(A Whirlwind) 23 Days in Japan


Osaka to Hiroshima to Kyoto to Shizuoka to Tokyo and finally Sapporo.

I’m tired.

I knew this would be an exhuasting 23 days. When you try to fit in as much of Japan as possible on your first trip there (oh you can bet I plan to make more) and end up spending 2/3 days (maybe 4 if you’re lucky) in each city, it’s tiring. Even when I was in Korea, thinking about the upcoming Japan leg was exhausting.

And so, beloved author (moi!) writes this as she goes, because the idea of writing this after her 23 days is just no.

Osaka

I flew into Osaka from Busan and arrived at my hostel around 3pm. I scored a great deal for about $18/night near the Osaka Loop Line, which meant I could use my JR Pass to access Osaka station (which could then take me to the subway for local sights and Shin-Osaka for long distance trains). This was perfect because my plan was two days of city sights with one major daytrip to Matsuyama.

On day one I explored around Osaka Castle, a convenient 7 minute train ride from my accommodation. Besides the castle itself, the surrounding gardens were gorgeous and significantly less crowded than the immediate castle grounds. I also had a delicious matcha softserve (a definite highlight of the Japan trip in general!).

Day two was a four hour train trip (both ways) to visit and bathe in the Dogo Onsen, one of the oldest onsens in Japan. I chose the second-tier Kami no Yu experience, which gave me access to the more private public path, with tea and cookies after in the lounge area along with a yukata rental (fun fact: the difference between a kimono and yukata is the fabric! A kimono is made of silk while a yukata is made of cotton). I was super relaxed the entire time, and was the only foreigner, and so this felt like a true local experience (until I left, when I saw a European couple come in). Bonus? The onsen allows tattoos.

For my last day I visited the Mamofoku Ando Instant Ramen Museum (also called the cup noodles museum). As my nickname is Noodley, this was a no-brainer in terms of visiting. Admission is free, and I highly recommend renting an audio guide as signage in English in minimal. You can also design your own instant ramen cup and create your own instant ramen mix for 300 yen, but it was in high demand and accepting no more people by the time I got there. Afterwards I headed down to explore Dotonburi walking street. I snacked on takoyaki and beef croquette, took in the giant neon signs, and people-watched (honestly, one of my favourite activities). I bought a drawing from a kind old man (one of the cheapest and easiest things to bring home after travels), and a polka-dot long-sleeved shirt (something I’d been thinking about buying when I returned home, but an opportunity showed itself and I took it). I arrived at around 3:30pm, which allowed me to observe the street in the day, and lit up in the evening.

Hiroshima and Miyajima

Since I only had two days in Hiroshima, I caught an early train out of Osaka. It was a rainy day, and my waterproof jacket finally got some use after the frigid frigid volcanic trek in Indonesia. I arrived at my accommodation around 1pm, dropped off my bags, borrowed a communal umbrella, and made my way to the Peace Memorial Park. Due to the rain, the Peace Museum was quite crowded, but I was of the mind that visiting there first would give me  a greater appreciation for the Park and A-Bomb Dome. I was correct. I’m a self-proclaimed history buff, and as horrific as many war stories and truths are, it’s something we as humans have done for years, and something we need to face, teach, and learn about and from. One thing that really stood out to me was how it wasn’t until the creation of the Shinkansen system that school frield trips to Hiroshima were possible, thus opening the educational opportunities for many kids who will hopefully never have to live through the effects of a nuclear weapon or war.

The rain created a heavy (and appropriate atmosphere) as I wandered the park afterwards, taking in the various memorial sculptures. The A-Bomb Dome was extraordinary to witness in person, and there were lots of educational signs in English. I took the evening easy in order to soak in everything I had just read and seen, and to dry off.

The next morning, after an amazing french toast breakfast at the cutest cafe literally steps from my hostel (Kefe Lega, for those interested), I embarked to Miyajima. I had planned for a few hours on the island, but only spent about 1.5 hours there. The sun was really strong and it was very humid, so I wasn’t the happiest. Or the most comfortable. While the floating gate is obviously the hightlight of the island, I spent most of my time at the Daoshin temple, about a 10minute walk from the ferry pier. I highly recommend making a visit to this temple when on Miyajima. There are loads of beauitfully adorned shrines, and a pathway with about 500 stone figures, all with different facial expressions, and with little crocheted hats. I spent a good hour at the temple and had I not been sweating from my bones could have easily spent an hour more.

