Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Day 130

Sitting here at the Tokyo Airport waiting for my flight back to the US, I was hoping a nice wrap-up summary of the trip would come to me... It didn't. And I guess that's good because before I could even do that I should first talk about Japan.

After China, I felt pretty burnt out and tired. So in all honesty I feel like I didn't give Japan nearly as much effort as I had in other countries. Either way, Will and I still saw some cool stuff albeit at a much slower and relaxed pace.

Before we arrived we picked up a Japan Rail Pass in Hong Kong (they're for tourists and only available outside Japan). The JR pass allowed us to travel around the country on the world famous bullet trains. The trains were so efficient, clean, and comfortable... (India, please take note). And it was just as much fun traveling in them as was each destination.

After arriving in Tokyo we headed south to Hiroshima. We got to stay at our first Capsule Hotel... in the city's red light district... of course. Each capsule was large enough to sleep in, had a radio, TV, and alarm clock. I can't lie, it was kind of cosy. Hiroshima, undoubtedly, will forever be known as the site of the first atom bomb used in combat. Here we spent the day walking around the museum and memorial grounds. The museum was fascinating, but at times it did get kind of intense. And you can't help feeling a little awkward being the only Americans walking amidst all the Japanese museum go-ers.

From Hiroshima we took a day trip south to Miya-Jima. The island of Miya Jima is known for its Torri Gate seemingly floating in the water. We explored the island and got to hike to the top of Mt. Misen, to get some good views of Hiroshima across the water way. A little side note about Miya-Jima... the deer on the island have become totally accustomed to human presence and will try to steal food from you... weird...especially seeing people start out feeding one deer then being bombarded by numerous others looking for a handout.

We then made our way up north making a stop in Kyoto. Kyoto is the "must see destination in any Japan itinerary" according to some guide books. Kyoto is the old capital, and is filled with numerous temples, gardens, and other relics of "old Japan". After seeing very similar temples throughout south east Asia and China, I had seen more than my fair share of temples... templed out! So merely walking by them was good enough for me. It was also in Kyoto where Will and I decided to take in a little bit of current American cinema culture. There's nothing like attending the new Rambo Movie with a bunch of elderly Japanese couples at an afternoon matinee.

After Kyoto we spent 2 days in Kawaguchiko, a small tourist town at the base of Mt. Fuji. However, its not so touristy now because of the rainy season. And for good reason too, it was cold and rainy and Fuji-San only made an appearance on the day we left. But the stop was worth it, if anything the free coffee at the hostel made it worth our while. We got to climb halfway up the mountain in a seemingly endless day of fog, cold, and rain. Upon our return we got lucky and hitch hiked our way back to the hostel instead of walking the many miles in the dark. And Will proved once again that knowing some key phrases (in this case "hello", "thank you", and "a little bit") could tear down that language barrier.

And finally we spent a couple days in Tokyo, ending our time in Japan and the trip all together. Tokyo was fun. We walked around this huge massive city of almost 13 million people, got lost on its myriad of subways, and had some great sushi. We opted not to do most of the "touristy" stuff, but instead spent the days walking around taking it easy.

And now here I am at the airport listening to the loudspeaker so as I don't miss my flight. Just like every other destination we've been to, Japan quickly came and went. And with the end of Japan comes the end of the trip. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't happy about coming home, but there's still a part of me that secretly wants me to miss my flight and continue to travel.

But for now I'm done...
... for now....

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

One more thing...

Here we are having a wholesome snack of SCORPIONS in Beijing...

Sunday, June 1, 2008

China!!!

Ok, this one's going to be quick. I'm in Kyoto Japan right now, and its, well, expensive... just like all of Japan. I'm also running out of money and instead of spending my money on things I need, like food, I put you the reader first by writing a post... this is costing me 1 meal right now... not to make you feel guilty or anything.

China was awesome!

China Highlights:

Hong Kong was great, totally not what I expected. It's a beautiful mega-metropolis with plenty to do. But at the same time you can travel 1 hour on its superb public transportation and arrive at a beautiful, practically deserted beach.

