Rain, rain, go away!

Well, one technical hitch…. silly us managed to loose our blog post somehow and typically didn’t have a backup! doh… but no worries we still have some fab pics…

Want to say a BIG BIG thank you to Dan for letting us stay in his awesome Bondi flat despite him being in London himself!!! and Rishi’s Fai and whole Sydney family who fed us well with a special mention for Rajiv taking us out for a funky meal and drinks in rainy Sydney…. after watching the royal wedding ofcourse!!! 🙂

Thank you Sydney….

Melbourne

Sadly we had to leave the sunny and hot East Coast to head over to Melbourne… Yes that’s right, we didn’t go to Byron Bay (and for those who don’t know what Byron bay is – its a beach location in New South Wales which most people love for the chilled vibe and partying) but the Blues festival goers had bagged all the accommodation months in advance! Booo..

Anyways, back to Melbourne, our first day was a Sunday on Easter weekend which meant loads of shops were shut. Thank God! … But, we were right by Queen Victoria market which is kind of famous in that neck of the woods so we kicked off the day with Rishi’s favourite activity, visiting markets. He did keep me quiet though as we wandered each part of the market, aisle by aisle by stuffing us with some $1 donuts that were piping hot. Yuuummy! Can’t really complain if you’re munching on those.

Having been suitably sugared up, we very naughtily rode the trams into the city center without paying!!! Sounds really bad BUT to our defence, the stupid machines only take coins, so it wasn’t really our fault!

Starting to enjoy getting stuff for free, we took advantage of the free information service in Melbourne (which is reaaally good), to work out how best to capture the sights of this city everyone raves on about! The answer is walk around it, venture to the left, or the right, go down the river or up.. Just explore. And we did. It really is a lovely city with fabulous buildings, funky alley ways and an awesome skyline view at night. We can see why people like the vibe there.

We did really want to check out the bars in Melbourne but that evening we had booked to see Will Anderson as it was the Melbourne comedy festival.. He is really funny, gruesome at times but hey isn’t that what you want from a comedian? .. Boosted by this, we had a slap up meal at… Wagamamas!! Whooo and booked another show with a dude called Reginald who is supposed to be pretty ‘blue’. Totally excited for this hard hitting comedy but were sadly let down. He was sooo crap, never really made a full on joke, seemed like he was just making it up (poorly) as he went along yet the aussie element of the audience were in hysterics! Go figure?!

We hired a car the next day to see this famous Great Ocean Road.. Initially we were actually kind of disappointed, it sooo did not compare to Route 1 on West coast of US. Then we saw the big sights, the 12 Apostles (major tourist numbers), Loch and Gorge, London Bridge and one of our favourites the Bay of Martyrs.

It’s such a spectacular scene to see the masses of rock which were once all part of the mainland be out there in the sea in different shapes and sizes all because of the power of the water. It was nice driving round in a car too, like having our own space and freedom again.. Hmm, although I guess travelling round for 4 months is pretty free too?! Lol

The last day we went to St Kilda, the local beach to see what the fuss was all about. We found a spot at the end of their pier looking out onto the water and boats while basking in the sunshine and reading our books. But the day was not to be so. None of that reading was to happen because it was like going to a mini wildlife show. After watching people feed the ducks, while seagulls tried to steal their food! I know, how mean?! We noticed a couple of penguins hiding away in the rocks behind where we sat! Sooo close and yet so hidden. I was really excited and we took a gazillion photos of different parts of the penguins that could be seen when they peaked out of the rocks.

It totally made my day and I finally got myself to sit back down next to Rish and read… But nooo, it was not to be so. Dolphins swam up super close to the shore and were doing mini in out and jumps in the water. One of the old men who obviously had been sitting out in the sun too long swam in to ‘play’ with the dolphins.. I think he scared them away instead.. But who cares? We saw dolphins, right up close!! Whoo again…

Rish, the big animal lover was overjoyed with our adventure but I became slightly obsessed and wandered back and forth looking for mooore!!! Ooh, actually we saw lots of starfish too but that didn’t quench the thirst to see big hard to find animals!