Tip: If you’re a JR Pass Holder, Hiroshima operates a free hop-on hop-off bus. There are three different routes, and they all start and end at Hiroshima Station. I used it to see Hiroshima Castle, then got off at Peace Memorial Park and walked back to my hostel. Definitely worth it if you have the pass!

Kyoto
So. Three days here was not enough. Especially if you only have the energy for filling half your day with sightseeing, like myself. On my first day I took advantage of what the forecast told me would be the last sunny day and took the train to Nara. I fed the adorable bowing deer, and visited Kasuga Taisha Shrine and Toda-ji (the temple that houses the largest bronze Buddha in the world). I got a giant mochi on the way to the park, and liked it so much that I bought three more on the way back to the hostel for snacking.

The next day I woke up 7am and left at 7:30 for Fushimi-Inari Shrine, arguably one of the most famous attractions in Japan. The hundreds of vermillion torii gates lead you up Mount Inari, and there is no admission fee. While there were more people at the morning hour than I would’ve liked, it was not comparable to the amount starting the ascent as I ended mine. Plus, it started to rain quite heavily as I finished, but I had used the rainy forecast as a hope that people would avoid outdoor excursions. For the most part, both my tactics worked, as closer to the top of the mountain I had many portions of the trail all to myself. One of my favourite things about this trail was that there are many smaller shrines off the larger path, and you can get them all to yourself if you need a break from people (me everyday). I loved marvelling at the numerous fox guardian statues and little amulets hanging everywhere for good luck. At the end of my adventure I headed out for soba noodles as the many many stairs up the mountain had made me very hungry.

For my last day I had a list of temples to choose from. I ended up choosing Ninna-ji (for its garden) and Nanzen-ji (for its aquaduct). It was raining on and off, but was very humid. I suspect that this gross weather combination was why I had Ninna-ji basically to myself (I saw a total of around 20 people during the hour I spent there). There is something so relaxing about exploring a temple complex and garden with no voices and footsteps to deter from the moment. The rain gently falling on the conifers made this experience something that’s hard to put into words. And afterwards, I headed to Nanzen-ji to look at an aquaduct. Yes, that was all I did.

Shizuoka
To visit a friend, and see Mount Fuji. Sadly, during our trip to the Chureito Pagoda, the cloud cover only gave us a small glimpse of the peak (cue my mutterings of “stupid Fuji” for the next 2 hours). We saw some brilliant clear views as we were leaving, of course. But we also enjoyed a giant bowl of udon noodles specific to the Yamanashi region (Hoto). If you’re planning to do something related to Mount Fuji sightseeing, check the weather beforehand, and start early (or even make a day trip out of it). I used my second day to explore the Sunpu Castle ruins, then spent the afternoon in a coffee shop preparing for Tokyo.

Tokyo
I fell in love on my first day. Maybe it had something to do with the teahouse I visited which I imagined visiting everyday if I lived there. Maybe it was the numerous things to do and see and eat, or the fact that I took the most wonderful new style hustle class. Regardless, I am making my way back whether the city likes it or not.

After arriving and checking in at my hostel in the afternoon, I found myself with a little extra energy, and so decided to visit Hama-Rikyu Gardens. I expected something similar to Stanley Park in Vancouver, and I couldn’t have been more wrong, This was basically a nature-lovers oasis in the middle of one of the busiest cities in the world. And the most beautiful teahouse where I indulged in delicious matcha and a sweet. I was so calm during that afternoon. As I had arrived around 2:30pm, it wasn’t too crowded. I walked around the paths, photographing the birds and plants, and spent about 30minutes marvelling at the flower garden with the brightly coloured cosmos flowers.

On my second day I made my way to Ueno to spend the morning at the Tokyo National Museum. Admission was only $7 for the 4 buildings that were open, housing Japanese collections, Asian collections (central, south, east), and donated collections. I got there right at opening, which was a good decision. I made my way to the Honkan building first to visit the Japanese paintings, sculptures, and displays. In the Toyokan (Asian Gallery) there was a cool hands on activity where you could design a postcard using traditional Japanese motifs. I’m not the most artisitically inclined, so I wasn’t super pleased with my finished product, but it definitely makes a unique memento. One of the buildings, the Gallery of  Horiyu-ji Treasures, was essentially empty; and thus I recommend checking out its exhibitions should you find yourself in the museum complex looking for a moment alone.

Afterwards I walked along the Ameya-Yokocho shopping street. I scored a $5 dress at a used clothing store and a $7 sweater (muahaha).