Traveling 30 hours on a train in China was interesting... especially sharing a hard sleeper with a Chinese chain-smoking elder who has no idea what second-hand smoke is.

Xi'an- 2000 year old terracotta soldiers... thousands of them being unearthed one by one- simply amazing!

Floating down the Yangtze River on a goofy river cruise... fun, but like I said, goofy. The best part was traveling through the locks of the Three Gorges Dam Project, the largest engineering project in China since the Great Wall.

Climbing an ancient holy Buddhist mountain, was physically demanding but an extremely fun day, especially when the locals want your picture taken with them. (apparently, they don't see many white folks)

Beijing- Unbelievable food, Olympic stadium was crazy, the Great Wall was even crazier! And just trying to get around dealing with the language barrier made it all that much better!

And now for some photos...









Wednesday, May 7, 2008

India

I apologize for the sub-par title to this post, I am absolutely exhausted right now, physically and mentally, and for the life of me can't think of anything witty...

Throughout our travels we've met some people that have been here before. And all their stories have been off-beat colorful tales of their trials and tribulations in this beautiful yet mentally taxing country. And when you listen to these stories you nod your head, smile, and think to yourself, "well, how difficult can it be?"

Well, listening to the stories and being a part of them are two totally different experiences.

Before arriving in India we had heard it all, "don't drink the water", "people are always hassling you", "people are everywhere", "watch what you eat","we got dysentery and had to be hospitalized"," the water in the Ganges at Varanasi has over 2000 times the toxins of normal swim able water", "be careful with your money", and so on and so forth. Like I said, we had an idea of what we were getting ourselves into, but it still wasn't enough.


We arrived into Dehli at somewhat of an odd hour, 2:00 am. The previous day we had booked a guest house in the main bazaar of New Dehli and had arranged airport pickup. Upon arrival, many of the taxi drivers will drive tourists not to the hotel they have designated, but instead after a lengthy ruse, saying the hotel is overbooked, they will drive to a hotel where they receive a commission based on the number of tourists they drop off. Now you see why we opted for the airport pickup... Haggling with a taxi driver at 3:00 am after almost 22 hours of traveling was not something we were looking forward to.

And luckily everything went according to plan... so far so good. Our driver drove us right to the streets of the deserted (at the time) Main Bazaar, while dodging cows, dogs, piles of smoldering garbage, auto-rickshaws, and a few people here and there. Our hotel wasn't exactly off Main Baazar, but instead down a side street. It was here on this side street we passed a man defecating in the alley while curiously looking at us. Well, we're here!

As I read over these past couple of paragraphs I feel as though I'm painting a slightly negative picture of our experiences here. We have had nothing short of a good time, seen some amazing places, and met some of the friendliest people in the world. However, in our last 3 months of travel we have never experienced a culture like this. It is completely different from everything we have known, and of course with all things new and different, it takes time to adjust.


I can personally say that my first day of Delhi was a dizzying and surreal experience that paved the way for the rest of the trip. Stepping out of the front door of the hotel, my senses were immediately overwhelmed, women in saris briskly walking by, motorcyclists weaving in and out of people, blaring maniacal horns, men pulling carts filled with vegetables, people shouting, dust being kicked up and unintentionally inhaled, the pungent odor of garbage, urine (human, dog, cow, goat, and the occasional camel and elephant), exotic foods and spices and exhaust, and of course a desert-like intense dry heat (luckily we timed our visit with the dry season).
For 5 hours I explored New Dehli and Old Dehli, returning back to the hotel with a bleary eyed look upon my face and some much needed sleep. Day 2, After some mild sightseeing Will and I decided it would be in our best interest of time to hire a car and driver to visit Pushkar, Jodhpur, Jaipur, Agra, and Varanasi, the first three within the beautiful state of Rajasthan. The following day we awoke early and by 7:30 we were in a car with our driver Surresh, on our way to Pushkar.

