Author Archives: Berkley

Ko Yao Kayak Adventure!!

Today we rose with the sun, as we always do, ate a hearty breakfast, lotioned up, grabbed a kayak, and made our way to see the limestone karsts of Phang Nga Bay that have been calling to us since we arrived at Suntisook Bungalows.  The tide was pretty low and coming in, so we had to walk it out a bit before being able to hop in.  It probably took us about an hour to reach our destination, four miles according to google maps.

loading map - please wait...

Ko Ka Moel 8.118798, 98.676667

Unfortunately the water in Thailand is not crystal clear as in Greece, so we couldn’t see much below our paddles.  We investigated around a few of the land structures and happened upon a family of monkeys doin their thang.  They were crab eating macaques, lounging in the shade of the mangroves.  One was trying to open a coconut, and when we came near he yelped at us, hugged his coconut, and scurried a bit away.  Normally we are not big fans of little primates, but these guys were lazy and mildly curious of us in our little, blue kayak.

Thailand 0174

Thailand 0177

Thailand 0180

Thailand 0087

Thailand 0199

Thailand 0213

We spied a tiny beach, but when we arrived we found that so had many tour company boats.  The little beach, and shallow water surrounding it, was packed with life vest wearing tourists.  I’m not sure why someone would go into 5 foot deep water with a life jacket on, but there were at least 20 bobbing fluorescent vests. We did some exploratory laps around the little islands, and Seth climbed a little bit up one so he could jump off.  Eventually we munched on some lunch of chicken fried rice from our hotel.  Afterwards, we fed our leftovers, and some munched peanuts to the little school of fish nearby.  That was colorful fun.

Thailand 0216

Thailand 0217

Thailand 0127

Thailand 0131

Thailand 0165

Thailand 0111

We decided it was time to head back another four miles.  We stopped by some more limestone karsts on the way and found some pretty formations and schools of fish hiding beneath.  Paddling back probably took almost twice as long, but our arms and backs are wrecked.  That was a lot of paddling, but well worth it!

Thailand 0248

Thailand 0246

Escape From Coconut Island

We weren’t exactly in love with Khao Lak.  It was quite a touristy town, with many overpriced, touristy restaurants.  Our hotel was nice enough, but there wasn’t anything to do in Khao Lak.  We had one more night before we had a luxury resort stay planned for a week.  We were really looking forward to that.  We decided to head down to Phuket and stay in the old part of town for a night, before heading to our private resort island.  We walked out to the main road to catch a bus down to Phuket.  We weren’t waiting long before I spied a couple in a big, nice SUV.  I asked them if they happened to be heading towards Phuket, and they were, so we hitched a ride with them.  So, the German man, Thai woman couple, with their 6 year old daughter, took us to Phuket.  We sat in the back with the little girl as she played Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja on her phone, and sometimes recorded herself singing along with the car music.  They were nice enough to go out of their way to drop us off in the vicinity of our hotel. That’s the nice part of travel outside the US.  There are certain places where you can do things like hitchhike, and feel completely safe.  I mean, it’s not like we hopped in the back of a truck with guys in fatigues carrying machetes, so don’t use our experience to go and get yourself killed.

Thailand 0001

Thailand 0005

Phuket is an island, with the feel of a city.  It’s a big island and it seems like all of it is very developed.  We stayed in Phuket Town, which is considered the old historical part of Phuket.  Some of the main attractions in Phuket are the Sino-Portuguese style houses.  There were many of those.

Thailand 0003

We found a bustling restaurant, filled with Thai people, so we ate there.  The food was delicious and spicy.

After a tip off from a woman in a boutique in Phuket Town, we made our way down to the weekend night market.  The night market is a place for locals and tourists alike.  People go to the night market to buy clothing, backpacks, souvenirs, and dinner.  Seth and I bought some snacks.  Some of them were more tasty than others.  In the adventurous spirit, we sampled some insects, grubs and hoppers to be exact.  The grubs were ok, but now that I’ve tried them I’m not going to be searching them out for a late night snack.  The grasshoppers were not my favorite.  The flavor was too much like chewing on a stick that you pulled out of the mud, and the legs had spikes that pricked my tongue.  I think I’ll stick to snacks like sausages and jack fruit from now on.

Thailand 0023

In the morning we went in search of a special type of spindly, white noodles, a Phuket traditional breakfast.  We found the noodles, I think, but we realized soon that we were in a Chinese restaurant eating dim sum, rather than Thai food.  Awesome.  The dim sum was the same as at home and different.  We had har gow, but also little bowls of fish soup with ginger.  And when we ordered our noodles, they came in a soup, not a curry.  But, it was all very good, and a great way to start our day.

We, finally, made it over to the dock to catch a water taxi to the private resort island of The Village at Coconut Island.  We were, almost, immediately disappointed when we saw the beach was quite unexceptional.  And, once we made it to our room, the disappointment grew.  The room was not the same as the ones advertised on the website, and it was dirty.  Gross.  The hotel sent someone to tidy up, but it didn’t change much.  There were so many other things wrong with the situation, but not worth getting into, because we got out.  We had to wait until the next morning to talk with the appropriate people, and after doing so we left to another island.  We finally escaped!

Thailand 0006

Now we are on the cozy little island of Ko Yao Noi.  We’re staying in the Suntisook Bungalows and it feels like paradise.