My second full day brought the rain and the cold (which I was actually thankful for because I had been sweating so much over the last several months). It set the atmosphere for my walk to Meiji shrine. I got here around 9am and it was just starting to get busy. I bought a fortune (because I drew #16 which is my favourite number) and took some pictures, then walked to Harajuku to look around. Due to the rain, it wasn’t as busy as I expected. My main reason for exploring the area, though, was for pancakes. I went to Rainbow Pancake shop and got their Macadamia Nut Sauce Pancakes which were so delicious and perfect for the rainy day. I took the JR line to Shibuya afterwards to take in the scramble intersection, but it wasn’t as busy as I expected.

With more rain expected the following day, I planned out a super “treat yo’self” day involving brunch at Suke6 Diner, tea and dessert at the Aoyama Flower Market Teahouse, and sushi at the popular conveyer belt restaurant Genki Sushi. Worth it. In the evening I relaxed at a public bath ($5 for an amazing facility) that, to my luck, allowed tattoos (apparently because Yakuza use the baths according to a hostel worker…didn’t see any, though).

My final day, and I found myself on the way to Roppongi for a sunday morning new style hustle class. I was so excited. I never expected to love a dance style as much as I do new style hustle, and to attend a class internationally was an amazing experience. Everyone was super friendly and I realized just how much I missed hustle.

Sapporo

Oh my where to start…as soon as I got on the train to continue from the last Shinkansen station onwards to Sapporo I couldn’t stop looking out the window. Mountains, the ocean, and the most glorious shades of autumn leaves on EVERY TREE. I fell in love immediately (I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve said that BUT IT’S ALWAYS TRUE). As I stepped off the train I squealed because, to my delight, IT WAS COLD. Not the type of cold that comes from being out in the rain, but the crisp air that comes with west coast autumn mornings. I likely had the stupidest grin on my face as I walked to my hostel.

Sapporo is unusual in that it was developed in the American style grid pattern, making navigation super easy. I was under the impression that I’d be able to fit in one day in the city itself, with two day trips to other areas in Hokkaido. How wrong I was. I spent the three days NOT leaving the city because there was so much to do. Also I’m very very lazy.

Upon recommendation from a friend I made in my hustle class, I first visited the Ishaya chcolate factory (also known as Shiroi Koibito Park). This Hokkaido company is famous for their specialty white chocolate biscuits. They have a history section with many vintage cups, saucers, and pots for hot chocolate. One of the floors describes the history of the company and how the biscuits are produced. You get to look into the production line as well through a window, which I found fascinnating to watch. There’s also a cafe on the upper floor, with a wonderful view of the surrounding mountains. I splurged on a very decadent hot chocolate with orange liquer. No regrets. The gift shop was complete and total mania…tourists left right and centre grabbing boxes upon boxes of biscuits. However, once exiting, I was greeted by a beautiful courtyward area with lots of seasonal decorations. Once I made my way back I stopped off at Odori Park and the underground shopping arcade (which was mainly drugstores…but I did fine some interesting flavours of kit kat to send to my family and scored a $3 top from a lady selling secondhand clothes).

My second day was filled with all things beer (and some cats) as I journeyed over to the Sapporo Beer Museum (I got very lost on the way there THANKS CONSTRUCTION FOR BLOCKING THE ROUTE). The museum is free to enter (unless you want a premium tour but I don’t actually know what that entails) and has english descriptions for the history of Sapporo Beer right from it’s creation up until current days. Afterwards I spent 600 yen on a very generous flight of tasters and if you know me you know I rarely drink so 600mL of alcohol all to myself is a rarity…and needless to say I got very tipsy. I spent the next 20 minutes walking outside determining the best place for lunch, as the museum grounds also houses five beer gardens. I tried the local dish “Genghis Khan” which is essentially grilled lamb, veggies, and rice. A very satisfying day.

I managed to fit in a bit more on my last full day in Japan. I walked around the beautiful Hokkaido University campus and got to witness just how yellow ginkgo trees turn in the autumn. My heart was full of beautiful autumn leaves and my lungs with fresh, crisp, autumn air (seriously I stopped in the middle of some places just to take a few deep breaths). After a brief recharge at my hostel (for my feet and phone) I toured the botanical gardens of the university. While I’m certain spring and summer are the better times to visit since most things bloom in that period, it made for a nice 1.5 hour walk. Plus the greenhosue was warm and housed some interesting species. Afterwards it was time to visit the observation deck on the 38th floor of the JR Tower. There was a decently priced cafe and thus indulged in some cake and tea. It was a wonderful way to spend my last evening; just relaxing and enjoying the beautiful views, and watching as the city lit up and afternoon turned to dusk and then evening.

