Harajuku!

Since being up so late, I slept in this morning which was nice. I walked around my neighborhood until I found a little cafe and I sat and wrote for a bit. In the afternoon I decided I wanted to check out Harajuku so I headed there via train. I got off at Shibuya and walked from there to Harajuku which was less than a mile. I’m glad I did because it was the coolest little neighborhood. I ended up popping into an “anime” café, where food and drinks were anime themed. It was one of the most relaxing cafes I’ve been to. Probably because it was super small and cozy and they were playing anime cartoons (only set to music) on a television. There were two boys doing their homework next to me and I could only think that I’d choose this over the library as well.

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Amezakui, Robots and Karaoke.

As a kid I was always obsessed with the art of glass blowing. I wanted to be a glass blower as a profession, but clearly that didn’t take off. When I saw a picture of Amezakui, which is like glass blowing for sugar candy, I knew I had to try it. I found the place that sells them, and then found their head office. Luckily, the office does offer workshops, albeit all in Japanese. They have an instruction sheet in English, so that was good enough for me, I signed up.

I walked there on a quiet, sleepy Sunday morning in the neighborhood. Streets were empty besides a few joggers, elders playing croquet and occasionally some folks off to work on a bicycle. I arrived far too early so I decided to look for a place to eat and warm up. I definitely could have used a warmer coat. There weren’t many places open but eventually I came across one. It was the most charming cafe! They were playing quiet music, had warm blankets and gave me an English menu that included a map and history of the town. After finishing my breakfast, the barista gave me a complimentary piece of tiramisu. Then, upon leaving, they gave me a cookie that said thank you on it! It was such a sweet hospitable experience. I also stopped at another Shrine on my way there. I love how these Shrines are placed in very populated areas of the city (or perhaps vice versa, the cities were built around them).

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WanderLOST in Japan ;)

I admit, my first two days in Japan included me getting lost a lot. Regardless, I was enjoying the experience because I usually stumbled across something interesting. My first impression of Japan is that the people are very formal and polite and that the city is very clean and well organized. I opted for a taxi because it was late and I didn’t have a working cellphone to use for navigation. It cost me though, that, or I just wasn’t used to paying so much after being in Thailand for 2 weeks.

I arrived at my hostel (in Asakusa) and the first thing I needed to do was get a SIM card and warmer clothes. I grabbed my warmest outfit and headed to a Family Mart where the reception said I could buy a SIM. I ended up finding it after a few wrong turns and bought one. I struggled to get it to work but I think I was just tired. I finally realized I needed WiFi to set it up… so I went back to my hostel and set it up. Success! Then, I went to a shopping mall I found nearby and bought a bright yellow sweatshirt. Which later turned out to be a poor choice because it came quite obvious I was wearing the same thing everyday.

I decided I should get a bite to eat too so I wandered around until I found a place that looked cute. It was super small, like San Fran small, and I was seated upstairs next to a table of 12 businessmen enjoying themselves and occasionally standing up to give a speech. My table had a stove on it (Hibachi) so they cooked my meal in front of me as I enjoyed a Sake and tried to figure out how to eat it off the stove with this little tool they gave me. I noticed that the neighborhood was starting to close down which sort of surprised me being that it was only 9:30pm on a Friday, but I was tired anyhow so went back.

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The next day I wanted to see the world’s largest crosswalk in Shibuya so I found a subway station and hopped on one. I was pleased at how easy it was to get there, a straight shot and took about 25 minutes only. In which those 25 minutes I enjoyed the most delicious strawberry flavored bread in the shape of a heart. I’m going back there tomorrow just to buy the one shaped like a sumo wrestler. The subways were super quiet too, but I guess people didn’t really talk on NYC subways either.

After watching people cross, I got a Sakura Pink Milk Latte at Starbucks did some shopping. The first store I went in I could have spent hours in. It was a mix of little snacks, makeup, paper good and they were all so stinking cute!!! I ended up getting the most random things like CosPlay contacts, Thank you cards written on candy, Disney Character lipstick, Peter Rabbit bath salts, and Pokemon surprise inside candy.

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Next, went into this clothing store that was full of teenage Japanese girls, exactly who I want to dress like. I needed warmer clothes anyways so I ended up treating myself to two pairs of pants, 2 new shirts, and new pair of kicks that will cover my ankles (so I don’t have to wear socks with my Toms anymore, it really wasn’t a good look despite my efforts). I worked up an appetite after all of the shopping, so found a spot that served great ramen and plum wine.