Thailand 0042

Thailand 0050

Thailand 0052

Thailand 0053

Yesterday, we rented a scooter and scoot around the island to check it out.  We found a hard to reach beach, and Seth showed me his muscles as he opened a sprouted coconut.  For those of you who don’t remember (or do) we went to Hawaii for our honeymoon.  While there, our friend Annie told us that there was a chunk of coconutty goodness hiding inside a sprouted coconut.  But, when we tried to find one, we spent over an hour opening the coconuts with no reward.  This time we opened the coconut to find a delicious coconut foam, with the crunchy texture somewhat like a watermelon.  We learned later that the coconut tree grows on this foam and the coconut meat for 2 years before sprouting roots.  While we were enjoying our delicious coconut snack on the beach, a man approached us and helped us dislodge the coconut meat for eating.  He then went and found us some fresh tamarind from a tree nearby, and ended up climbing it to fetch us some more.  Though he spoke no English and us no Thai, we hung out for a bit before leaving the beach.

Thailand 0065

Thailand 0076

Thailand 0079

Thailand 0082

Thailand 0005

Thailand 0017

We had to leave, because we didn’t want to be late for our cooking class.  Mena, of Mena’s Thai Cookery, taught us how to prepare a variety of Thai dishes.  She was a wonderful woman with a wealth of knowledge when it comes to cooking.  And, to top it off, we ended up with a very, very good Thai meal in the end.  She should open a restaurant.

We have a spectacular view of the sunrise over the Phang Nga Bay and I’m laying in a hammock as I write this post, watching the tide roll in.  Today we will spend the day relaxing, but we have about a week to do what we want, on this island or another, and in our near future we have kayaking, snorkeling, and perhaps fishing.  It’s pretty exciting.

Thailand 0032

Thailand 0039

Thailand 0047

Thailand 0052

Travel by Land is Never as Straightforward as They Lead You to Believe…

All right, so, when last I left you we were on the small, peaceful island of Ko Phayam. 

Thailand 0690

Thailand 0686

Thailand 0692

Thailand 0736

Thailand 0748

Thailand 0756

Thailand 0760

Thailand 0762

Thailand 0770

Thailand 0782

Thailand 0876

Thailand 0894

It was time to go.  But, going is never simple.  Even though you have to deal with taxis or shuttles and security, flying is way easier than traveling by land.  When you want to fly, you go online, book a ticket, and show up at the appropriate time, and it is pretty straight forward from there.  But, when you travel by land, you never really know what you’re gonna get.  For example,  we bought a high speed boat ride from the island of Ko Phayam to the mainland in Ranong.  Simple.  It left on time, and took us to where we expected.  But, then we had to contend with taxi drivers who would rather be shot down for their inflated rate, than actually work.  We walked a bit before finding a local transport who told us he’d take us to the bus station.  He gave us the same price as all the locals that were jammed in the back of the truck with us, so that was nice.  He dropped us across the street from the turn to the bus station, perfect.  But, on our way to the bus station someone stopped us and showed us the bus to Khao Lak, which was where we were going.  Now, I know that busses in Thailand make multiple stops and that your destination may not be the destination of the bus.  Either way, the guy told us that the bus was going all the way to Khao Lak.  I’d blame it on being lost in translation, but he spoke English quite well enough, and even pointed at the destination line on our ticket and said, “Khao Lak.” Hours later we found that the actual translation of the Thai words on our ticket said, “Takuapa” which was, obviously, not Khao Lak.  Though we were quite disturbed, we couldn’t reasonably become angry with the driver, because he had nothing to do with the swindle.  And, really, it’s our fault for not proceeding all the way to the ticket counter.  But, when you’re in another country you never know if the customs are different, so you try to go with the flow. 

After another bus ride we made it to Khao Lak.  We wandered around the main road, wishing the google map would give us an actual destination to look for.  The locals pointed us in a variety of different directions, and we were finally successful, and found the Swiss Guesthouse.  It seems like a new building, and we could be the first to use the room we are staying in. There is still plastic covering light switches and when I turned on the AC it had the ‘I’ve never been used, plastic-y’ smell.  And, we’re back in shump-ville.  Though the entire bathroom floor becomes flooded, and you have to wipe down the seat later, this is a deluxe shump, and has some touches that make it work.  First of all, the bathroom is clean.  Then, there is a soap dish/shelf.  The hot water works and there is sufficient water pressure.  But, the item of noteworthiness is the cover for the toilet paper, which actually works.  I was quite impressed to find that the paper was completely dry after the two of us took showers.  Very nice…

There were a few reasons why we decided to stop in Khao Lak.  The biggest determinant was that it is about midway between Ranong and Phuket.  We needed to break up the bus ride.  It’s quite uncomfortable sitting on a bus for 3 hours, and 5-6 sounds unbearable.  Also, the driving is quite scary and that needs to be spread out as well.  We chose Khao Lak in particular, because it is said to be a good starting off point for a variety of day trips.  For tomorrow we have a tour of the Kao Sok National Forest where we will take a jaunt through the jungle and float down a river on a bamboo raft.  Sounds good.  It is, also, a good jumping off point for diving and kayak trips to some interesting land formations, but after weighing our options we decided against those, but don’t worry, they will happen in a different location of our trip.  We wanted to see if Khao Lak was a place we could enjoy aside from the day trips, so we made our way down to the beach.  Quite a walk from our hotel and quite touristy on the way.  We found a super touristy market area with more cheap souvenir shops than I could handle and the beach at the end of the road was not all that impressive.  So, this will be a jumping off point.  