I admit, when this trip was still in the planning stages Japan seemed more of a convenient country to visit between South Korea and Taiwan as opposed to a place I was stoked on visiting. After 23 days though, it is so obvious why people make multiple visits here (despite me not really being able to put it into words). There’s so much I need to come back and do…I want to spend longer than 3 hours in Matsuyama (more like 3 days) and definitely want to explore all that Hokkaido has to offer. Arigatou, Japan; I leave with a few weeks left in this gran travel scheme and thank you for your food, people, scenery, and hospitality.

Advertisements

100 Days on the Road.

I’ve been travelling for 100 days.

I originally believed that this 100th day of travel would coincide with the first day of Autumn; my favourite season. It doesn’t. I though September 21 was always the first day of Autumn. It isn’t. Now I know.

Regardless I’m in too deep to stop writing now so here we go.

I’m in Busan right now, having spent 5 days on the island of Jeju (and that reminds me that I have to get started on that post as well…). I arrived 2 days ago and spent my first day bumming in a local café for some writing and trip planning (I head to Japan in a week’s time).

So 100 days. What changes in 100 days. Travel style? Nope I’m still chugging along with my “backpacking but also not backpacking” style. My original travel plans? Not really…I mean my trip to Malaysia wasn’t something I’d planned when Ifirst envisioned this trip, but nothing along the lines of scrapping Asia and flying down to South America.

I actually was just having a similar discussion with someone I met when I first arrived in my hostel.

Something that I suspected would happen, but wasn’t able to fully confirm until the trip started, is that sometimes I just need a day to hang around and not do anything. Whether I just scroll through Instagram at a local cafe, take a walk around the local area and then call it a day, there are days where all I plan to do is nothing. Sightseeing, especially if transitting to multiple locations sprread out across a city, can get exhausting (see my prevous post about my time in Berlin).

The type of people I vibe with…this hasn’t really changed as much as I feel I’ve gotten a bit more confident at initiating conversation with new people. I’ve never taken lightly to fools, incompetent or lazy individuals (within reason…I consider myself lazy but would never waste days upon days when travelling in a new city), or party animals. This is the same even back home, though, and I’m thankful that I’ve been able to meet so many amazing people and personalities that I have been able to click with.

I’m still working on not feeling guilty if I make plans for the following day and then cancelling. It’s my own long holiday, for goodness sake, what’s there to feel guilty about?

Probably the biggest thing I can say changed is my worries about jobhunting and money. Which I know isn’t exactly travel related, but it pertains to my mindset and way of thinking.

I should start by saying that, in complete honestly, I want to be wealthy. My main reason for wanting a good job is to see my savings grow and hopefully retire early and live comfortably and easily at whatever age I end up retiring. To be in a position where my bank account is only depleting, it’s a little hard sometimes. But it was worse when I first started. I honestly contemplated not going on this trip because I knew that it would keep my savings account at a decent level. And then there were a few days I was watching my budget so closely I ended up more stressed and just feel as if those were wasted days I could’ve spent enjoying the city I was in. And while I stay budget conscious (I am sadly not made of money), it’s not something I’ve decided I need to waste time worrying about.

Ironically, while my friends working back home are jealous of the fact that I’m travelling for so long, I find myself jealous of the stability that comes with a job and the aforementioned money. I know this is an unhealthy mindset, but I did pretty much just admit I’m money obsessed.

I planned this trip because I wasn’t able to get bridged into a full-time position at my last co-op job (student work contract). I was heartbroken; I had finally found a job that Ioved and that was relevant to my degree, but a series of unfortunate events and bad timing meant that once my contract was over, that was it. And while I know the desire to travel would have been strong had I begun a full time job ASAP, I had really wanted to keep my position.

Anywho, after realizing that I officially had no obligations after my graduation, I decided that it was the perfect time to take a “gap half-year”, as I keep saying. It would be a way for me to travel places I’d wanted to visit for years, reunite with friends across the globe, take a breather from the last 6 years of school, and, more importantly, hopefully drill into my brain that I can only plan so far in advance. And I admit to worrying quite a bit how the jobhunt would-well, will go once I return home. But no point worrying about things that haven’t happened yet. My worries still pop up every now and then, but I’ve opened up to so many people at this time that it’s easier to talk about, and I hope that’ll make it easier to face head-on once I’m sitting in front of my laptop back at home and searching up postings. I’ve always been a planner, and have loved planning things  in advance, but sometimes, you just can’t.

I didn’t go on this trip to discover myself, try my hand at independence, or escape from anything in particular. I  simply didn’t want to start jobhunting. While some go on a round the world trip to find what they want, I’ve found that my goals have cemented themselves even more in my mind.

