soggy clothes for a few hours, but thankfully the minivan had air conditioning so it wasn’t too killer.

Our hostel in Ayutthaya was awesome, and full of little quirks, like the fish pond full of koi that were bigger than Penny and Parker.

image

(The door to our room) can I just stop and say that it’s costing us 7 QUID a night for a double ensuite room. How mental is that?! We were paying 20 quid to stay on a campsite in New Zealand in a tent! Amazing. It seems we’ll make it home before we’re bankrupt after all!

The hostel was in a bizarre location though, on the side of a dual carriageway and quite far out of town. We went for a wander that evening, saw a temple and tried to find a restaurant as we were starving. Eventually we were ushered into a family run job alongside the river. It was stunning but we could barely afford the menu and resorted to counting out coins before we could leave. Slightly awkward because we were the only ones in there and shared some weird watery soup and a bottle of water… Not quite the rich westerners the host had in mind!

We set our alarms for 7am the next day as the travel guide suggested “rising early and cycling around the ruins of Ayutthaya” before it got too hot. Tom had been awake all night, so we didn’t manage to leave the hostel until gone 10am.

We cycled to Wat Chaiwatthanaram (mouthful) a beautiful ruined temple that reminded me instantly of the Jungle Book. It was extra special because there was hardly anyone there. Lovely. Loads of the Buddhas were missing their heads due to a raid by the Burmese in the 1700s. The statues were believed to have gold inside. It’s a shame really, but in a way it just made it more atmospheric.

image

 

image

image

We’d decided to cycle to the train station to pick up our tickets for travel the following day. On our way we saw a load of elephants waiting to be taken for rides by tourists. Their owners were sleeping on the chairs upon their backs in the building heat. I’ve read quite extensively about the way in which elephants are treated in order to train them to carry humans. It’s completely barbaric. We decided to watch instead, and I enjoyed watching the elephants squirting themselves with water to cool themselves down. They’re truly beautiful awe-inspiring creatures but watching them trudge down the dual carriageway carrying people was really quite depressing.

image

(Ride bikes not elephants)

It was getting hotter. And hotter. And hotter. We didn’t realise how far the train station was. The roads were terrible. It was around 40 degrees.- I’m not exaggerating. We found ourselves on a fucking Thai motorway at one point where I had a kind of out of body experience and screamed at Tom “If you smile at me again, I’m going to push you under a truck!!!” This is an example of how I was feeling. Somehow we made it to the station.

Tom went inside to get the tickets whilst I stood outside, taking my hat off so I had somewhere to be sick into. I wasn’t sick but I came very close. When Tom came back outside he said “bloody hell you are PURPLE.” And went to get me a Fanta with lots of ice. (Love him) We cooled down a bit, had some lunch, and then I accosted several tuk tuk drivers asking if they’d take us and the bikes back to the hostel. No amount of eyelash batting would work, as they were only doing sight-seeing tours. We had to cycle. It was absolutely horrendous and I think I came close to falling unconscious. At one point I screamed “WHERE THE FUCK IS THIS FUCKING BRIDGE????!!!!”

Anyway. Every hideous experience is an education. Lessons learnt:
1)Do not cycle in 25km in 40 degree heat.
2) If the locals are sat in the shade looking at you like you’ve got two heads, it’s for a reason.
3) When I return home the first thing I will do is find who suggested “a cycle in Ayutthaya” and personally shoot them.
4) If you find a man who doesn’t object to death threats and still loves you when you’re crying and your head is purple, marry him.

The rest of the day was an exhausted delirium.

The following day we got a pimp-my-ride style tuk tuk to the train station. No more cycling for me HO HO HO! We arrived half an hour early, which was good because the train was 45 minutes late… No one seemed to know which train was which. Train guards told us to get on the train and get off the train. Also to walk between the platforms you literally walk on the train track. A bit stressful to say the least. Meanwhile, a clean shaven man with a MOLE BEARD kept walking past. Let me explain, he had a large facial mole and he’d decided to grow out his mole hair so he had a big long tuft of mole hair about twenty centimetres long flapping around his face. Not helping my state of mind….

Finally our train arrived and we were delighted to find it had air conditioning and half an hour in, we were given a meal! Crazy! So different to our first Thai train journey.
We arrived in Phitsanulok – and joy of joys – none of the tuk tuk drivers knew our hostel, despite our showing them the map and offering to direct them, they refused to take us. So we had to walk to the hostel in the lovely 40 degree heat with our bags on. Plus there’s no pavements, weird stray dogs everywhere, and it’s fucking impossible to cross the road. I arrived in a similar state to the previous day. Tom checked us in whilst I lay on my bag on the pavement outside. I have no shame anymore.

After a few hours in our air conditioned bubble, we were hungry and decided to head out to a nearby temple and to grab some food. After a lot of waiting to cross the road, and being chased by a questionable looking dog we found the temple. Outside were a group of Thai girls, all aged around ten. They asked if they could show us around the temple and practice their English. After they assured us it was free, they found a big skirt for me to wear to cover my legs. It was like a big tube. I stepped inside and they kindly fastened it up for me…. Little did I know that this skirt would completely humiliate me in just under an hours time…

image

(Above we’re learning to fold lotus flowers as an offering to Buddha)

We enjoyed a tour of the temple. The girls encouraged us to join in with the wishes and prayers. We shook sticks out of a pot that corresponded with our numbered fortunes, which was lovely. Afterwards, they led us around the back of the temple, and we picked up two more bewildered Westerners.

image

(Above the girls are translating our fortunes. Tom was told he’d have a baby girl, and I was told I’d have a boy. One of each it is then!)
We were led outside where we saw a big row of monks sat on chairs, whilst people queued up to be blessed by them. I was hesitant to join in, convinced I’d do something wrong, but the girls insisted. I knew that women had to be careful around monks as we aren’t meant to touch them and should dress modestly. I thought I was all good covered in my scarf and skirt…..

image
I was handed a bottle of holy water and a small metal cup. I watched the girls ahead of me and followed suit. We had to crouch at the feet of each monk, pouring water into their hands which they would flick onto our heads in blessing.