Thailand 0964

Thailand 0967

Thailand 0973

The next morning, after booking our day trip, we took a long walk to grab some lunch at a restaurant recommended by the guy at our hotel.  Ten Star had okay noodles, and really delicious Tom Ka Gai soup.  After lunch we went next-door to get foot massages at Phuping Beauty Salon.  We didn’t notice the name until we left, which is good, because we might not have been able to enter with a straight face if we had noticed the sign beforehand.  (for those who don’t know, ph is not like our F sound. PH is pronounced as a plain old P)

Thailand 0984

Afterwards, we made our way over to a little mini market to grab an ice cream bar.  Seth is partial to the Magnum ice cream bars and decided on one of those.  I found a lychee flavored popsicle and it was delicious.  After a little more walking our cold treats were gone and there was another market right in front of us, so we went in to find another cold treat.  Once again, Seth decided on a Magnum ice cream bar, and I found a popsicle with a bit of an interesting flavor profile.  It was really tasty even though the pictures lead me to believe my popsicle was comprised of jackfruit, corn, and green beans.  I’ll be buying that one again!  I love finding odd things at the market.  

Thailand 1002

Thailand 0978

Thailand 0977

Thailand 0992

Island Life

We woke up in Ranong, ate some breakfast, then made our way to the dock to catch a boat to Ko Phayam.  We had the option of taking the slow boat which could take two to three hours, or a speed boat that would take between 35 and 45 minutes.  The choice was obvious.  So we sped off through the waters of the Adaman Sea to the tiny island of Ko Phayam.  At the dock we caught a motorbike taxi to our hotel.  There are no cars on the island, only bikes and scooters.  Our bungalow is a super cute freestanding structure with a room and a partially outdoor bathroom.  It’s pretty sweet, and we’re steps away from the water. 

Thailand 0003

Thailand 0004

Thailand 0013

Thailand 0019

Thailand 0028

Thailand 0039

Thailand 0047

We took a walk back to the little village to grab a delicious lunch of spicy noodles and thai tea.  We then rented a scooter to scoot around the island.  It’s quite small, and takes less than a half an hour to cross it most ways.  It’s going to be a few days of lazing around a small island, wading in warm ocean water…

Thailand 0054

Thailand 0060

Thailand 0063

Thailand 0071

We’ve scooted around the island, checking out all the beaches, and messing with little crabs.  Most of the food we’ve eaten has been fiery hot and delicious.

Thailand 0015

Thailand 0017

Thailand 0033

Thailand 0042

Thailand 0043

Thailand 0055

Thailand 0059

Thailand 0062

Thailand 0067

Thailand 0069

Thailand 0007

Thailand 0019

Thailand 0030

Thailand 0033

Thailand 0050

Thai My Shoe

Thailand is a place I’ve been trying to get to since the sixth grade when  my friend Melissa Nonsrichai told me all about it and invited me to accompany her to visit every summer.  My parents were too nervous to let me travel, but I don’t have to worry about that anymore.  So, here we are, in Bangkok, eating as much spicy food as possible.

The flight from Tokyo to Bangkok was bearable.  Seats were small, and the guy sitting next to me reeked of cigarettes and had foul breath.  But, it was only five or six hours or so, so whatever.  At the airport we were able to get a really cheap data plan for the iPhone (about $30 a month for unlimited data), so now we can have maps and even write and publish blog posts from the phone.  So, hopefully that will mean more content.  We hopped in a metered taxi and made our way to Khao San Street to find our hotel.  Man oh man, I hadn’t anticipated the scene when we arrived at Khao San.  When the Rough Guide said that Khao San was the tourist/backpacker mecca, I pictured something similar to our time in Thamel in Nepal.  Khao San is like Thamel’s younger, rowdy, cousin, who is on the edge of being out of control.  The first few establishments you see are ‘hometown favorites’.  Golden arches, the King, and the Green Siren all have real estate on this small street.  Storefronts are eclipsed by street vendors selling overpriced cheap wares like tank tops with kitchy logos, dreadlock extensions, and bathing suits.  You have to watch your toes at all times or you may be run over by a street food vendor, but I’m okay with those.  Street food carts hold anything from pad thai to fresh coconuts, and all of it is delicious.  Bars selling overpriced alcohol and multiple 7/11 shops quench the thirst of tourists who would not otherwise be of drinking age.  Staying in a tourist area like Khao San has both advantages and disadvantages.  For one, everything a tourist may need is condensed into a small area, but the prices are inflated, and in Thailand the government encourages inflated prices for tourists.  But, you have to push through mobs of people at the end of an evening to get back to your room, which won’t necessarily be a quiet place to sleep.  Though I will say, our room was very clean, well appointed, and reasonably priced for the area.

IThailand 0043

Our first night we found a little restaurant to grab some dinner, and it turned out to be delicious.  Seth ordered a medium spicy, red curry with chicken and baby peanuts.  The flavor of the dish was delicious.  I ordered a seafood soup with mussels, fish, shrimp, squid and lots of vegetables.  We both ordered well, and truly enjoyed our first meal in Thailand.  They were both quite spicy, and the change was welcome.  Although, between the heat outdoors and the heat of the food, it is going to prove to be a sweaty trip!