Unfortunately we were flying to Sydney that evening so had to leave St Kilda’s but did manage to have a lovely lunch in the town centre. It’s such a buzzing place. It has loads of alfresco restaurants and tom, jane and even their cat were out (..translation: There were loadsa people)! Could totally imagine going there on weekends to chill and hang out…

Let’s hope Sydney can top this!

St Kilda’s rocked!

Snacks and Tsunami

It’s been a while since the last post… I could blame it on the 5th largest earthquake in the world and the consequent tsunami that swept Japan just a few hundred km north of where we were based but I would be lying…Yes, the craziness that ensued from those devastatingly spectacular events did lead to us changing our plans slightly but the truth is we were too busy to write the post because we were loving every bit of this trip.

We arrived in Kyoto in the evening to our fabulous hostel based just off the main shopping area in the city centre. We had booked a twin room as it was cheaper (aren’t we being good backpackers?) thinking it would be two beds next to each other… It wasn’t.. We had a closet for a room with bunk beds.. Still we were happy. The hostel has a big but cosy kitchen/ lounge area which we literally had to drag ourselves from to go sightseeing every morning and the shared bathrooms and heated toilet seats were super clean too! That evening, we had our first taste of Japanese food at a little alley way vegetarian restaurant which I’m sure was breaking several health and safety rules all at once, but it was totally worth it!

Our first full day in Kyoto we visited Nijo castle and the temples in North-east Kyoto including the famous Golden temple (Kinkakuji temple)… All the sights were beautiful with each temple having its own personality and reason for deserving a visit. Our favourite temple on this day had to be Ryoanji with its zen garden..

You actually felt this amazing serenity as you walked into the garden and sat and stared at the 15 purposely placed rocks. The gardens there were also really lovely and we can only imagine how gorgeous the place would look with the cherry blossoms in full bloom!

The highlight for Day 1 however without a doubt was the bamboo forest in the cute little town Arashiyama.. Check out the pic!

Ok, Rishi is looking at me as I write this and saying, “don’t you mean it was the cake roll or the best mango ice-cream” (with real mango bits in it!!)? And he is probably right, my snacking throughout Kyoto MAY have taken more importance than the sights!! But how can you help it when there is a new random dessert concotion at the entrance to every new temple?! It’s rude not to try the local treats!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anywho, thinking we’d seen some very cool temples, day 2 we set out to follow the Lonely Planet Southern Higashiyama walking tour… The first temple, perched on top of a hill was cool (Kiyomizu). There was a ‘game’ there where you walk with your eyes closed from one stone to another and if you make it to the second stone and touch it, it means you will have find love with ease… Did we reach the other side? Did I touch the stone? Did Rishi touch the stone?… I’ll leave you guessing! 😉

The walking tour is good mainly because of the village streets you walk past and the opportunity to Geisha spot (I’m pretty sure our Geisha’s were dressed up tourists, but we got some pictures which is all that really matters, right?!)

Overall though, we wouldn’t say the walk is a MUST do… It was made more appealing though because we chanced upon a ‘snackerie’ (my name for it) which had hot buns with ice-cream inside them. This served well as my snack for the day.. Well until our next snack of pizza crepes (see snacking pics above)!! Yuummy…

As it was an early end to the day, we went back to our hostel thinking we would do our laundry but instead spent the afternoon chatting to other travellers and anihilating a full pack of biscuits with tea in the space of minutes!! CooookiiiIiieeee muuuuunsstttaaa… Nnnnom nnnnooom nnnoooom!!! I think it’s the times when you sit around doing hardly anything except meeting and talking to random people from across the world that actually makes journies like ours that extra bit special .. And fun! 🙂

Templed out by now? Don’t be silly, Day 3 was Philosopher’s Walk.. Again, what else can I say except it really is so beautiful. You walk along a cherry blossom lined canal and along the way there are tea houses and some temples.