At one point my knee hit the bench at their feet which was full of bottles of water and vases of flowers. It nearly toppled but I managed to stop it. I sighed a sigh of relief and then stood up. To my horror as I stood, my skirt dropped to my ankles. This was like some ridiculous Bridget Jones moment… A policeman ran up to me and pulled the skirt up whilst I just wanted to DIE. Tom told me afterward that he thought I was going to be arrested! I managed to pull the skirt back up and hold it in place for the rest of the monks. I was literally counting them down so I could escape and hide my red face. It was equally mortifying and hilarious in the end. Tom said that the other policemen were pissing themselves and taking photos.

WHY AM I LIKE THIS?!! Why does it always happen to me!!!!!!!!

We all piled into one of the girls’ dad’s cars. He’d invited us to join the family for dinner. We were taken to a on street restaurant where we were told that the traditional dish of “morning glory” (what?) was sold. Tom and the Canadian girl we were with were made to dress up in some kind of weird hula dress with fake boobs on the front and a sequinned hat. They then had to stand on the opposite side of the road from the restaurant with a big dustbin lid in their hand. The staff then stopped the traffic and the chef came out with a wok full of morning glory and threw it over his shoulder across the street and then Tom caught it in the dustbin lid.

image

https://www.facebook.com/tom.copley/posts/10154183796910159 (the link is Video evidence for those who have Facebook. If not I’ll show you when I’m home xx)

It was one of the many moments I’ve had travelling when I’ve been thinking “what the fuck is going on???!!!” But just had to laugh and roll with it. And so concluded one of the most mortifying and hilarious days of the trip.

image

image

blogsignature

 

 

Bangkok to Kanchanuburi

Next on the agenda: Thailand. Ever since I read Alex Garland’s “The Beach” as a teenager and watched the film adaptation I’ve had a burning desire to see Thailand! Okay, so the novel kind of degenerates into cannibalism but let’s sweep that under the carpet and just say that I was very excited!

 

image

The flight from Osaka, Japan to Bangkok, Thailand was truly hideous. I think midnight is one of the worst times to fly: you’re hysterically tired and arrive in an unfamiliar country at a ridiculous time. Also we’re flying budget. Air Asia is the equivalent to Ryan Air (who the fuck is Ryan?!) so no leg room and incredibly narrow seats for a six hour flight wasn’t fun. Also, I’m certain that 80% of the passengers on the flight were screaming toddlers. It got to the point where I was ready to join them in a tantrum and I found myself muttering to Tom “let’s NEVER have children!”

Anyway. Rant over. We arrived in one piece which is the main thing! To my delight we hopped into a bright pink taxi and were whistled over to our hostel. The taxi driver insisted that we should pay extra to take the highway to avoid the traffic, to which I responded “traffic at 6am? Yeah right!” He laughed but we agreed anyway, too tired to argue. I fell asleep about four times in the taxi, with Tom poking me to keep me awake. The hostel was really nice and we learnt that a free breakfast would be served from 7am. Not wanting to miss out on free food, we set an alarm for an hour later and climbed into bed fully clothed. I’m glad we did because breakfast was an INCREDIBLE buffet, which was a surreal dreamlike experience.

After food we went back to bed and woke up at around 2pm. It was SOOO HOT. Japan was one of the coldest places on our trip so we had to readjust to the tropics of Thailand. The day was pretty much a write off because we were bloody knackered and a bit disorientated. We basically wandered bleary-eyed around the block, bought water, did some laundry, had some food at the hostel and went back to bed.

The next day we were up, feeling refreshed and ready to explore Bangkok. We walked to the river and caught a boat to Wat Pho. The boat was pretty much like a stressful bus journey but via water. It pulled up and we laughed because it was so rammed with people. The workers onboard would have given the gestapo a run for their money “GET INSIDE! HURRY UP!!! GET INSIDE!!!!!”
Thankfully there were no windows so there was some airflow and it cost around 20p each, but it wasn’t a pleasant journey.

image

Wat Pho is one of the biggest Buddhist temples in Bangkok and home to the famous reclining Buddha. We arrived at around 9.30am so it wasn’t too busy and really beautiful and hot. We explored, taking our shoes on and off and on and off as we went into the shrines. We then came across the Thai massage school that’s inside the temple. We decided to treat ourselves to a massage, going for 30 minutes rather than an hour each in case we didn’t like it!
We were led to two beds next to eachother and instructed to lie on our sides. What followed was a whole body massage including feet, legs, having your fingers pulled and clicked, back clicked, shoulders, head, ears….
It was painful but relaxing at the same time, and I realised how sore my feet, calves and back were! I felt amazing afterwards and managed to not laugh too much, even when I could hear some loud slapping noises and someone screaming…. I kept my eyes closed but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Tom!
We then went to check out the reclining Buddha. He was huge!
Wandering onwards we found a Thai restaurant for lunch and sat giggling whilst we ate listening to incredibly loud and incredibly terrible karaoke.

image

image

We then headed to the famous Khoa San Road, described in The Beach as “the backpacking centre of the universe.” It’s basically loads of bars full of backpackers, stalls selling clothes and ornaments, tattoo shops, and neon signs. It was good to get our bearings in preparation for the upcoming Songkran celebrations the following day….

That evening we got tickets to visit the Calypso Theatre to watch the famous Ladyboys of Bangkok perform. It was something else!

image

We were ushered into a really posh cabaret style theatre where we sipped beer and waited for the curtain to arrive. Well. I don’t know how to put it into words but it was essentially a very camp cabaret show, complete with the Sound of Music, Chicago etc. It was easy to forget that the performers were born men. They were very captivating! There were some very bizarre moments, as you can imagine.
Afterwards we went to the exit where all the ladyboys were lined up offering to take photos with the audience members. We grabbed a photo with a few of the girls, and then one of them had a 500 baht (£10) note in her hand and was saying “mister! Mister!” To Tom and pointing at the note. I had a sensation that we were about to be fleeced and they all started pulling notes out of Tom’s wallet and we legged it…
Haha. Kind of a surreal experience really but we managed to get away before we were left completely penniless.