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I wanted to checkout Shinjuku and decided to walk there since it’s only 2 miles away. To my delight, the walk passed through a park and then a forest. I entered the Shinto shrine gate and then to the shrine shrine, Meiji Jingu. It was rebuilt after being destroyed in WW2 so it was in good condition. I ended up doing this thing where I could get my fortune. Fortunes are very popular here, but they are all written in Japanese. I’ve learned that Google Translate has a photo option take a picture of words and it translates it for you), so I was able to figure out what mine said!

 

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Shrine Gate
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Hand washing before entering the Shrine
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Sake Barrels

Once in Shinjuku I walked around a bit, but then decided to take the train back to Asakusa. It was not as straight forward as my train there but after stopping to ask for help twice from the information stands I was able to figure it out. Back at the hostel I saw a poster for a place that was nearby and had a DJ playing. The music didn’t start until 8pm but I was hungry so I went early thinking I would just hang out. The place was super cool. The bar tender was a Canadian with dreadlocks and she handed me the menus which were written on old cardboard boxes. I sat down on the couch next to a friendly dog and enjoyed an avocado taco and warm sake.

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After eating I suddenly felt very tired so rather than stay I decided to head to a public onsen bath (comes from hot springs) and then home. The bath was only 1 block from my hostel, and down an alley. I saw pictures of what the store front looked like so I was able to find it. I love the history of the public baths. People went to them not for a spa like experience, but literally to bathe because very few houses had baths in them back then.  I walk in, put some coins into a slot for a ticket and some soap and then head in. I hand a guy at a desk my tickets and he points me to the women’s bath.

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You put your things in a locker, I’m talking everything. Then you head buck naked with your soap in hand into the shower area. After a good washing under a shower that is waist high (I opted not to sit on the stool they provided and just squat which was awkward), I went into the first bath. The water was as hot as a hot tub would be, maybe 102 degrees fahrenheit? I used the jets to massage my back, then went into the electrical bath. If you’ve ever done STEM treatment for an injury that is exactly what it feels like. Your muscles tighten and contract and while some find it painful, I thought it was great. While in there, an older woman started asking me where I was from and then proceeded to read my palm and told me I would make lots of money. Great fortune, but the nakedness of it all made me want to keep moving. I went to one that was semi-outdoors and it was an ice bath! It reminded me of jumping in the lake and after a Sauna. I jumped into the hot one next to it to warm back up. I think I probably spent a total of 20 minutes in all of the baths. I felt refreshed and slept easily.

Cats, when I needed them most.

The plan this morning was to scope out the gym, drop off laundry and then visit the Cat Cafe. After a quick workout, I walked about 1.5 miles to a laundrymat I found on Google maps. It didn’t show hours online, but I assumed at 9:30am it would be open. I was wrong, it opened at 10am, so I hung out for a bit. Once open, I was told that the earliest it could be done was tomorrow morning. Unfortunately, that would be cutting it too close with my flight tomorrow so I decided I would just walk to the cat cafe and hope to see another laundry mat on the way. In Chiang Mai they were on every corner. Well, this isn’t Chiang Mai. My load was getting too heavy since I had my laptop, camera and a full second backpack of laundry and I was almost to the cafe. The cafe was supposed to be right here, or was it here? I walked in circles for about 20 minutes trying to find my way. I stopped into places where I thought they could direct me but I got no where. Just as I was about to give up I saw the sign for it, but on the second floor of this building. My search then became how to get up to the second floor. I could not find a staircase anywhere. I was starting to think this was a secret place for locals only, or, that it recently closed for good. I was starting to get really hot and my multiple backpacks weren’t helping. It seemed I wouldn’t be going to this cat cafe, so went to choice two, which was further. I took a cab over there, but got there at 11am and it didn’t open until noon. Here we go again. 🙂

Continue reading Cats, when I needed them most.

Bangkok, an unlikely unicorn.

I’m serious when I say I changed my hostel to a homestay based on it’s proximity to the Unicorn Cafe. It’s this cafe that is covered in unicorns from head to toe and I must go there. So naturally, after I landed, I dropped my bag off and immediately walked over to the cafe. I think if I went there everyday I’d be a very happy person…. and also maybe get diabetes.  I ordered rainbow waffles, a unicorn cupcake and a hot chocolate. Of course, it wasn’t all for me…I was sharing with my unicorn friends 😉

Continue reading Bangkok, an unlikely unicorn.

If you can’t beat em, join em.