But until then, here’s to the next few months of running away from adult responsibilities!

Until next time!

Busan, South Korea

On Homesickness

I could feel the lump forming in my throat and my eyes getting warm and watery. I gritted my teeth and managed to suck back the tears I could feel forming, but the lump stayed. The sudden urge to cry had come on suddenly and without warning, and I wondered if I could find an area to be alone and cry to just get it over with.

If I told you this happened in the first day of my travels, it shouldn’t come as a shock.

How about if I said this happened less than a week ago, the day I left Seoul for Jeju? Approximately 3 months into my trip?

Maybe that’s a bit more surprising. It is to me. I had just skyped my parents the same morning and had experienced a wonderful week in Seoul and my guesthouse. And maybe that’s why. Leaving a place I had felt so welcome and cared for to somewhere different, maybe it was too much of change. The night before I had enjoyed playing trivia games with several friends. The next morning, as I prepared to leave, I was all alone. Maybe it was too much and too abrupt of a change. The video call with my parents may just have reinforced that I was still going to be away from home for another 9-12 weeks.

I didn’t even feel that excited about the next leg of my journey until my plane was preparing to take off. And even then it was just a small flicker of a feeling; something that made me think “Oh I think I’m finally a little excited for Jeju.” In typical Nathalie fashion, I attempted to comfort myself by internally monologuing this blog post during the bus ride from the airport to my next hostel. Yay for moments of creativity in sad times.

On my first full day away from home, back in June, I had the same feeling. A lump in my throat, warm, wet eyes, as the fact that I’d be away from home for 6 months really sunk in. I’d been away for a bit less than half of that amount of time before, but at that time there was a set date to retun back. This time, there wasn’t. Before Christmas. That was all I had as an indication. I (foolishly, I now realize) found myself counting down the approximate weeks until I got to go home.

One day into my solo journey, in Oslo, as I ate dinner alone at my AirBNB, I let the homesickness take over. I full out bawled for a good ten minutes. Besides being homesick, I had convinced myself I was going to be miserable in my next hostel and meet nobody but creepy people. It was overwhelming. I  missed home, I was super nervous about what I was getting into…and I missed my dog (KIRA WAH I still do).

In Denmark, another bout strong enough to drive me to tears. This time, in addition to another round of homesickness, I had now convinced myself that I was going to get robbed in Thailand or at some point get on a bus and be dropped off in the middle of nowhere and not be able to find my way back.

And then in Seoul. Which took me entirely by surprise, but now seems understandable given the contrast between the night before and the morning of.

So. 4 big bouts of homesickness (plus some other factors). Some of the few times in my life I would say I felt a deep sadness and ache in my heart.

But you know what, I do miss home. I miss my family, friends, dog, the feeling of my home, and being at home. Waking up to the sound of rain in my bed and having tea with my mom and lazing on the couch watching TV.

I’m really close with my parents, and I know this isn’t the case for every traveller. In fact, so many blogs I come across discuss how the author was able to sell all their stuff and quit their job and travel indefinitely because they didn’t have a super close relationship with their family. I message my mom pretty much everyday. For a while we were skyping every week. As excited as I am to travel, I’m equally excited to return home, share stories and gifts, and be back in my house (OK my parent’s house…).

And there’s nothing wrong with that. If you find yourself homesick a lot, you’re not alone. If you’ve never felt even the slightest bit homesick, I envy you. More than once I’ve considered cutting my trip short and going home. But I pushed forward. Not out of some sort of obligation that I had to stick to my 6 month travel plan, but because I know I’ll find myself away from home again in the future, whether it be for more travel or for Mandarin immersion or for work, and I have to learn to deal with this sadness that sometimes comes upon me, often at the most inconvenient at times (or the most ironic, like during the aforementioned time in Oslo and I was having soup that I thought could use more salt, and then lo and behold TEARS).

I myself find these feelings slightly ironic because I love alone time. I love eating alone, sightseeing alone, just walking around and exploring a new place and my own pace. When arriving in a new hostel though, I can tell fairly quickly how the atmosphere will be for meeting people. And if the atmosphere is lively and social, I love meeting new people from all over. If the atmosphere is kinda blah, I make the most of it regardless.

In addition, there’s always the loneliness that I feel when I leave a place where I met so many amazing people and made fast friends. This can’t be helped. We meet people, then say goodbye, make friends, lose friends…it happens everywhere. The sadness that comes with leaving (or being left by) an amazing group of people or an amazing place…while heavy on the heart, is how I know that the city and people made their way into mine

Bali Baes (AKA 6 days in Ubud – A Review)

Yes yes excuse the slightly tacky title that me and 2 friends named ourselves during our 6 day adventure in Ubud.