 

image

The following day we headed to the supermarket to buy some water guns. We’d timed our trip impeccably by accident to be in Bangkok for Songkran (Thai new year) the Thai people celebrate by bathing the Buddha in water, and then their families and friends. The idea is that you are cleansed of your misfortunes and given lots of luck for the next year. This degenerates into a huge street water fight. We headed to the boat, where we went to find the train station we needed the following day. We were anxious that the tickets would be sold out due to the festivities but we were in luck. The boat and walk in 30 degree heat were pretty taxing – we were both drenched in sweat – so I made the executive decision that we’d get a taxi the next day – I really didn’t fancy doing that journey with my backpack.

We headed to the hub of the water fight – Khoa San Road of course! I can’t put into words what an experience it was. I don’t even have any decent photos to show you because it was so wet we couldn’t take many… But there were hundreds and hundreds of people running around, squirting eachother, chucking buckets of water at eachother and hugging and dancing to super loud dance music in the street. It was a huge water fighting rave! I kept screaming “THIS IS SO MUCH FUN!!!” It felt amazing in the boiling heat and it was hilarious to see fully grown adults acting like kids. Songkran was one of the most amazing experiences of our trip so far, I’ll never forget it. After a few hours, we headed back. We dried out in the sun and then we got soaked again heading to the hostel. The streets are lined with groups of friends around huge water coolers full of water. The locals also have buckets of white paste which symbolises protection and is to ward off evil. We came back covered in the stuff!

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset

image

The next day we checked out and got a taxi to the train station. We were ridiculously early so we sat around baking on the platform for a few hours before the train arrived. The train to Kanchanuburi was crazily slow, and would often stop in the middle of nowhere for fifteen minutes at a time. We were drenched in sweat and sticking to the seats. The air coming through the windows was like having a hot hairdryer blown directly in your face. I could literally feel my eyeballs drying out.

image

After a while, I put some music on and began to relax and enjoy the view. Opposite us was a female monk, bald headed and dressed in white robes. She held her friends hands in hers and read their palms, each reading taking around thirty minutes whilst the receiver hung on to her every word.
In the end I really enjoyed that journey!
We were met from the train by a tuk tuk organised by the hostel. A tuk tuk is a motorbike adapted to carry passengers. This one was essentially like a big side car. It was such a cool way of seeing the town, I felt like I was flying. I’m sure we’ll ride many many more before we go home! At the hostel the person who checked us in photographed our passports on his phone and then proceeded to spend 10 minutes screaming in rage and punching his phone and throwing it around the room whilst we sweated and wondered what the hell was going on. No answers there.

We chilled out in the room for a while. In the evening we met the owner and she drove us down to the edge of the river Kwai where the locals were all sat celebrating Songkran (no water fights this time, just food and drink) it was one of those really special evenings where there were no other backpackers in sight and we enjoyed a delicious and ridiculously cheap meal sat with the locals.

The next day we moved to a different hostel. We arrived too early to check in so we dumped our bags and headed to the death railway museum. Kanchanuburi is the town closest to the famous “bridge over the river Kwai”. To be honest, I’d heard the title of the film, but I’d never seen it, or knew anything about it. At the museum, I learnt all about the stretch of railway from Thailand to Burma that was built by the Japanese in world war 2 to get supplies into Burma. It was built using forced labour, in absolutely horrific conditions. Hundreds of thousands of Asians, and prisoners of war from England and Australia perished in the making, due to lack of adequate food and water, incredible heat, and untreated illness.
It was incredibly poignant to learn all about it in a beautifully air conditioned museum, then step outside and instantly want to seek shade and cover yourself in sun cream. I can’t imagine how terrible it was, but I can empathise with the heat.
Just outside the museum is a huge war cemetery.

image

A moving day. We went and cooled down in the hostel and then that evening went to visit the bridge. You can walk over it and it’s flooded with tourists, and locals selling ice creams, cold drinks and nicnacs. It wasn’t as big as I’d imagined. I’m currently reading “the Bridge over the river Kwai” (kindles are good aren’t they?!) and it’s a good read.

image

On our final day in Kanchanuburi we mostly chilled out. We took Tom for a haircut. It cost two quid. I can’t decide if he’s really brave or just sick of my dodgy haircuts. We then had a Thai massage. My masseuse was really lovely. She lives in England now, and was back to Thailand for Songkran. In London she charges £60.00 an hour for a massage and we paid… Four quid. Isn’t that insane? I’ll have to get as many massages as possible whilst I’m hear to make the most of it. It was a wonderful massage, I even had all my toes clicked! I felt awesome afterwards. The lady also told me that British people have awful backs and necks because we all work too hard hunched over computers all day, whereas the Thai people rarely have this issue. Interesting, huh?

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

blogsignature

Japan part 2

Next on our route in Japan was Kyoto.

Prepared for the usual faffing and flapping in the subway stations, we left ridiculously early and thus spent a good 90 minutes sat on our bags and waiting for the train to arrive.
The Japanese bullet trains are really lovely and big and spacious. Plus they have a huge long nose at the front so they look pretty cool. They’re fast, and they arrive exactly on time every time. Very refreshing!

Kyoto is an historic town full of temples, gardens, and at occasional times in the year, geisha dances.
On arrival we found our hotel and were offered the choice of a tatami room or bed. (Tatami are the traditional Japanese mats on the floor that we stayed on for four nights in Tokyo.) We opted for the beds and were lead to our room, that had not one, not two, but THREE DOUBLE BEDS in it! All lined up in a big row to create one massive bed. Once assured we weren’t sharing we got a bit giddy jumping around. Certainly makes a change to bunk beds!

We then walked to the only theatre with shows on, which said the tickets were sold out online. We managed to secure tickets for the following day so we were really chuffed. As I mentioned, the geisha dances only happen a few times a year, so we were really lucky. And pleased, as we’d missed the sumo wrestling in Tokyo due to the season.
The rest of the day was spent eating (standard) and wandering around temples. We saw real geisha walking around. They are so incredibly elegant. Their rank is shown by the back of their neck, where an apprentice will have two triangles of bare skin, and a geisha will have one. In Kyoto they are called Geiko (geisha) and Maiko (apprentice.) Having read and been completely fascinated by Golden’s “Memoirs of a Geisha” as a teenager, I had a bit of insight into the gruelling regime and practice that is necessary to become a geisha. So I was extra excited for the following days performance.