Thailand 0007

Thailand 0006

Our next day we covered a lot of ground.  We walked all the way to Bangkok’s Chinatown area.  It took quite a while, but we stopped at many food carts on the way.  This is where we met the boy with the sugar glider (aka squirrel).  We sampled sweet, little, taco looking treats comprised of a sugar wafer ‘taco shell’, filled with ‘marshmallow fluff’ and one was topped with toasted coconut shavings and the other with bonito flakes.  They were delicious.  We, also, found a bag of Jackfruit on the way.  Jackfruit is awesome.  It’s a huge, bumpy, melon like fruit with little pod like flesh inside.  The flesh is firm and tastes like a mix between a ripe banana and a pear.  I love it.  Though it is not in season at the moment, we, also, bought durian. Durian is known as the king of fruits for it’s size and it’s ‘spiky’ exterior.  Because it’s not in season at the moment, I guess it’s not as stinky as normal.  It was pretty good, but it did leave our room smelling a bit.  Note to self: only eat outdoors.  We tried so many other delicious Thai treats.  The Thai sausage was delicious and filled with ginger and pork, and we enjoyed a bowl of spicy noodle soup as well.  There were other treats too, but too many to name!

IThailand 0013

Thailand 0006

Thailand 0009

Thailand 0014

Thailand 0030

Thailand 0031

IThailand 0018

After doing tons of walking around Chinatown the skies opened up.  When it rains in Thailand it doesn’t mess around.  The lightning is blinding, and the thunder is deafening.  It’s really cool.  It started to look and feel like it was going to rain, and our hypothesis was confirmed by all the shopkeepers covering their goods with plastic.  We found a covered area of the market and walked around as the rain poured down.  In the markets they sell just about anything you could need, down to sink faucets, hair ties, stove burners, and bootleg porn DVD’s. It serves as an interesting place to walk around.

Thailand 0046

Eventually we caught a tuk tuk that told us he’d take us to our street for 20Bht if, on the way, we could stop at a market first.  We noticed we were going in the complete wrong direction and inquired with our tuk tuk guy.  He handed us a card that said that if he took tourists to this market he would be given 4 liters of gas, even if we didn’t buy anything.  He began to drive even more, and when asked he was hazy about details and told us we’d be going 10 minutes before we reached the market, and we were driving in the wrong direction.  We decided it was possible we were being scammed, so we hopped off at a red light.  He didn’t protest, so perhaps our suspicions were correct.  Many guide books warn you about being taken to a shop just to look, then being forced to hand over large sums of money to be released, and being roughed up in the case that you don’t pay up.  We potentially dodged a bullet there.

Thailand 0039

That night we found our way to Lumpini Stadium, where we watched Muy Thai Boxing.  I was nervous to attend, but Seth assured me I’d be ok.  I was imagining the chain link cages of ultimate fighting, but this was nothing like that.  You could tell that the guys were not going for a kill, or even a knock out.  It was about points, and it seemed like a respectable sort of fighting.  Though the fights were interesting to watch, the exciting part, for me, was watching the crowd.  During certain matches the crowd would become so animated and would call out at each individual hit.  Though gambling is illegal in Thailand, it was blatantly taking place inside the stadium, with police turning a blind eye.

Thailand 0003

Thailand 0024

Thailand 0008

Thailand 0004

The next day we took a boat ride down the Chao Phraya River.  We were able to view many temples from a distance.  We got off at the Sky Train stop and took a short ride above the city.  We disembarked at a giant fancy schmancy mall that we’d heard about.  It was interesting to check out the food court.  It was almost as if we hadn’t left Japan.  The food court was dominated by Japanese restaurants.  In a wave of nostalgia we stopped for some takoyaki.  Though it was decent, it was not nearly as delicious as the ones in Japan.  No big surprise there.  Afterwards we searched the mall for a new pair of sandals for Seth.  His were done.  We were successful so we put his old Reefs to rest later at the boat dock in hopes that someone who needed them would pick them up.  

Thailand 0036

Thailand 0031

Thailand 0033

Thailand 0037

IThailand 0035

Thailand 0057

Thailand 0061

Thailand 0060

After the mall experience we walked around the streets and found some street food.  We found some delicious Thai Sausage.  It comes on a stick accompanied with some cabbage, ginger, and what are called mouse dropping chilis.  Oh so good.  

Thailand 0212

IThailand 0022

The following day we made our way to Wat Pra Khao to see the Emerald Buddha.  Though he and the room that enshrined him were quite spectacular, just as magnificent were the grounds surrounding it.  The architecture of the buildings were quite dramatic with roofs that sloped down and out, fashioned in bright colors, accented with mirrors of many hues.  The stone temple guardians were equally impressive, towering over us with bright menacing faces.  

Thailand 0021

Thailand 0045

Thailand 0071

Thailand 0072

Thailand 0078

Thailand 0096

Thailand 0086

Thailand 0090

Thailand 0146

Thailand 0155

Later we visited the Wat Pho which holds the colossal, reclining, golden buddha.  This buddah is huge and though relaxed in his pose, quite imposing.  After a long day of walking we made our way back to Khao San for massages and relaxation.