The first temple (Ginkakuji) housed Rishi’s favourite gardens. We also enjoyed exploring Nanzenji where we wandered into a factory behind the temple and also found a mini temple on top of the mountain…

Little did we know but at this time, an earthquake of magnitude 9.0 on the Richter scale had shocked the peace in north-eastern Japan and triggered a tsunami roaring on to its shores… It was only after we reached Fushimi shrine, a very different type of temple most famous for the hundreds of red tori-gates lining a path up into the mountains, did we realise what had happened as we bumped into a lady from our hostel who told us the news…

This may sound odd, but from around 3 o clock through to our time at this creepy temple, which has growling dog statutes and crows in its gardens, we felt this peculiar, restless feeling… Whether that has any meaning I don’t know but it is certainly coincidental.. I’ll keep that open..

Thank you to all those who messaged us to check we were ok! …To be honest, we thought it was just another earthquake. There had been a smaller one (7.7 on the scale) in Tokyo a week earlier but you wouldn’t have known as everyone carried on life as if nothing had happened. We assumed this would be the same… However, watching the devastation and destruction on the news (as I’m sure everyone saw around the World) you could only be mesmerised by the sheer power of the seas and be thankful that you were not at its mercy in this situation. Despite being in Japan you felt helpless, there was nothing we could do to aid those suffering from the onslaught of the seas, so we sat with the others and just watched!

[Will try to add video of tsunami coverage]

We were still in Kyoto the next day and it did take us some time to psyche ourselves up for exploring given what we were hearing about the number of missing in the north and the constant aftershocks taunting Tokyo. However, we eventually got ourselves out and visited Sanjyu sangendo, which Rishi had been ooon about the whole time.. It is a totally different temple. It’s in the city centre so the gardens are basic to say the least but inside the temple there are hundreds of gold statues, many of them with sanskrit names as they are apparently taken from Indian culture!! The Bhudda here is most likely the nicest one we have seen (as yet)…

Spurred on by the beauty of this temple we decided to leg it to Nara (a nearby city), armed with our lonely planet and a sumptuous chocolate doughnut. (Mouth watering).. This is a popular day trip destination because it has the largest Bhuddha statue in Japan. It really is huge.. And also most of the historical grounds are set in a deer park.. The deer wander freely with you… So Rishi fed them biscuits, one by one…awww… My attempt was slightly less elegant than Rish’s, in that I screamed, ran away and threw the biscuits to the floor.. Still counts as feeding, they ate them!! (see videos!!)

Right, anywho, while we were in Nara there was a massive festival happening to bring good luck to the new year ahead. (Spring marking the start of the year).. So we stood for 3 hours, out in the cold so that we could watch a monk light a humongous broom stick (that’s what it looked like to me!) And run with this broom across the top balcony of the temple spraying the firey bits onto us watchers… Hmm… Ok quick positive perception of the 3 hour agony.. Uh, we will take from this the appreciation of the Japanese culture?! … Lol 🙂

Unfortunately, our time in Kyoto was up and the next day we were heading down to Mount Koyasan…

Reading back on the above post, there is still so much to add, like the rice balls we ate from the street stalls and the disney world style monorail through the city plus the indian thali restaurant not to mention the toast and tea breakfasts we made by ourselves in our hostel!! I knoooo!! Hmm, does seem to be very food related… But my point is that I don’t think I can fully summarise the little things that we did or saw that made this part of the trip so much fun… The vibe is so phenomenal here and throughout Japan that you can’t but have a great time…

Tokyo calling

“This is the last call for Mr Rishi Raja and Mrs Anjali Raja on Flight AX321 to Tokyo.. ”

Aaah, that’s us… Shit, ruuuun…

… Sorry we’re late, sorry, sorry.. Phew… Cannot believe that we nearly missed our flight to Tokyo because I was too busy looking for books to read! Hehe, jokes, at least we made it, but dammit didn’t even buy a book!