So Ubud is quite a popular tourist destination ever since the movie “Eat, Pray, Love” came out. I could describe my time there simply as “Eat, Haggle, Take-50-pictures-of-friends-so-at-least-1-turns-out”.

We stayed about a 15 minute drive outside of the city at Gangga Blessta Homestay. If you ever find yourself in Ubud book yourself in here because the level of service we received and the friendships we forged will forever stay with us.

We decided to hit the Traditional Art Market in Ubud for our first day. Not so much a traditional market as a souvenir market, the 3 of us got to practice our haggling, to very satisfying success. I admit that I usually am too shy to haggle, don’t feel like I should if the item is already fairly cheap, and always fear that I’m taking away money from the people who sell these things as a living. However, here, where everything is inflated to 3-5x the price it should be, it was time to refine my skills. The 3 things that seemed to work the best for me: Be smiley and have a fun tone when you name lower prices, go for the older stall ladies, and walking away with a smile and “no thanks”. I bought a bit more than anticipated…but I am being mindful of my budget, and am getting things I know I couldn’t find back home.

The next day was a long one. Tegenungan Waterfall and Pura Besakih, the most important temple on the island of Bali. The three of us found our “signature pose” while wandering the grounds with our guide. We also stopped by a coffee plantation and had a sampling tray of some of the most delicious teas and coffees I’ve ever tasted. If anyone reading this ever has the chance to try mangosteen tea and coconut coffee, accept ASAP.

image

image

When we fit in Jatiluwih Rice Terraces into the next day’s itinerary, we expcted maybe to spend an hour there. However, with walking paths covering the grounds encompassing no less than 600ha, we took 3 hours to wander and take ‘gram-worthy pictures. I loved these terraces because it was very easy to get away from the crowds. You simply walk a few minutes and you have a wonderful scenic area all to yourself.

image

The highlight of our Ubud adventures was definitely the sunrise treking adventure up the active volcano Mount Batur. 1am wake up, 2am pickup, 3am breakfast, and 4am start time. We reached the freezing cold and windy viewpoint at 5:30am, and even in leggings and a windbreaker I was shivering like crazy. I had to hold a freshly boiled egg in my hands for a slight bit of relief. Thankfully, after an absolutely gorgeous (but frickin cold) sunrise, walking in the direct sunlight helped to warm us quickly. A highlight of the trip, for sure.

image

We took a well deserved spa and ice cream filled itinerary the next day. With my skin still recovering from a sunburn I stupidly received in Sanur, and sore quads from the hike, I was most thankful for the full body massage, scrub, and yogurt rinse. Also because I won’t be able to be spoiled like that in Vancouver. Maybe for $200…

Also I am in love with mangosteens and don’t even want to think of what I’m going to do when I can’t find someone in the market or at the side of the road selling fresh mangosteens (sobs).

Ubud is a great base if you plan to make longer trips to the famous temples and attractions. The city itself is busy, but we still found local restaurants that weren’t full of tourists and lots of cute places for small treats.

As for me, it was an amazing energy boost to travel with 2 friends for a week. I love solo travel and alone time, but now that I’m nearly halfway through this trip seeing familiar faces was super refreshing. And I will admit that as much as I enjoy eating alone, it was fun to once again enjoy good conversation over meals!

Until next time!

3 Days in Java

(Aside: I am VERY delayed on these postings and am trying my best to remember the best details to relay to you wonderful readers!)

I can’t remember anymore what exactly I was searching; “Best temples in bali”? “Best temples in Indonesia”? “Day trips from Bali”? The specifics escape me at this point. But what I do remember is a picture of Prambanan and Borobudur temple. And falling in love. And realizing immediately that I had to see this temple. Finding out it was on Java, a separate island from Bali. Searching possible ways to do a one day tour from Bali. Thinking that I wanted more than 1 day for this now definite side trip. Leaving the planning until about a month before I was due to land in Bali, and booking the return flight during my stay in Zürich. I was going to Yogyakarta!

image

image

image

I booked an early morning tour of Borobudur, a 9th century Buddhist temple that lay abandoned following the Javanese conversion to Islam. This meant a 3am wake up time to drive to the lookout point that would provide a view of Borbobudur and the surrounding mountains as the sun rose. It was a slightly foggy morning so the temple outline wasn’t very clear, but everyone was respectful and quiet as the light of day hit us, and I could only imagine the craziness and non-stop shutter sounds if I had booked the sunrise tour at the temple itself.