Pushkar: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pushkar
After 6 hours in the car listening to a limited variety of Surresh's Indian music selection, we arrived in Pushkar. Known as one of the holiest cities of India. Here they have the only Brahma temple in the whole country. And Hindi's travel from around the world just to visit and pray here. It's a small city situated around a lake literally in a desert valley. People bathe within its holy waters from the ghats (steps that lead down to the water's edge). Because the sanctity of the city it is against the law to consume alcohol and non-veg food (meat, chicken, eggs, etc...)And because we traveled west, it got hotter and hotter. Here we ate some great veg meals (R.S. restaurant if anyone's interested), hiked to a hilltop temple and observed the prayer services in the temple and down at the ghats. These few activities took up only a fraction of our 2 days there. The majority of our time was spent sitting in the shade trying to avoid the extreme heat of the season. In the hottest part of the day it would reach about 110 degrees. Water consumption was essential, we averaged about 8 liters a day.
Jodhipur: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jodhpur
A city of about 2.6 million people, it is home to the magnificent Mehrangarh Fort. An immense structure that was built to defend the city from any looming attack. It is also known as "The Blue City" because many of its residential buildings are painted indigo, a cooling color in the warmer months, and a natural insect repellent during the rainy season. We also were fortunate enough to arrive during Mango season! After a short trip to the market we were devouring a kilo of the juiciest most delicious mangoes I've ever tasted!
Jaipur: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaipur
Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan. Its a large metropolitan city, but also has its fair share of historical forts, temples, and palaces. We visited Amber Fort, Jal Mahal- the floating palace, and the Galta Temple... also known as the Monkey Temple (did you know they like to swim?)

"Whoa, did you see that wild pig eating the carcass of that dead dog!?"

...Within the car, 1 hour outside of Agra...

Agra: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agra
So here we were, the city of Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, the single most reason why so many people visit this wonderful country. Simply put, the Taj Mahal is amazing, beautiful, an architectural and aesthetic masterpiece, and emotionally moving. Similar to how I felt at Machu Pichu, it was all very surreal. A piece of history I had read about since I was in grade school, and now having the opportunity to experience it in real life. Will and I made sure we arrived at the gate right at 6:00 am to be one of the first through the gate. We watched the sun come up over the trees and see it majestically reflect off the 500 year old, yet remarkably pristine white marble. Although filled with many tourists roaming the site, I still could find a shady secluded space just to sit and admire this wonderful building. I could go on and on with facts about the Taj, but instead, I will again refer to wikipedia... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taj_Mahal
In Agra we said our good-bye's to Surresh and boarded a night train to Varanasi.