Thailand 0119

Thailand 0132

Thailand 0133

Thailand 0100

Thailand 0105

Thailand 0108

Thailand 0113

Thailand 0122

Thailand 0141

Thailand 0145

Thailand 0002

Thailand 0009

Thailand 0010

Thailand 0028

Thailand 0031

Thailand 0039

Thailand 0057

Thailand 0059

Thailand 0070

Thailand 0078

Thailand 0092

Thailand 0102

Thailand 0107

The next day was a bit of a flop.  We took a taxi all the way out of town to the Tailing Chan Floating Market, only to find that it was strictly a weekend market, and we were there on a Friday.  Oops!  But, we were able to find a great meal of noodles, soup, beef, and fish balls.  We had another flop that evening.  Seth had read about a restaurant called the Royal Dragon which, in the 90’s, The Guinness Book of World Records named the largest restaurant in the world.  It sprawls across 4 acres of land, is run by over 2,000 servers, and holds entertainment like dancers and muy thai boxing within.  Pretty impressive.  Well, something to know about many foreign cities, is that taxi drivers and tuk tuk drivers are mostly criminals. Even when their taxi boasts a sign that says ‘metered taxi’ they may refuse to use it and refuse to drive you without your commitment of an exorbitant fee.  Similar with tuk tuks.  So, when we wanted to hop in a cab to go to this restaurant which was way too far to walk, we found no one who would use their meter, and no one who would agree to a reasonable price.  After standing  and trying to flag down taxis left and right for quite some time, a monk approached us and told us a better place to stand and when we told him where we were going he recommended us not to take any deals over 120 baht because that was more than enough.  To give you an idea, drivers were asking for 500 plus.  Criminals! Not all, but most.  After about an hour or so of searching we gave up and ate at one of the overpriced touristy restaurants nearby.  

The next day we hopped in a taxi to take us to the airport so we could begin our journey to Ko Phayam.  Somehow, even though it was a metered taxi we were charged way too much.  He apparently pushed the toll button despite the fact that we gave him cash for the tolls.  We paid at least twice the price for this cab ride than we had paid when we arrived.  But, we made it to our flight on time and it was a quick and easy flight with some rewarding views of slick ocean flats and islands that seemed to leap out from the ocean.

The next step was to take a minibus from the airport into town to get to the bus station.  See, our flight landed in Surat Thani, and that was not our final destination for the day.  We waited an hour and a half before we embarked on the minibus, and then waited another half an hour or so before we actually left.  After stopping for gas, lunch or dinner for the driver, and to pick up some papers, we finally left town and made the perilous 3 hour journey to Ranong.  It was cramped, the roads were a bit scary, and our driver was in a real big hurry to pass all other cars despite oncoming traffic, blind corners, and military check points.  But, somehow, we made it to Ranong.  We called our hotel who sent a shuttle to pick us up.  He took us to our nice hotel with nice people, we settled in, then left in search of dinner.  We were lucky to find a street nearby with tons of food.  We returned to our room with flat noodles with chicken and greens in a thick brown sauce, a ‘salad’ of sorts with a melange of ingredients such as fish balls, tomatoes, onion, chicken feet, hot dogs, wood ear mushrooms, and so much more, all doused in a lime, vinegar, chilly sauce, and we topped it off with a bowl of vermicelli rice noodles with various fish paste shapes.  It was all delicious.  We feasted back at our room.

This morning we are going to catch a high speed boat to a lazy little island named Ko Phayam.  

 

 

 

Fast and Furious, Tokyo Trip

We were a bit nervous to visit Tokyo.  We weren’t even going to go to Tokyo, but Steve really wanted to spend a night near Mount Fuji so we made the plan to visit Tokyo afterwards, which is nearby.  We didn’t end up going to Fuji, but Tokyo was definitely still happening.  We were worried because everyone we had met in Japan had warned us that Tokyo was chaotic and a ‘crazy place’. So, we envisioned streets with thousands of people, train cars packed like sardines, and noise to burst ear drums.  We were picturing Times Square in New York, magnified by 20 percent or more.  It turned out that, though Tokyo may be crazy and hectic to the people of Japan, to some well traveled Americans, who are used to big cities, Tokyo was quite peaceful for such an immense city.  The skyscrapers jut into the black night sky, and bullet train tracks loomed high above our heads, weaving in and out of buildings, but even on a busy Saturday night, in an area with many clubs, bars and restaurants, there was still a sense of organization and calm.  The streets were wide, allowing you to see the stars, and the sidewalks proportionally wide, so you could walk side by side without a problem.  Plus, the culture of the Japanese people is to respect others and their space, so you never felt like you were being crushed.  

Japan 0250

But, let’s back up a little bit.  The Shinkansen ride from Kyoto to Tokyo was a treat.  We bought bento boxes for lunch, along with an array of sweets to keep us busy.  They went well with our Asahi Super Dry beer.  The Bullet Train takes you through some interesting countryside and towns.  We eventually came upon Mount Fuji.  Though it was mostly obscured by clouds, Seth and I caught a glimpse of its snowy top during a break in the clouds.  It towers above the mainly flat countryside surrounding it.

Japan 0113

After a mix up with hotel recommendations and dollar conversions, we ended up staying at a pretty posh hotel in the Ginza area of Tokyo.  Apparently the Ginza area is the place known for upscale shopping, bars, clubs, and restaurants.  Most importantly, it is about a five to ten minute walk from the Tsujiki Fish Market.  This is the famous fish market in Japan that has the large tuna auctions in the wee hours of the morning.  Our new friend, Kazuma, met us at our hotel at 3:50am to escort us to the market.  We were there by 4am and we were one of the last few of people to make it into the first group of 60 to view the auction.  We stood in the ‘holding room’ until about 5:30am until they herded us over to the auction room. It was eerily quiet as we entered, aside from the shuffling of tourist feet on cold, wet cement.  All around our little path through the center of the auction room were large frozen tuna, with potential buyers inspecting the little flaps cut on the tails.  Eventually a bell began to ring and one or two at a time auctioneers began selling off the fish.  I couldn’t follow much other than the body language, and that meant watching for people who slightly raised their hand while the auctioneer did his bit.  At the end of a round of auctioning, men in tall rubber boots would mark the sold fish with some kind of red ‘paint’ and another would take a large hook and drag it away.  