 

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

The performance
We were ushered into a large theatre, told not to take photos and waited for the curtain to rise.
We were up in the gods but we still had a good view. At first curtains to the sides of the audience rose to reveal ten musicians on either side. They were all oldish, and one side held traditional guitars, the other drums, and one musician had a wooden flute. I was very impressed when they began to play and the flautist didn’t struggle at all whilst wearing a wide belt to hold the kimono together. Impressive!

The music began, the guitarists playing and singing and the Geiko began to slowly walk towards the stage. There were around twenty of them, dressed in stunning peacock blue kimonos covered in embroidery. (I later learnt that the costumes take six months to make in the run up to the twice yearly shows. They have new costumes each year) Their bodies were painted white, they had their black hair up in elaborate hair dos and they moved entirely as one. I’ve never seen anything like it, they were incredibly coordinated and elegant. They seamlessly pulled fans out from their sleeves which were included in the dance. It lasted for an hour, and portrayed the four seasons. It’s a shame I could take any photos to show you, but it was a privilege to see such a high art form, and I’ll never forget it.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Next on our agenda was a 24 hour visit to Hiroshima. The city was pretty much flattened by the atomic bomb in 1945, and so most of the buildings are fairly new. We found our hotel, thanks to booking.com’s photo. There was no English on the building so we couldn’t find it by name! The owner spoke no English, so we spent a good ten minutes trying to communicate before realising that we couldn’t check in until 4pm. Not too much of an issue as we left our big bags in the foyer, but we had to lug our small bags around with us for the day. We somehow discovered a sight seeing bus that we could use for free with our rail passes. We sighed a sigh of relief. A day off the subway! Thank fuck!!

We made our way to the Hiroshima peace memorial park. Outside is the Atomic Dome – a building that was directly below the bomb when it was dropped and so was one of the only buildings that survived the blast. No one inside survived however. It’s a very poignant reminder of the city that once was.

image
The park surrounding the dome is full of memorials and statues. It has a very peaceful air to it, but at the same time it’s impossible to not dwell on what happened in Hiroshima. We headed into the museum, which told the story of the bomb. It was full of relics left over from the survivor: Scorched items of clothing, a child’s tiny bike, and very disturbingly.. Fingernails. I was left scratching my head at one point thinking “what is gained by displaying these!?” But for many of the items, they were literally all that was left of someone’s son, daughter, mother or father. Similarly like when we visited ground zero, and when I went to a German concentration camp, it was a day I’ll never forget, but there came a point when enough was enough and I found myself covered in goosebumps and feeling like I was on the brink of a migraine. We fast peddled it out of the park. On the way out there was a huge bell that you could ring to signal your desire for peace in the world and giving it a good clang felt like I was exorcising the demons.

image

Above is a statue in tribute to Sadako Sasaki who survived the blast aged two, but when she was eleven developed leukaemia as a result of the radiation poisoning. She decided to make 1000 origami paper cranes to demonstrate her desire for peace, but tragically died before she could complete the project. Her classmates finished the task. To this day there are millions and millions of paper cranes at the children’s memorial in Hiroshima.

I’m really glad to have visited Hiroshima. I still can’t understand….I don’t think anyone can EVER understand how politicians can use human life as pawns in their games.

Anyway, after Hiroshima, we were back on the train headed for Osaka. Osaka was a good stop off point on our way to Koyasan, and we were excited and dubious to be staying in a capsule hotel, something the Japanese are famous for!
The main worry on my part was that I was alone with the women and not with Tom. Pathetic, I know, but we’ve been together 24hours a day for the past seven months and it’s taken its toll!
We went to our separate floors to check out our capsules before bed.

image

You’re handed a locker key that corresponds with your bed number. In the locker is a towel and some beige pajamas, which everyone wears and makes you feel a bit like you’ve been institutionalised/ joined a cult. The main thing about the capsule is that it doesn’t have a door on the end, just a roll blind so it’s not too claustrophobic, but it does feel a little like you’re in a hostel dorm, I.e. You can hear everyone’s snores and splutters but with more privacy.

The hardest bit for me was actually getting in the pod. I was on the top shelf and it was really hard to get in and out, I constantly felt like I was on the brink of falling flat on my face when I was on the ladder. But luckily, no disasters there. The bathroom was another communal bathing job – so another naked sauna and spa pool before bed. It’s weird how quickly it becomes normal!
All in all, it was a fairly uneventful night. It felt very bizarre to be alone and to agree a meeting time in the morning. In the morning, I climbed up the stairs to the reception feeling immensely relived to see daylight. The women’s capsules were in the basement, and they did feel a little claustrophobic. The capsule hotel goes down as one of the weirdest places we’ve stayed.

The next day we were off to Koyosan, a sacred mountain. We got on the train, got chucked off the train and then had to leg it onto a different train… Lots of fun with your backpack on. Seriously. I love Japan, but understanding the trains is bloody stressful. I can totally see the appeal of a tour group holiday. Japan has been the first place on this trip where I’ve lost sleep over stress. Anyway….

After the first train, we changed onto another train and then onto a “cable car.” It was not a cable car, it was a funicular railway. This has happened so many times on this trip! I get excited to go on a gondola, but it’s not a gondola!
We finally arrived at the top of Mount Koya, and then hopped onto another bus in the centre of town. Koyasan is a good 5 degrees colder than the rest of Japan, which we were already finding cold compared to the rest of our travels. We headed to our accommodation : inside a Buddhist temple. I was really excited!

I’d read in the lonely planet that women shouldn’t touch monks, or be near them in case you accidentally brush them etc. so I was a little apprehensive that I’d make some kind of faux pas but I needn’t have worried. The monks were really friendly and welcoming. We were shown to our room and given some green tea. We felt incredibly lucky and excited to be staying in the temple. It was the most expensive night of the whole trip : £90 for the night, no food included. But it was so worth it, for such a wonderful experience.