… We arrived in Tokyo at 10.30pm and I realised that if we don’t get to our hostel by 12, they lock the doors and count us as no shows.. Getting through customs and baggage claim took us till 11.25pm and the subway to the city centre takes an hour… This wasn’t looking good… Despite the help from the airport information desk, no-one was answering the hostel phones.. All we could do was turn up there and hope for the best… O wait the last train to our station has left,.. ‘Grr, guess we’ll have to take a cab’… as we made this suggestion to the staff at the train station, he looked at us in panic and told us to get on another train, get as close as possible to our hostel and then take a cab…. I understood why when we got our cab at 1am from Ueno station, 2kms from our hostel for which we paid £12!… You DO NOT take cabs in Japan… Literally as we arrived the hostel night staff was leaving… What an eventful welcome to Japan… Sign of things to come? … Naaah! Don’t be silly!

Someone had told us that arriving in Japan feels like you’ve landed on a different planet, and in some ways we certainly felt that… We’ve seen posters with Japanese writing and seen movies showing parts of Japan but being here and seeing every sign in the Japanese language really did make you feel like you’re somewhere very different.. The way the buildings are used is pretty nuts too.. You may pass what looks like an office block, but that 7 floor building may have restaurants on all seven floors so you have to check signs all the way up to find what you fancy! I had to restrain myself from taking photos of every little alley way we passed despite the signs and shop fronts making each turning look like a new work of art.

We spent our first 3 days in and around Tokyo and what a cool city it is too! Rishi and I both fell in love with it.. Lost in translation indeed!… Everything from the red light district in Shinjuku which has an equal number of boys for ‘company’ as women (hmm!) to Asakusa; the old school suburbia on the outskirts of the city.

We were totally sucked in by the fun vibe of the city and the evident love of fashion. It did mean we interspersed our sightseeing with quite a bit of shopping… Alright, alright, we interspersed our shopping with some sightseeing?! … Don’t judge, you’d do the same!!

I personally think we were shopping to compensate for the difficulty getting veggie food in Tokyo! We did manage to find an indian restaurant with a potato and bamboo shoot curry… No that was not a typo.. Was surprisingly good! And the rest of the time we ate pizza and pasta… Such a traumatic experience for me, all those who know me well, know I am very averse to such unhealthy foods! 😉

We did see some culture too! We watched the Hare Krishnas… Lol, yes I know in Tokyo!! They were on our way to xxx temple, a beautiful zen temple in the city.. Also we went on a worthwhile side trip to Kamakura, where you can see a different, more relaxed and beautiful part of Japan with many temples and the second largest Bhudda statue in Japan!

Tokyo is less about the sights though and much more about immersing yourself in the culture and lifestyle… You cannot beat a walk down Harajuku on a Sunday to catch the punks, knee high socks clad teenagers and tourists socialising, shopping and gobbling some delicious crepes! Or sitting in one of the little fast food style restaurants, ordering a ‘lunch set’… Or, you could just ride the Yamanote line (aka circle line) and just people watch. (Fyi, trains are on time here!)

Whatever you do, I dare you to try not to love this place and the amazingly friendly people.

There are so many places you go to and you know that if it wasn’t baking hot with the sun shining down, you probably wouldn’t enjoy it as much… But here in Tokyo, it has been COLD, I mean leggings under trousers cold, and yet it has been soo much fun… (Ok we were lucky that the sun has been out, but trust me it rocks)…

Definitely Japan is already leading the way as our most favourite place so far!!

Anyhow, next stop the mountain town of Takayama… We are taking a Shinkansen bullet train… Looks very cool!!

Upgrade

Just over a month on bus, cycle and foot around the temples, mountains and more importantly the markets of SE Asia has brought us to our “treat” destination… Phuket… Uh, not quite … But Phuket is a mini stopover on the way to our paradise.. the part we’d been waiting for, THE BEACH (u get it right?! The movie)!!… Well that’s how we decided to end this chapter of our trip.. Chillaxing in Ko Phi Phi!!