Japan 0128

Japan0448

Japan0551

Japan 0145

Japan 0142

Japan 0136

Japan 0129

Japan0643

Afterwards was the best part ever.  We made our way to Kazuma’s recommendation sushi restaurant.  We waited in a line for about 20 minutes before being ushered in to a narrow room with a sushi bar.  This was to be my best sushi meal of my life.  I doubt I will ever be able to duplicate that experience.  Daiwa Zushi had fish as fresh as you can get it, if you are not living on a fishing boat.  The restaurant is in the fish market and it was about 7am.  If I could have that sushi for breakfast on a regular basis it would be amazing. The pieces of sushi that surprised me were the squid (ika), sea urchin (uni), and salmon roe (ikura) sushi.  These are sushi I’m not normally a big fan of.  Squid sushi is usually quite chewy, but this was crisp and buttery, and so delicious.  Though the sea urchin was still not my favorite, it was obviously quite fresh and had less of a stinky sea water taste.  The salmon roe had the greatest difference in flavor of any salmon roe I have ever had.  I frequent some pretty awesome sushi bars in LA and normally salmon roe tastes like little capsules of thin ocean water.  These had a more viscous texture and a salty, yet sweet, flavor.  It was so good I was tempted to buy a carton and eat it with a spoon!  

Japan 0155

Kazuma was not done with us yet, oh no! He was nice enough to shuttle us all around Tokyo.  Throughout our stay he was such a great host, always making sure we were having a good time.  That day we ended up going on a walking tour of Tokyo, it seemed.  We walked around Harajuku to see all the weird fashions, and they were quite odd.  I don’t know if you would call all of them fashionable.  It was kind of how you see photos or video footage of runway models and think, “yeah, but there’s no one in their right mind who would wear that in public.”  Well, we were all wrong.  The people who hang out in the Harajuku area wear those crazy outfits.  

Japan0815

Japan0826

Japan0837

Japan0846

We also made it to the Shibuya intersection.  It’s right next to Shibuya Station which is Tokyo’s busiest rail line.  All the lights at the intersection turn red so people can cross at any angle.  It was interesting to watch the ebb and flow of the traffic.

Japan0865

Japan0878

Japan0892

Japan0962

Japan0967

That evening we went on a cruise of Tokyo Harbor.  It was a very nice view to watch the sun set on the water with the Tokyo skyline in the background.

Japan1020

Japan1001

Japan1039

Japan1078

That night Kazuma took us to eat yakitori.  He wanted us to try yakitori style food, and while we were there try some yakitori’d organs.  And he wanted us to meet some of his friends.  Well, we did all of it.  Though we tried a bunch of organs (heart, liver, tail, spleen, skin) the tastiest was the cartilage.  I think I’ll stick to meat from now on.  The best part was talking with Kazuma and his friends.  It was interesting to begin to get a picture of young Japanese people and exchange stories about life and traveling.

Japan1080

The next day we let Kazuma sleep in.  He had shown us around for close to a full day and we needed him to rest up!  Anyhow, for those of you who know me, you know I’m a bit of a Disney fan.  I was quite tempted to visit the Tokyo Disney park.  I wouldn’t have gone to the Magic Kingdom, because it’s about the same wherever you are, but they have a second park called Tokyo Sea.  But, that wasn’t on the agenda.  What was on the agenda was hitting up the disney store just off the metro line to the Disney park.  I found some pretty kick ass pins for trading when I get back to the US.  Something interesting I found out was that pin trading was banned at Tokyo Disney because the traders were going overboard and were clogging up pathways and foot traffic couldn’t pass.  The Japanese are collectors, so I see how this could have happened.  There weren’t many pins, but of the ones that were there, I purchased many of them.  Watch out Disneyland, here I come! And I’m armed with Tokyo pins!!

Japan 0262

Japan 0165

Japan 0167

We met Joan, Steve, and Kazuma back at the hotel, then made our way to share a delicious lunch of BBQ eel over rice.  Man oh man that was good.  After we were sated with our sea snakes, we went to collect our fast pass like cards to visit the Tokyo Sky Tree (speaking of Disneyland…).  But, we couldn’t make our way in just yet, so we went to the nearby Asakusa temple area.  The Asakusa temple is surrounded with shops and we browsed the stalls on our way.  The temple was nice to see, but the highlight, kind of, was getting our fortunes.  You pull a stick out of a metal canister and pull out a fortune from a drawer with a number that matches your stick number.  Though Seth and Kazuma received ok fortunes, Steve got the winner, and Joan and I didn’t fare so well.  The fortunes were painful, but we tied our bad fortunes to a metal pole, gave an offering, made a prayer, and washed away our bad fortune with incense, therefore leaving the bad fortune behind.  We were able to leave with a clear conscience.  

JapanFood 0064

Japan 0273

It was time to make our way back to the Sky Tree.  At 634 meters tall (2,080.05 feet), the Tokyo Sky Tree is the second tallest building in the entire world, and the tallest freestanding broadcasting tower in the world.  The viewing deck isn’t exactly that high, but we were as high as we’d ever been while being anchored to the ground.  It was pretty spectacular.  And the night view of the city was amazing.