We headed out into Koyosan, a tiny town that is crammed full of temples. We went to a huge Buddhist graveyard that feels like it’s in the middle of the jungle. It was freezing and beautiful. We watched lots of people praying. I walked into a small place of worship whilst Tom was at the loo, and was ushered through to a back room and given more green tea by another smiling monk. They seem to love plying us with tea!

image

Next we visited a few more temples, and then headed back to where we were staying. They had more communal bathing pools here and more funny Jedi outfits to wear to bed. I had my hot pool to myself which was really nice, and I was amused to hear that Tom had shared his pool with a naked monk! We had an early night because we were due to be awake very early to watch the monks ceremony in the morning.
We set our alarms for 6am and then headed to the temple for 6.30am. It was very cold. We could see our breath and had to take our shoes off inside, but in a way it added to the magic.

Inside the temple, it was a small room full of ornate decorations… Lots of gold. We were ushered in, where we sat down. We could see a monk in metallic robes sat cross legged at the alter with his back to us. He was moving herbs around and burning incense. I realise I sound completely ignorant here, but the explanations were in Japanese so I can only write what I saw. After a while another monk started banging a big gong just outside the room. He did it around 100 times and it was so loud that every strike made me blink! Not exactly the calm morning rituals I’d expected. The monks then began to chant. They all said the same words in a monotone, reading from scriptures and barely seeming to breathe. The effect was completely hypnotic. One monk stopped and started smacking some big cymbals together. Part of me thinks they enjoyed making a big racket to wake everyone up! One of the monks then came to invite everyone to take part in the ceremony. The explanation was in Japanese, and as Tom and I aren’t religious or Buddhist we decided to just observe…. We didn’t want to do anything wrong or cause offence. But we realised everyone else in the room had gone up to the alter and done something with some spices and holy water apart from us. Whoopsie. I honestly think it was best to just observe though. We were then taken on a brief tour of the temple then headed back to our room for some breakfast.

image

Our time in Koyasan felt like an enormous privilege, and a wonderful way to end our time in Japan. There have been many many moments in this trip that I’ll always think about for the rest of my life. When I’m stressed out, and not sleeping, and covered in eczema, I’ll think of those beautiful smiling and welcoming monks on top of a mountain in Japan.

We headed back to Osaka and then onwards to Thailand.

In summary, Japan has been truly awesome! It was one of the places I was most excited to visit and it lived up to expectations. Around every corner is something delightful, like a vending machine full of cold beer, or a person pushing their ten chihuahuas around in a buggy. There’s a wonderful sense of community here. The mundane is exciting to me, from the ridiculous music that played when you enter supermarket, or the fact that you can expect your toilet seat to be warm. It’s a place of contrast. People literally live on top of eachother and I’ve never seen more people in one place than in Tokyo. But then there’s the beautiful countryside, huge mountains covered in trees.

I’m already excited to go back one day.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

image

image

 

blogsignature

Tokyo!

Disclaimer: this post contains a lot of toilet talk, and public nudity.

Next on the agenda: Tokyo. Japan has always been on my bucket list so I was ridiculously excited when we touched down in Tokyo. We also managed to arrive at the most popular time of year: the two weeks where the cherry blossom is in bloom.

We were tired after our flight from Hong Kong, but we both emerged from the airport bogs with a smile on our faces. The toilets from the future didn’t disappoint! I’ll let the photo do the talking. Unfortunately the music button didn’t play music, just a very deafening flushing sound. Amusingly, this stopped very abruptly when you pressed stop, so it was pretty pointless because everyone would know what you were up to because it didn’t sound like water. The toilet seat was heated too.

image

Anyway, I digress. We got off the plane at 7pm and didn’t get to our Airbnb for 3.5hours due to wandering around, trying to get the shuttle bus to the subway, trying to understand the subway signs, queuing for tickets then realising we were in the wrong queue and then queuing up for a machine that was entirely Japanese then finally just asking an assistant to get the tickets for us. The first train was about 90 minutes then we had to go through a load of palava trying to get the subway to the station near our accommodation. Nightmare. Finally we were queuing for a train when a friendly local stepped in to help and said he was going to the same stop. It was around 10pm at this point and the trains were still rammed with commuters. We were like “why isn’t everyone home yet?!” Our new friend explained that it’s perfectly normal to work from 8am to 10pm in Japan, and usually 6 days a week. That was fairly mind blowing. There’s even a word in Japanese -Kagoshima- For working yourself to death. How awful. The workers aren’t joyless as you’d imagine though! Many of them stand in big groups, chatting and laughing.

We got to our stop and then walked until we found our airbnb. We were like “that was NOT close to the airport as advertised!!” We later realised there are two airports in Tokyo. Whoopsie. We got our key out of the safe and let ourselves in. We carefully opened each door and discovered we had the place to ourselves. Our room was a traditional Japanese… The walls were lined with paper and we slept on mats on the floor. It was surprisingly comfortable though!
image

We needed food so we wandered out and found a local supermarket. On our way we had our first run in with what we’ve now named “the silent killers.” The silent killers are people on bikes who cycle really quickly on the pavements. They’re extra terrifying because they appear out of nowhere, usually wearing a surgical mask. They will also cycle behind you whilst you walk silently saying nothing until you notice them. Anyway, we soon learnt to check both ways before stepping onto the pavement. The supermarket was basically fascinating. I loved seeing the magazines that appeared to be in the racks with the spines on the wrong side, but really it’s because the Japanese read right to left. All the little snacks were really interesting too. There was a fridge full of bottles of tea and coffee that were hot! Tom enjoyed discovering the Japanese whisky was cheap.
Day 1:

After a really good sleep we woke up and had a Japanese pot noodle for breakfast, complete with chopsticks. They were delicious and put the British ones to shame! We headed out towards town. The architecture on the outskirts of Tokyo could only be described as… Grim. If someone had dropped me into the town and I had no idea where we were, I’d have suggested Russia or North Korea. Grey buildings. Children playing in concrete playgrounds. Electricity wires everywhere.
But then we saw a beautiful shrine surrounded by cherry blossom, and then began to follow the blossom along the canal and it was just BEAUTIFUL!