Varanasi: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Varanasi
The night train as it turned out went perfect according to plan. Our car was air-conditioned, the beds weren't double-booked, and it was relatively quiet for the 13 hour train ride... we didn't know how well we had it until taking the night train out of Varanasi back to Dehli... more on that later. Much to our surprise Varanasi wasn't as "intense" as we had heard. Perhaps the over-exaggerated stories came from over exaggerated travellers wishing to make their trip seem that much more exciting? Varanasi was built along the river banks of the Ganges, a highly polluted, yet extremely holy river to the people. It is here where people go to die, to die in Varanasi concludes your eternal death and reincarnation. While the sick come here to die and be cremated, the healthy come here to bath in the holy waters as well. Leading down to the river are the ghats, steps that lead directly to the water. The entire city has a multitude of ghats including one dedicated to cremating the bodies of the dead. The process is simple: A fire is built and started. Wood comes at price, with different grades of wood fetching a different price. The body wrapped in colorful veils is carried down to the water and submerged and prayers are said. By this time the fire is now large enough to handle burning the body. The body is then carried out of the water and placed in the open fire and cremated. This takes place all day, and anyone walking along the ghats can stop and observe the practice... very different with western approaches to saying good-bye to the deceased.
In addition, those opt not to have their loved-one's cremated on the ghat, instead just float them, down the river, paying their respects as they slowly float a way from sight. Keep in mind this is all happening while other's are bathing in the river.
With that said, Varanasi is also a place that is very beautiful. I've seen few cities with its same unique positioning with the river. The river's edge clearly defines its border. It brings life to the entire city, not just because of its holiness, but also as regular body of water. They use it for recreational swimming, fishing, and even the cows saunter down in the mid-afternoon sun to plunge their over-heated bodies in the cooling waters. The city's majority of roads are tiny, 5-7ft. wide; have unexpected surprises with each angular turn, and are always an excuse to explore and see what's just around that next corner. Varanasi of course has its main roads as well. Similar to other cities in Inda, they're an over-congestion of chaos with motorbikes, rick-shaws, cars, pedestrians, animals, and carts going each and every way. Lanes and direction hardly dictate flow of traffic. It was nice to spend time in Varanasi, but as with the other cities of India we've visited, it also takes its toll on any traveller.
The night train back to Delhi was interesting albeit frustrating. Our tickets were wait listed, but that problem was remedied, or so we thought. We each purchased a separate bed in the sleeper train only to find out after we had boarded we shared a single bed (used as a seat) with other people (not too fun for a 13 hour train ride). After much confusion talking with other passengers, the conductor (i use this title loosely), a stow-away (the heart of the problem) and a myriad of other people who thought it their business to add their own thoughts on the situation, we finally worked it all out. Each of us found an empty bed. However, the dozen (literally) of small children screaming and the many other passengers having loud in-depth conversations made it slightly difficult to fall asleep.

Now back in Dehli its funny looking back on our brief time spent in this country. To say the least it was an experience. Was it negative? Absolutely not. Differences in culture can make you feel very uncomfortable and take time to adjust; if at all possible. It puts everything else that much into greater perspective.

"A stint in India will beat the
restlessness out
of any living creature"
-Yann Martel, Life of Pi

Monday, April 28, 2008

Before we left Bangkok

We had to stop by the weekend market for a tasty snack...


...How about some grub worms and grasshoppers?






Sunday, April 27, 2008

In And Out

Pretty much sums up our time in Siem Reap, Cambodia...

After flying in from Bangkok we checked into our hostel. And usually I wouldn't even mention a small detail like that, except that it is the best hostel we've stayed in to date! We're talking spacious rooms, air-conditioning, clean bathrooms, a pool, home theater (right next to the pool), and free breakfast buffet! All for 10$ a night...living in luxury at The Siem Reap Hostel!

Anyway, because we arrived in the evening, sight-seeing was out the question. So we did what we do best whenever we first arrive in a new place...walk around and ultimately get lost, then find our way back. We also booked a Tuk-Tuk (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuk-tuk) and driver to take us to Angkor Wat and some of the surrounding temples. We heard the best time to view Angkor is at sunrise... needless to say we took it easy that night.

There's nothing like waking up, riding in a tuk-tuk, wind in your hair... and still too early for the rising sun. However, when the sun did come up, we were lucky enough to be in the temple and it was beautiful. I don't know too much about it, and instead of just copying what other people say read about here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angkor_wat. We stayed at Angkor for at least couple of hours exploring the maze of hallways and smaller rooms. The hand carved reliefs on the walls were so expertly carved that even 800 years later their detail hasn't been lost.





After Angkor Wat we moved on and saw some more temples in the area. We lasted until about 2:00. Its easy to get "templed out" after seeing just a few of them. So we called it a day, and headed back to our luxurious hostel.

The next day, our final full day in Siem Reap, we saw some more temples and visited the Land Mine Museum. Cambodia's lands are riddled with un-detonated land mines, from the civil war only 30 years ago; now injuring and killing civilians. Even while walking around town you notice the high percentage of locals missing arms and legs.

That night we had some of the local food, checked out a Snooker Hall (still don't know how to play) and got some sleep. And so concludes our adventures in Cambodia.
With no time to spare we left the next morning... back to Bangkok!