At 6am we were driven to the temple grounds itself. After milking the fact that I can still abuse my student card for student entrance fee prices (no shame because it was $30 for Borbobudur/Prambanan joint ticket with student card and $50 without), it was time to explore. I had had a very dull and dissapointing first week in Indonesia, and as soon as I took a step into the temple complex I felt complete. The top level, with stupas and amazing mountain views, simply blew me away. Most of the sunrise crowd has dissapated, leaving only a handful of people and making it easy to find areas of solitude.

image

image

image

For the following day, I had an afternoon tour booked of Prambanan, a 9th century Hindu temple. At 5 hours long, I would be able to catch the sunset at the temple complex. The main grounds were busy, but a 1 minute walk to a trail surrounding Prambanan was basically abandoned. The friend I travelled with and I found a wonderful viewpoint that offered a stunning panorama of the entire temple complex and the setting sun. With the annual jazz festical providing a (surprisingly) soothing soundtrack, I allowed the pride and satisaction of my ability to plan a side trip to set in.

image

image

With limited time in Indonesia, I cannot recommend Borobudur and Prambanan enough. It’s even posible to fit both in one day, though I feel as if I may have been “templed out” had I done such a thing.

So for those thinking of detours on their main travels; I say go for it!

Until next time!

“So you’re backpacking?”

“Uhhhh…” I graciously mumble as the question comes my way. The guy asking stares at me expectedly.

“Well yes. Kind of…? I mean, Ihave a backpack but it’s also like a roll on which I mainly use it as especially in airports but this is sort of a gap year trip for me and I have a backpack.”

He blinks. “Sorry, what was that?”

“mother-“

Yeah so I do NOT have a way with words, contrary to what I like to think. But I’ve thought about this question quite a bit: am I backpacking?

This, of course, depends on your definition of backpacking. More accurately, on my definition. Am I using a backpack? Yes. Am I in hostels? Sometimes. On a budget? Of course I’m not made of money (one day. One day…).

So on the surface, wouldn’t it seem like I’m backpacking?

(You’re probably all wondering where I’m even going with this, but hold tight).

Were I to be asked this question again, I would say I’m travelling the world, but not as a backpacker.

A bit of detail on how I like travelling: I will gladly spend more money to stay in a hostel with amazing reviews, especially when it comes to location, safety, and the attitude of the staff. I am not the traveller that is trying to spend as little as possible and is more than happy to stay in $3 dorms. In fact, if I can work it in my budget, I’ll pay for a private room. I need to sleep; I’m not a night owl and if I don’t sleep I feel sick the next day. Over the years I’ve become a light sleeper (curses) and so not having to worry about dorm mates is a breath of relief sometimes. This isn’t to say I won’t stay in dorms; only that getting the cheapest deal is not my priority. Plus I am so picky about bathroom cleanliness so I could be down to my last penny and would find a way to scrape enough together for a place with a good bathroom.

When I was researching for this trip, I came across many blogs and sites that discussed how to travel on a budget. Most (not all, I admit) were able to travel on such a budget because of one important thing: they spent no money on outings. This is understandable, but not for what I want to experience on this trip. My day at the elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai, out in the jungles of Chiang Rai with a hostel tour, and everything I have planned for Indonesia woud not be possible if I was on a budget of $20 a day or less.

Furthermore, my bag is too big to only be a carry on. I have to check it for each flight I take. Since I’m travelling across a range of climates (cool Scandinavia to humid Thailand and warm north Asia) I have a mix of clothes which can be layered or worn on their own. Important, especially I plan (and have already done) on doing some day hikes while travelling.

So are there actually any aspects where I am closely following a budget and not spending/spending minimal? Of course!

When and where I can, I walk. I plan my days so I can hit multiple attractions within walking distance within one another. This isn’t always possible, but it depends on the city. I eat cheaply. In Europe this meant cooking my own food as much as possible. In Asia this means convenience stores and street food. Just because I spend more to be comfortable and put my mind at ease in no way means I’m throwing cash out like a madwoman.

It’s a balance. I get stressed easily if getting from point A to B seems  bit more complicated than expected. So if it means I pay a little more for a taxi, driver, or a more expensive form of transportation which takes away the guessing on my end, I’ll go for it (this applies more to Asia than Europe). My security and mental state are extremely important, and if I have to pay a little more to be less stressed, I will.