Japan 0270

Japan1092

Japan1097

Japan1178

Japan 0275

That night Kazuma had more festivities planned.  Joan and Steve called it a night after a long day, but Seth and I headed out to an izakaya, or traditional Japanese pub.  Apparently it is quite normal for people to meet up at an izakaya after work to eat, drink, and complain about their bosses.  We were there to eat, drink, and just have a good time!  Kazuma wanted us to meet more of his friends, and once again, it was really nice to meet with them.  The food was different and quite tasty, especially because we weren’t eating mainly organs, though there was some cartilage.  

tokyoOrgan

The next morning we bid Joan and Steve a bittersweet farewell.  It was nice to spend time with them, but they were missing home.  Afterwards, we met up with Kazuma to make our way to a party he was throwing for us.  Though it was a party partially for us, it was, also, a Halloween party.  We spent the evening with Kazuma and his costume clad friends.  There was beer, a DJ, and Seth taught some Japanese girls how to make takoyaki.  The majority of people at the party happened to be international students studying in Japan.  We met a few people from California, Texas, Russia, Germany, China, and more.  It was really informative to get their respective insight in living in Japan, a country so different from their own, and ours.  

Japan 0372

Japan 0374

Japan 0363

The next morning it was time to say good bye to Kazuma.  We really hope that someday we can show him the same hospitality he showed us while we were in Tokyo.  He really was a great friend to us.  

IJapan 0151

At the train station we bought some delicious munchies for the ride and headed back to Osaka for our last night in Japan.  

We stayed in a different area of Osaka, but it was nice to see a different part of the city.  Our hotel was nice too.  It was like a little apartment, and we were able to use the laundry machines downstairs.  It’s such a plus when a hotel has laundry access.  Though washing clothes in the sink will get you by, there’s nothing better than machine washed clothing with detergent rather than hand soap or shampoo.

We were intent to find the okonomiyaki restaurant that Minako had taken us to, but it turned out that we were mistaken on its location.  But, thanks to CNNgo.com, Seth found a great place where we had our last okonomiyaki, at least for a while.  We, also, made sure to grab some takoyaki, so that we could burn the roofs of our mouths off before we left for Thailand.  But, it was so good!  

JapanFood 0091

The plan the next morning was to make it to the airport three hours before our flight so that we could get a final Japanese meal, and do a little shopping in the airport.  We even had our meals picked out.  Seth wanted omrice, which is a perfectly cooked omlette over rice, doused in a clear, salty, clean tasting sauce, while I was looking forward to oyako (literally translated to parent and child), which is eggs and chicken over rice.  So, we arrived to the airport three hours early only to be told that our flight time was bumped up, and we had to make a mad dash to the plane.  Therefore, we had to forgo breakfast and shopping.  This put a real damper on our morning.  Luckily they feed you on the plane.  Sadly, it was the smallest meal yet.  Though we were left hungry, they gave us booze, so that helped.  We finally landed in Thailand.. 

Krazy ‘Bout Kyoto

We are really enjoying Japan, and Kyoto seems to be our favorite stop so far.  It is near mountains, and it seems to be surrounded by a lot of green space.  Though it is a city, it has more of a village like feel.  Also,it is densely populated by temples and shrines and rife with Japanese culture.  It feels less like a generic city and has more character than we’ve seen so far.

Japan 0001  1

Japan 0005

Our visit to Kyoto began with an exciting trip on the Shinkansen, more commonly known to Westerners as the Bullet Train.  The train timing is impeccable in Japan.  When the ticket says the train will arrive at 1:23, it will arrive punctually at that time.  The organization of the train stations has been, almost, comforting.  You know what to expect and it is unlikely you will become lost.  The bullet train is quite luxurious. We have the reserved seat green car, with oversized chairs that recline and have a foot rest.  They bring you a towel at the beginning of your journey and the windows are nice and clean so you can see the countryside.  And, like the name suggests, we pass by the countryside at very high speeds.  Seth found an app that calculates ground speed and we clocked a fairly constant speed of 150mph, topping out at 158mph.  That’s the fastest I’ve gone on land.  It’s pretty neat.  And the train is so smooth, you barely notice you are moving.  But, the train to Kyoto is quick and it was over shortly, only about 30 minutes including stops at other stations.  Pretty impressive.

Japan 0049

In Kyoto, Joan had found us a traditional Japanese style apartment to stay in.  It was pretty easy to find the place, even though it was tucked in an alley with no street signs.  The choked alley is packed with narrow two and three story homes with fairly short clearance, forcing us to mind our heads at every doorway.  The alley sits along a peaceful little river and is lined with quaint little bridges and visited by ducks in the morning.  Nearby is a local market where we found interesting shops and market stalls.

Japan 0027

Heading into the downtown area of Kyoto it was interesting to find a mix of traditional Japanese architecture and stores alongside super modern buildings with brand names like Zara, Chanel, and the Gap on their storefronts.  One of our first stops was to the knife store Aritsugu, to check out the most famous Japanese knives.  Seth looked around, and was impressed, but decided to check the oldest known store in Japan first.  We flowed streets that snaked in all directions in order to find Shigeharu, the little shop of the knife maker.  The man spoke very little English, but was able to communicate enough for Seth to fall in love with two knives.  At Shigeharu he bought a santoku knife and a deba knife.  It was really neat to meet someone who had made the knives and came from a family who had been making knives for the past 500 years or so.  Pretty impressive.  After that we went back to Aritsugu to buy two more knives.  There he bought a sashimi knife and a Japanese paring knife.  For these you get to get whatever you want engraved on the knife in either Japanese Katakana characters or in English.  Seth got ‘Cobb’ in Katakana characters on the knives and it’s pretty cool.