We arrived around 1am to our overpriced guesthouse in Patong, the heart and soul of Phuket, or at least that’s what it is for the “thrill-seekers”… Although, we were going to be taking the early morning ferry to Ko Phi Phi, Rishi and I couldn’t resist a wander round the infamous Bangla Road.. Luckily it was only a 2 minute walk away. (Hmm, what does that say about our guesthouse?)

The road and area was buzzing at 2am with go-go girls dancing on the poles in the open bars, Brits and other foreigners searching for… Um, a happy ending?!… And touts offering ping pong shows at very reasonable prices!! The atmosphere is pretty electric in this beach/ red light district area..

Despite the ping pong shows being recommended to us before we left (Thanks Tom!) we had to restrain ourselves from the appealling prospect of watching a granny prostitute fling ping pong balls out of her private parts… Talk about PPP!! 😉

Anywho, the ferry the next afternoon (we didn’t make the morning one) is an experience of its own.. Backpackers and some other unsuspecting tourists are herded on.. No exaggeration.. With the promised land of Ko Phi Phi as a reward…

We were staying at Ko Phi Phi Village resort so after the fab ferry ride we had to take a longboat from Tonsai Bay, away from the crowds and backpacker’s accomodation… (So long suckers!!)

I had some stupidly high expectations of the resort so was initially sad on seeing other people on my beach… What do you mean I don’t get my own private beach?! How ridiculous!!

Nevertheless we tried the ‘it’s our aniversary’ play on our arrival to which the staff ever so kindly replied “Happy Anniversary” and then sent us packing to our standard bungalow all the way ay the back of the resort… Next to the staff quarters!! Greeeat.

But they should have known, “no-one puts Princess Sparkle” in the corner”.

That evening, we were fortunate to discover a cockroach in our room, followed by a few ants in our bed… Ah-ha an opportunity… We complained like the typical foreigners who have never stayed in ‘the wilderness’.. That coupled with the extremely excellent service at the resort meant we were upgraded to a deluxe bungalow and got complementary tickets for the Island Explorer tour!! … That’s more like it!

The next couple of days for us wew just fabulous. Cocktails, good food, speed boats, snorkelling and the best of all, visiting Maya Bay where ‘the Beach’ was filmed. .. It really is absolutely stunning… The clear blue sparkling water.. The softest powdery sand.. Luscious greenery and spectacular caves behind it… Utter paradise.. If only we could move there!!

One of the many photos in Ko Phi Phi…..to the extent that our camera may have stopped working from getting sand in it… We took a lot!! Doh!

Our last full day in Ko Phi Phi, having spent as much in 3 days as we’d done in the whole of Laos, we decided to sneak out to the secret village resort for some authentic Thai cuisine. It’s where all the really cool people hang out ofcourse! In the candlelit restaurant, where the two chefs cook everything in front of you, we had the best pad thai and a pretty good papaya salad. (Not as good as mine Rish said, but hey the chefs were trying, can’t expect them to match my superior culinary skills!)

Stuffed from another excessive meal, we got back to our bungalow just in time, before the heavens erupted and a full blown tropical thunderstorm was upon us. It was nuts! I sat there. Staring and filming the storm, mesmerized by the colour of the sky, while on the other side of the room, the rain was leaking through our lighting fixture!

It was hard to drag to ourselves away from the beach the next day to pack or check out… But thanks to our leaky roof we got an upgrade from our human farm ferry to the hotel’s catamaran.. (Didn’t even have to complain) which meant an extra 45 minutes on the beach.. Keerrr Chiing!! (Hey, we are backpacking, every penny and minute on paradise counts).

We did have to return to Phuket and the GFE* on Bangla Road… Might as well enjoy the delights of Thailand before we head off tomorrow morning on the next chapter of this trip… Japan!

Note to Sai: did see a Bikram Yoga in Phuket, but to be fair, there’s not much one class can do for me with the state I’m in now.. 😮 EEK!

*GFE – girlfriend experience where you pay for a lady friend to act as if she is your girlfriend while you wine and dine her and perhaps take her to a holiday destination. Warning: this may lead to a WE (wife experience) which in turn can easily flow into DE (divorce experience). Enjoy! 🙂