image
In Japan, the blossom is hugely celebrated. (The locals call it Sakura.) there was a lovely atmosphere, people smiling, slowly strolling under the trees and taking photos. As we got closer to town, it got busier and the blossom got thicker. There were sight seeing boats going along the river. We walked for about an hour and a half, eventually reaching an area full of food and alcohol stores put on by the local cafes and bars. Tokyo was in full Sakura festival swing! We bought a bento box (Japanese lunch box) for lunch and I entertained a local by applying soy sauce to everything… Apparently I was only meant to put it on the fish and putting it on everything was absolutely hilarious!

image

We were in a more urban area by that point so we decided to head towards the world famous Shibuya crossing. This is the crossing that you’ve probably seen photos or videos of : everyone crossing from everywhere in every direction. Personally, I can’t cross the road in Kendal without doing a silly dance with the person opposite so I was slightly intimidated. We watched a few crossings, took some photos and then head across. I discovered the best technique was to pick someone who looked local and just follow directly behind them. I managed it without falling over or making a tit of myself so I was quite pleased!

Next we wandered around a few shops, and then headed towards a shrine. We were crossing the road, and I was looking at a tall building opposite. On one of the floors I sighted some rare English writing which read…… “Cat cafe.”

I was so excited! I refused to go in the shrine until we’d been in the cat cafe. We excitedly headed up the lift to the fourth floor, where we were handed a pair of slippers.
(In Japan, everyone insists on you taking off your shoes and wearing the offered slippers, which I find absolutely hilarious because they’re all one size, too small for my size 7s, and absolutely RIDICULOUS hanging off the front of Tom’s size 13s! I get an immense pleasure out of watching him politely shuffling about. HA)

image
In we went to see the cats. They were all beautiful pedigrees, including a cat with teeny tiny legs, and a sloping spine to compensate, so I felt a bit sorry for him. The cats were acting exactly how you’d imagine cats who’d had enough of humans would… Sitting on high platforms, being entirely uninterested in any strokes or cat toys and purely interested in food. It was fun none the less, and I especially enjoyed watching a Birman cat sat on a platform watching the door and then leaping out as soon as it opened. Maybe they’re not so stupid after all.
All this cat cafe business made me come up with my ultimate business plan. Open a cat cafe in Leeds, where all the cats are stray, or unwanted, and then people can meet them at the cafe and adopt them!!! How awesome would that be?!

image

After the cafe we went to have a look at the shrine, but unfortunately it’d closed, so we went to see the teen street instead. It was interesting to see lots of people dressed up. We’d been walking for well over eight hours, and had put off taking the subway, but decided to risk it on the way home because we were knackered.

A note about the Japanese railways
The subway in Japan is basically a nightmare for tourists. In the station there are locals sprinting around, and bewildered travellers getting in the way. You’ll look round for a good five minutes before you find an English map, and then you won’t be able to find your stop on the map. This is because each railway company has their own map and their own train timetable. It’s a bit like wanting to get a train from Leeds to Kendal, but needing looking at separate departure boards and maps for east coat, virgin trains, transpenine etc all separately, with each one having their own separate entrances to the subway. To buy a ticket, you can put the machine in English, but the tickets are sold by distance, not by station name….
It’s just a pain in the arse basically. It’s fine if you try to stay patient, but I found it really frustrating because we’re on such a tight schedule in Japan that I felt like we were wasting precious time figuring out the subway when we could be sight seeing. On top of this, some of the stations were so full of people!! One of which, around rush hour I had never seen so many people in one place. We had to go up some stairs and we were packed in like sardines. I literally thought to myself “if I fall up these stairs, I am going to be trampled to death.” It’s terrifying. I’m not good at crowds as it is.
We don’t have data on our phones and the wifi is rubbish, so we were pretty stuck. Taxis are very posh and according to the lonely planet, they can cost 200 quid for a short journey. If you walk you just waste hours and hours of valuable time.

RANT OVER. sorry.

We headed back to our Airbnb, and got into bed. I was taking a while to fall asleep when the doorbell started to ring and I could hear men talking and banging loudly on the door. I decided to wake Tom up who was snoring with his earplugs in and eye mask on.

We were terrified. This seems ridiculous in hindsight, but to put it into context…. We weren’t expecting anyone. We had the only guest room in the Airbnb. We were aware that someone else lived there, but why wouldn’t they have their key? We couldn’t get on the wifi to contact the owner.
We assumed there had been some kind of double booking, but we don’t speak Japanese, so what could we do? We couldn’t exactly let anyone in because we didn’t know who the hell they were. We hoped they’d got the wrong address and waited. Then we heard a van pull up. I’d heard horror stories about people who pull up in a van, knock on the door and then rob you and drive away in the van…. This all sounds so ridiculous now, but we had no idea what to do, we didn’t know if we were in danger, and we were in such an unfamiliar place and so scared! We were just praying they’d go away and leave us alone. We didn’t dare leave our room because all the lights were automatic and they’d know we were in.
Tom made me put “112” into my phone and we crept together downstairs. Tom told me to stay upstairs and I was like “hello! I’ve seen far too many horror films for that!” My legs were shaking like jelly.
Turns out it was the two people who live in the other room. The place had only one key that we were meant to return to the key safe. The van was the locksmith, they were about to change the locks!! We felt very silly and very relived and very apologetic.

Day 2:
We spent the next morning arsing around trying to activate our rail passes for the rest of our time in Japan. Took ages. We then headed to Akihabara, a street famous for manga and anime ( Japanese cartoons and animations) this was pretty much nerd heaven and was great for people watching. We found a crazy photo booth that made your face look like a cartoon. It was absolutely hilarious and we edited the pictures afterwards.

image
We then headed back along the canal where all the blossom is, the Sakura festival. It was packed with people, and such a good atmosphere. I love that Japan celebrates the arrival of spring. This is something I think we should do at home. I hate winter! It’s only good bits are Christmas and new year.
We wandered around trying different foods. We drank a few cans (everyone was drinking) and then we invented a game which we call “the Japanese breathalyser” it determines your level of inebriation. If you can still eat chips using chopsticks then you pass. If you can’t you fail. This carried on for a few hours until we got back to our Airbnb and then the people we’d locked out the previous night arrived. We went to buy a huge bottle of sake (Japanese rice wine) to apologise and the guys heated it up in a small pink sake kettle which I found hilarious. The evening was spent mostly shouting at eachother. Their English was limited but miles better than our Japanese and we had a really good time!

image

Day 3:
This day took the title of one of the worst hangovers I’ve ever had. Tom was in a similar state… We weren’t sick but just felt like absolute DEATH. Sake is a killer!!!! The morning was spent moaning, then we dragged ourselves out of bed and headed towards a big onsen we’d read about in the travel guide. An onsen is a big Japanese spa. They’re a massive part of Japanese culture, and a top recommended thing to see when you’re visiting the country.