I’m not landing somewhere with my first few nights planned and winging it from there. Even the though of doing that makes me stressed. I’m planning the big things (flights, hostels, 3 weeks-1 month in advance. As far as wha I do each day, that I leave up to how I feel when I’m actually in the city. I know that for a lot of backpackers this takes away spontenaity and can make one feel boxed in. But not me. I like landing in the next place and not having to worry about where I’m staying and how I’m getting to my next destination. All that’s left for me to do is fill in my days with activities. Or not. I’ve spent a good amount of afternoons just lazing around at cafes people watching.

This isn’t everyone’s way of travelling, and that’s OK. Travel how and where you want to your own comfort level. This happens to be mine, and I hope someone reading it (who, like me, may be thinking that all these backpacking bloggers are out there to compete with who can spend the least amount of money) who sees that it’s OK to not backpack. Or whatever their definition of bacpacking is.

So am I backpacking? Well I’m on a half gap year and do have a backpack but it’s also a roll on but I also have a daypack and I’m staying in hostels but not all the time and sometimes in private rooms and I’m on a budget but nothing skin and bones where I only eat once a day (my nightmare).

You decide.

Until next time!

Heading North

After  6 days experiencing the hectic city of Bangkok, it was time to head north. First up, 4 days in Chiang Mai, followed by 5 in Chiang Rai.

After leaving buying overnight train tickets until the week before my intended trip to Chiang Mai, it would turn out that all trains were full. So I paid for a plane ticket, and after a 1 hour taxi ride,  1 hour flight delay, and a 1 hour flight, I had arrived.

I used Chiang Mai to recover from all the running around in Bangkok. I could walk to the main city sites from my hostel, and spent my first day simply exploring within the old city walls.

image

Some gorgeous stairs in Wat Chedi Luang

image

This stupa dates back to 1441

image

Street art in Chiang Mai

image

image

image

My second day was a half day tour of an elephant sanctuary, Elephant Dream Valley (see previous post for further details), followed by strolling the Saturday walking street

image

Walking street style

I unfortuantely didn’t feel too hot (well…I did feel hot because humidity…ha) and made it a bit worse by walking 2+ hours in the sun to see the final two temples I was curious about. The silver temple of Wat Sri Suphan was by far the highlight of my time in Chiang Mai.

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

Wat Suan Dok

image

On my last full day, I wanted to get up to Wat Doi Suthep. After taking two songtheaws up a winding mountain road, I needed a few minutes for my body to settle. I was admittedly a little dissapointed with Doi Suthep. I wasn’t blown away, and even now I feel Wat Sri Suphan is a more unique temple. I spent about half an hour walking the temple grounds, if only to make the journey up the mountain worth it.

image

The grounds of Wat Doi Suthep are decorated, but fake flowers seemed to take away charm rather than add to it

image

image

image

Trash filled with old prayers

image

image

image

I was told by a friend that Chiang Mai had become very commercialized. I completely see this. As wonderful as some of the temples in the old city were, the streets are lined with hostels, western-style cafes, and tour agencies.

Chiang Rai, though…I wish I had longer here. I had planned for a relaxing first day, but ended up getting convinced to join a full day tour that included the Blue Temple, a waterfall, the White Temple, and a tea plantation. I am so glad I joined as seeing these sites outside of the city with a local guide was phenomenal.

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

Biking the tea plantations of Singha Park

After using my second day to relax and meeting a new friend in the hostel, we scootered out to the Black Museum the following day and explored a local rice field and café. I got a bit more burnt than I care to admit…

image

image

The following day we both signed up for a Thai cooking class, and I actually was so full I felt sick. At the market, as we picked our ingredients, we sampled local tea, Thai donuts, longan, durian, and deep fried sweet potato and banana. When the time came to cook we prepared green papaya salad, hot and sour soup with prawns, and red curry with chicken. So, so good but so, so filling…

image

image

Buddha statue behind the market

image

Ingredients all ready to go

image

image

image

image

If you find yourself tiring of Bangkok, I highly recommend heading north; and if I had to choose, Chiang Rai over Chiang Mai (also in Chiang Rai stay at “Sook Cafe and Hostel” it is the perfect location, has amazing staff, and I cannot recommend it enough).

I’m very thankful for the opportunity to have travelled to Thailand. It was never a country that had been super high on my “to-do” list, but these last three weeks have been filled with the most amazing sites (and foods).

Tomorrow I make the long journey back to Bangkok (first with a 3 hour bus to Chiang Mai, then a 5 hour wait, then the overnight train to Bangkok). I get 2 days rest, and then I’m on my way to Indonesia!

Until next time!

Next up, Bali!