One day on Phi Phi Islands, what to do? I considered diving, but my ferry didn’t land until 11am and honestly I didn’t’ know if I felt like rushing and diving. I also knew where I was staying was a “party hostel” and I figured the best way to sleep at a party hostel was to avoid sleeping at a party hostel. So, I signed up for their booze cruise. The island government recently changed their booze cruise rules so it limited where you can drink. I figured this worked in my favor, as it would limit how crazy it would get. They also had a rule that if you lost your cup you can’t drink any more (to save on plastic) which I think is a fabulous rule.

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Continue reading If you can’t beat em, join em.

To where everyone told me not to go: Phuket.

Today I ran the perimeter of the Chiang Mai old city (I always try to run on travel days) and then hopped on a plane to Phuket, the place that almost everyone told me to cut from my itinerary. Instead of cutting, I changed my day trip to Phi Phi to an overnight trip, that turned out to be a very good decision which you can read about in my next post.

Landing in Phuket I opted to take a group shuttle into Patong beach where I was staying. It was only 150 Baht ($3) for an hour long drive. Well, how could I forget, you get what you pay for. After waiting for 30 minutes to make sure the van was packed full, we finally took off. We made a stop after 15 minutes at travel agency to “verify” our hotels. AKA to try and sell us tours which thank goodness no one fell for and we were on our way after 20 minutes. From there it was a 2 hour drive since it included dropping others off. The good news is that I was riding shot gun, had access to a charger and the driver was playing early 2000’s R&B hits.

It’s true what I was told, Patong is like Jersey Shore for Russians. Lots of young men in tank tops and older men in Speedos drinking on the beach. At night it turns into what I can best explain as the Las Vegas strip. You want bottle service amongst a techno DJ? You got it! You want to see a strip show for the cheap price of $30 a beer? Done! There were promoters on every corner offering you a deal to get into their club. To be honest, I probably would have had fun if I was with a group of my girlfriends and didn’t have a 7am wake up call.

Instead, I went and found some food, walked around and then packed a bag for my trip to Phi Phi tomorrow. I decided to not mess around with my large backpack for just one night. My carry on bag wasn’t very small, but I tried to cram in everything I thought I’d need. Mainly, a swimsuit, sunscreen and pajamas. Then, I climbed into bed (this hostel has the privacy curtain so it was like my own dark movie theater) and fell asleep watching Outlanders.

Ying and Yang.. in more ways than one.

Today I visited the Ying and Yang of temples (black and white), pretty ironic since I thought the experience was both good and bad. The trip also included a hot spring, blue temple and a Karen Tribe village visit. The temples were all pretty new, all built within the last 20 years. They certainly were beautiful, but the short stops, over commercialization and the large amounts of tourists negatively impacted my experience. You may find the following recap to reflect that, so I apologize. I did find some good things on the tour, but if I had the choice, I wouldn’t have visited these again, so just want to be honest!

Hot Spring

We pulled up and I was thinking, this can’t be it. It was just like any other market area in Chiang Mai but with a fountain in the middle of it. The fountain was the hot spring. People would pay to put their feet in. It could have very well been water coming out of the city pipes, it didn’t look natural at all. The coolest thing about this place is that they would sell eggs in baskets that you could cook in the hot water. The stop was only 15 minutes, after an 1.5 hour long drive that was pretty short, but there wasn’t really much else to do here unless you wanted to buy souvenirs.

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Elephant Kisses, not Elephant Rides.

I eagerly woke this morning knowing what was in store for the day, hanging out with elephants! First, was an hour and a half van ride to the North. In the van we watched a video on the history of the Elephant Nature Park which included some heart wrenching videos of elephant mistreatment. They torture these creatures to get them to do things for us, just for our entertainment (riding, circuses, street begging, etc.). I’m glad people are talking about it more and refusing to partake in riding elephants, without demand the bad businesses will hopefully die out.

Continue reading Elephant Kisses, not Elephant Rides.

Muy Thai and Pad Thai.

The plan for today was to go to a Muy Thai gym and take a class. The class wasn’t until 2pm so first I went on a hunt for Pad Thai. So far, I’ve had Pad Thai everyday, it’s my favorite at home so while here I’m on a mission to find the best ever. To date, there is one clear winner. A storefront on the main square, conveniently close to me.

Today I chose a restaurant near the gym. There were a lot of locals eating there so I figured it was good. I tried to take note of how to order. It seemed they wrote down what they wanted on a piece of paper and then sat down and waited for it. I must have stood out, because a lady came over before I had a chance and handed me a menu while pointing me to a table.