The journey there involved yet another confusing subway trip and then a stomach churning monorail. Then finally we arrived. We knew that we would be using huge communal bathing pools that are split by gender, and you have to go in NAKED. In the manner of “do one thing each day that scares you’ we decided to go for it. It helped that we were so hungover that we didn’t really care.

We were ushered into changing rooms and handed a big yukata: Basically a cotton kimono dressing gown and a sash that went round the waist. I read the instructions carefully and I’m so glad I did because it said “keep your underwear on.” Thank god I read that one! We emerged out of our separate changing rooms and found each other in a big kind of indoor shopping street. I later learnt this is modelled on an old Japanese town.
We wandered, then went outside to the foot spa, which was really lovely. Hot water looks with steam coming off them. They looked so atmospheric. It was really cool that everyone wanders around barefoot in the big kimono.

image

Then we bit the bullet, said goodbye, arranging to meet eachother in half an hours time and went into our separate onsens. I’d read the etiquette carefully in the lonely planet beforehand because I was terrified of making some kind of social faux pas. In the changing rooms I went and peered into the pool to check everyone was naked. I had this nightmare scenario in my head that I’d stroll out naked, head in the air to find everyone sat in their bikinis staring at me. But no… they were definitely naked!

On the way in I was handed two towels, one big one small. I took everything off and wrapped myself in the big towel and tried to go into the pool, then I was like, oh wait, no one else has this big towel with them. So I put it in my locker and headed out. So brave, yet so hungover.

The first thing I reached was a big tub of steaming water. I knew from the travel guide to wash myself here – not doing so would be very offensive so I’m glad I realised! There were buckets in the water so I started sheepishly scooping some and throwing it at myself. Then two Japanese women came over and threw the whole buckets over themselves so I did likewise. The onsen was made up of about eight indoor shallow hot pools. I quickly chose the closest one and slid in, realising I was still holding the small towel I’d been given. I saw a sign that said “do not put towels in the water.” I looked round and saw that everyone else had balanced them on their heads. This was one of those surreal moments where I was thinking “why am I alone and naked in Japan with loads of strangers and trying to balance a towel on my head!?”
I eventually relaxed and enjoyed the hot water. I went into another pool, trying to build up confidence to go to the outdoor pools. I went for it. There was a moment when I had a feeling of “oooh! I’m naked outside!” Haha!

It was a real privilege to experience the bathing culture. There weren’t many travellers there, it was mainly locals. They gathered in groups of friends, chatting and laughing like we would over a cup of coffee. It was fascinating to me because I just cannot imagine sitting around naked with my friends and it being totally normal and not hysterically embarrassing. It was getting close to 5pm, our meeting time so I found the showers. These were bizarre because it was like a dressing table – a little seated booth with a mirror where you shower off.

I came out and found Tom. We compared notes whilst we had some noodles. We decided to head back to the Airbnb. Easier said than done. We’d spent our last cash at the onsen, (no card reader) and couldn’t find a cash machine that would accept our cards so we couldn’t get home. A few hours of wandering then we found a free shuttle bus and sighed a sigh of relief when we found a cash machine in central Tokyo. Then back to the Airbnb and to bed.

All in all, Tokyo has been one of the most fun and fascinating we’ve been so far. Even just going to the toilet is fun! It’s also been one of the first times when English hasn’t gone very far and we’ve begun to find travelling more taxing. But it’s all part of the learning curve. It’s important to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

image

 

blogsignature

Hong Kong

Hello from Kyoto Japan! It’s as wonderful and confusing as you’d imagine here. And we’re not very good at finding wifi so I’m a bit behind with the old blog. Here’s a post about our time in Hong Kong

So onwards we went on our Asian adventure. Next stop: Hong Kong.

The airport experience getting out of Kuala Lumpur was a total nightmare. I’m not quite sure why we got in such a pickle, but I think it’s because we’ve been flying a lot recently and were on automatic pilot mode (Ho Ho)
Basically, we arrived at the airport, did a self check in on a little screen, and then looked at the departures board and read “Gate 60” and just started walking to the gate. We went through several security checks, including the hand luggage scanner and we were a bit mystified as we tried to ram our big rucksacks through the small hole. We kept walking and walking, down a lot of moving walkways until finally we reached our gate. Then we were like “but wait, where is the bag drop?”

We’d missed it! Thank goodness we arrived at the airport mega early. We had to go backwards through all the security checks, including my personal favourite: the bag scanner where the bloke who was meant to be checking the X-rays didn’t even look up from his crossword… We were halted at one point and our passports were confiscated – that’s a good way to make your blood go cold. We were issued through to the bag check where the bewildered check in assistant said “but I can’t check you in if you don’t have your passports!” We were then escorted back through to find the passport man who had gone on his lunch break and left our passports with his buddy. Jesus. Anyway. We made it to Hong King exhausted but in one piece some how.

We got a train out of the airport (very big and very clean) and then a taxi to Tom’s godfather James’ flat. Unfortunately he was working whilst we stayed in Hong Kong so we didn’t see him, but it was so lovely to have a place of our own, with a bit of space and a comfy bed! We had a pizza (very Chinese) and went to bed.