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After lunch I headed up to the gym which was on the second floor and was an open air room. The gym was super nice and I was a bit intimidated by all the people dressed more reasonably than I was, in boxing shorts. They told me to start running so I and one guy from France (who was living in the city to master the sport) began running laps. I had told them I’ve boxed before, but it was evident that I still needed instruction. My instructor, Nam, taught me the basic stance, proper techniques and then we began a 2 hour workout.

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The best part of the day was when Nam (who had been sort of teasing at me all day) grabbed a soccer ball and asked me to try and take it from him. I laughed in my head, knowing what was about to go down. I quickly stole the ball, nutmegged him and then told him to try and win it back. He gave it a good effort but was unsuccessful, and I was glad that I made up for some of the boxing I was lacking.

I attempted to watch the sunset on this rooftop bar but for some reason they were closed. Just didn’t feel like opening today I guess. It seems to be the trend on my travels that I miss a lot of sunrises and sunsets. Oh well, I was going to hang out with elephants the next morning!

Chiang Mai: Wanderlust and Talking with Strangers.

My first night and day in Chiang Mai I learned the definition of Wanderlust. I could wander these little streets within the main square (a wall from the old city partially still up) endlessly. In a way it kind of reminded me of a smaller New York City. In the sense that you stumble across little gems of restaurants and shops on every side street. Even at night, it’s bustling and during the day it was just as busy, yet not overcrowded. I mostly walked, although I really enjoyed the speed and breeze that came with a TukTuk.

I would keep going until I saw something worth stopping for (which was often, so I’m glad I didn’t have a scooter here). Some of the stops included a temple, a latte art winning cafe, a Thai massage spa, a hot food stand, an ice cream shop, a park with a book fair, a fruit market, a craft market, and so many more things! I ended up taking 29,000 steps in just one day, which is also why I ended with a reflexology foot massage. My favorite thing ever. Hands down better than any back massage. Although, a true Thai massage, is also better than any massage back home. It’s more effective in loosening your muscles and stretching you out, yet, it also relaxes you because they hit all of these pressure points.

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I brought my book everywhere I went so I could easily stop, relax and enjoy my latest novel. I forgot how much I love sitting down to a dinner with a book in hand. I don’t do that much at home because I will go out to eat with friends or read in the quiet of my bed. I wanted the first two days to be full of exploring the square, but I did book tours for Thursday and Friday. I had nothing planned for Wednesday so I ventured out Tuesday night.

I was ready for some company so I decided to head first to dinner and see who was around. At this point in my trip, I really have no fear in striking up a conversation with a stranger. I used a clever opening line to these Dutch guys next to me,“Is that beer any good?” haha but it worked and we ended up talking the rest of the dinner. Sadly, they had an early tour and wouldn’t be going out. Next, I went to a bar that was supposed to be popular.

I saw a girl sitting alone at the bar so decided she would be the easiest person to talk to. Turns out, she was hoping for a friend as well! She and I ended up hanging out together, and then had two guys come join us. Everyone was so much fun! We danced and drank cocktails called “lost in Chiang Mai” until closing time. Fortunately, the streets are easy to navigate and safe at night so I did not follow the destiny of my drink.

The only downside? I broke my favorite pair of leather rainbow sandals. I’ve had these sandals for EVER. They are supposed have a lifetime warranty but I wasn’t about to carry them with me until I could ship them back.

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Bye Bye Bali!

My last day in Bali was the epitome of traveling alone and adventure. If you had asked me what my plan was that evening I would have said I was going to walk to the beach, watch the sunset and then walk back and watch Netflix or write. Well, here is how it really turned out…

I was walking toward the beach when a guy on a scooter stopped and asked me which way to Kuta beach. I said just go straight because that is where I was headed, but I plugged in the directions on my phone for him to see. Turns out, I was NOT headed toward the beach. Well, I was, but not the main beach. He thanked me and said he’d see me there and then he paused and asked if I wanted a ride. He was Canadian so I said yes.

I was giving him directions as he was driving but we kept getting lost somehow. Both of us intended on seeing the sunset, but it wasn’t seeming likely. Eventually we did make it there and did catch the end of the sunset. It was probably a good thing that he met me because he didn’t know a couple things about scooters, such as how to put the kickstand up or how to open the seat to store the helmets. We had a drink on the beach as we got to know each other. It was refreshing to have the company as my last 5 days in Ubud were pretty solitary. I gave some recommendations of things to do and we talked about my future plans.

Continue reading Bye Bye Bali!