 

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Day 1

We packed loads into our first day. We started off by getting the subway Mong Kok to the Ladies market. I’m not sure why it’s called the ladies market, as I’d describe it as unisex, but it was basically a heaven of waving lucky cats (I may have bought a few) clothes, phone cases, toys, bags: Everything under the sun for a haggle. Tom is really good at haggling. I’m too soft and feel guilty going really low haha! We came out with some goodies and then headed for some lunch.

image

We then hopped back on the subway and went to Shat In. I’m not making these names up. We literally went to Mong Kok and Shat In! Hahaha!!!
Shat In is home to the 10,000 Buddhas. We walked up loads of steps. There were loads of dogs barking, and then something moving caught my eye and I looked up to see a huge monkey jumping across the rooftops. It was such a surprise, we had no idea there are monkeys in Hong Kong. They were different from the Balinese monkeys, they had no fur on their faces, which made them seem more human. A worker was wandering up and down the steps throwing oranges and apples to the monkeys.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

We kept walking until gold Buddhas started to line the steps. There were so many! Then we made it to the top of the hill where there was a beautiful monastery. Inside there were thousands of tiny Buddhas lining the walls. Unfortunately no photos were allowed so I can’t show you. There was also an enormous drum that had a sign on it saying “do not hit” and I had to fight against every fibre of my being to not give it a good smack in the silent room!!

Unfortunately it was very nearly 5pm so we had to leave before the gates closed. It was a fleeting visit, but I’m so glad we went. It amazed me how different it felt from the city, it was very leafy and the air felt calm and cool. Such a peaceful place.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

We then headed back down to the subway and to the night market. The night market was pretty cool, but a more seedy version of the ladies market. There were lots of shouty people pulling on our clothes and trying to drag us into their restaurants, shouting “WE HAVE DUCK. HOW MANY YOU WANT!!” In our ears. I also find it very disturbing to see little old ladies running sex stalls. There was a cool street where you could have your fortune read. I’m always fascinated by fortune tellers, but it was quite pricey so I didn’t bother. Besides, the palm reader in Whitby told me I’d live a long life, so I’m happy to stick with that!
We had some ominous dumplings and then headed home to bed.

Day 2
Easter Sunday! We had a bit of a lie in because we were bloody shattered, and didn’t make it out of the flat until 12.30pm. (Whoops)
We got on the bus to Stanley Market. (Another market, ha!) I was amazed again by how the landscape transformed. We were on the coast by the beach. It was very hilly and it felt and looked like the Amalfi coast in Italy. Such a change!
We didn’t buy anything at the market (probably due to the sheer amount of crap we’d bought the previous day) but we enjoyed wandering around and people watching. I was especially fascinated by the people we saw pushing their dogs around in buggies. Hilarious!
At one point we got surrounded by a film crew. We were told we were going to taste some food and we’d be on Chinese television… The first was a mug of hot ginger flavoured Coke which was quite nice. Then Tom was handed some mystery meat. When we asked what it was they said “roast! Roast!” So god knows what it was. He said it was nice. And then came the grand finale. A piece of what looked like liver. We reluctantly asked what it was and the response was “goose blood.” I refused to eat it, but Tom heroically poked it down. The best poker face I’ve ever seen. In true British style, he smiled and said it was delicious until we were out of view of the cameras and he grabbed the water off me muttering “I think I’m gonna be sick.”
Never a dull moment in Hong Kong!

Day 3
We started the day with a longer tube journey, and then got in the queue for the cable car up to Ngong Ping, home to one of the worlds biggest seated Buddhas. I was flummoxed to find that the queue was two hours long… But it was a bank holiday Monday so we got on with it and played a lot of solitaire on our phones. I may become a professional solitaire player when we get home. I’m good at original, three peaks and spider solitaire now!

The cable car was ace! It was about 25 minutes long, and went over sea to another island then up a huge mountain. It kept reaching little stations where I thought we were at the top, then it would just swing around a corner and keep going until finally the big Buddha came into view. It. Was. Massive!

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

At the top were loads of shops, and then lots of steps up the huge Buddha. There was a monastery and the biggest incense sticks I’ve ever seen. It was lovely. Lots of people but we still had a great time. Back at the bottom, we headed into Hong Kong and legged it to the waterfront to catch the light show at 8pm. The skyscrapers light up and flash in time to some really naff music. It was pretty cool though.

Day 4
Disneyland. Need I say more?

image

Day 5
On our final day we headed to a place called Tai O, which is a very old fishing village. We got a ferry and then a boat there. When we arrived we walked down winding streets full of stalls selling weird fish skins that were translucent and all forms of fish, including dried fish and shellfish. I was feeling pretty dodgy from the bus journey and there were points where the smells were making me feel very dodgy indeed. I really wanted to hold my nose because it was pongy but didn’t want to appear rude. One stall was selling huge shark skins. I asked Tom if we could buy one and make it into a sleeping bag but he said no.

After a walk we got a boat down the estuary and looked at the buildings built on stilts. They are literally houses with a big platform at the back where the locals fish and then they sell their catch at the front. It was really cool to see somewhere untouched by the British and nice to imagine what Hong Kong was like a few hundred years ago.

In the evening we caught the tram up Victoria Peak to view the city from the top of a hill. It was rammed with people and very smoggy but we still enjoyed seeing the cityscape in day and then night. We decided to treat ourselves to a “nice” meal because we had some Hong Kong dollars to spend. The meal was grim. I haven’t eaten anything enjoyable in Hong Kong, but never mind.

Things that have surprised me:

– Most things are translated into English so it was quite easy to manage. I was even handed a free English newspaper at one of the train stations. In Disneyland the songs were all English which made me feel a bit sorry for the Chinese children. I hadn’t realised that Hong Kong was under British rule for many years.

– queues everywhere. This was to be expected in Disneyland, but I wasn’t quite prepared for fully grown adults to elbow me out of the way!

– we found that Tom was fascinating to the local children. It was probably the beard, but we regularly got on the subway and had a journey where Tom was ogled at for twenty minutes. Hehe!

– people pushing their dogs around in buggies.

– on Sunday we saw loads and loads of women sat around the central station on cardboard having picnics. They were on their phones, well dressed etc so we knew they weren’t homeless. We did a Google search and apparently they are nannies and home workers etc usually from the Philippines and Indonesia who meet up on their day off to chat with their mates.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

image

 

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

 

 

blogsignature