Japan 0003

Japan 0002

Japan 0004

aritsugu kyoto

Japan 0007

Japan 0008

Japan 0009

Japan 0006

Japan 0010

Japan 0011

Afterwards, I was pretty excited because the plan was to have a sushi dinner.  The woman who owns the apartment recommended Musashi for good quality sushi for an affordable price.  We were surprised to see that the place was a conveyor belt sushi place.  I thought this was an American phenomena, but I guess not.  Each plate was 137 yen, which comes out to $1.72.  We ate sushi to our hearts content, or at least till our bellies were full, drinking our complimentary green tea, and it only set us back about 25 bucks.  This is really good for sushi, in the US or Japan, and it really was good quality.  Nice…

MushashiKyoto

Japan 0004  1

Japan 0005  1

Walking around Kyoto we came across shrines in what seemed to be unusual places.  In the big shopping arcades we would turn a corner and there would be a huge shrine.  Once again, mixing of old and new. At one corner of the giant shopping area, just behind the Aritsugu shop was the Nishi marketplace, where you could find anything from quail egg stuffed baby octopus on a stick, to seasonal dried black edamame, to exquisitely delicate, hand made and painted pottery.  It was a very delicious place to walk around.  Many vendors would gesture politely to you in order to offer you a taste of their delicacies.  Everything is so good.  We snacked and bought more for later.

Japan 0012

The next day we mostly walked around aimlessly shopping and trying to relax a little.  Though Japan has been a lot of fun, it’s been really fast paced and we’ve been walking a lot, so it’s been tiring.  We, also, didn’t want to do too much sight seeing of temples and shrines before Joan and Steve joined us.  

Japan 0014

The next day was pretty packed with transit for Seth and I.  We made our way to the train station fairly early in order to catch a train to Kobe to pick up Joan and Steve.  When we arrived at their hotel we found the gathering area for a walk a thon and spent a little bit of time watching some performers.  Eventually Joan and Steve made it back to the hotel and we found our way back to the train station to Kyoto.  Steve was feeling much better, which he was happy to show us back at Musashi.  He made a nice pile of plates to match the amount of sushi that Seth and I devoured.  We were hoping he was feeling good enough to enjoy that place, and luckily he did.  Joan was able to enjoy tempura and some veggie rolls.

Japan 0013

The following day’s adventures included a ton of temples.  We visited the Nanzen-Ji temple complex.  The massive wood temples were quite a sight to see.  I really enjoyed the Japanese garden.  

Japan 0015

Japan 0017

Japan 0016

Japan 0018

Japan 0019

Japan 0020

Japan 0021

Japan 0022

Japan 0023

Japan 0024

Japan 0025

Our lunch that day was my favorite meal in Kyoto.  We found a soba place that made their own noodles.  Seth and I both asked for omakase shimas which is asking for the server to choose for you.  He pointed to a soba plate with tempura and Seth ordered his hot, while I ordered mine cold.  I don’t think I’ve ever eaten cold soba, so this was something new for me.  When we got our plates I had to ask what exactly to do, because the noodles were submerged in a bowl of iced water.  I knew that I wasn’t to eat the noodles directly from the ice water, and that I shouldn’t pour the sauce into the water, and there were little veggies and toppings on my tray as well.  So, I found out that what you do is you slide all the toppings you desire into the sauce (I put all of my green onions, shallots, ginger, and bamboo shoots in, and a little bit of sesame seeds) and then you dunk your noodles into the sauce before eating them.  The noodles had the perfect consistency of being soft and firm at the same time.  The sauce was salty and the bamboo shoots and onions complimented the noodles well.  And the tempura was the best tempura I’d ever had as well.  The veggies and shrimp inside were perfectly cooked, and the tempura was crunchy, savory, and light, not greasy like in the US.  For me, it was a perfect meal.

Japan 0186

Nearby was the giant temple Honen-Ji.  There was a major courtyard and large temples surrounding it.  The entrance led to a large street framed with colossal orange ‘arcs’ which look like the mathematical symbol for pi.  They were setting up for the next day when the Jidari Festival parade would finish there.  The next day we were able to watch the festival.  The Jidari Festival is a parade that depicts traditional ware and costumes throughout the Edo period.  We saw some interesting costumes and some interesting looking horses with really long, skinny legs.  There were, also, geisha in the parade.  That was a highlight for me.  There are only about 1000 geisha left in Japan, and about 800 of them live in Kyoto.  So, seeing geisha in Kyoto is just something you do.  That evening we went to a street where there are many traditional geisha tea houses so we could see some geisha making their way to appointments.  Seth, Joan, and I felt kind of stalker-ish standing outside homes, alongside a group of men with fancy cameras, waiting to get a shot of a geisha.  When it came down to it, I felt awkward and embarrassed to take pictures.  The coolest sighting occurred when we were leaving.  There were two really fancy looking geisha in the back of a black limousine like taxi.  They were beautifully done up with the white makeup and hair adornments.

Japan 0026

KyotoPano

Japan 0029

Japan 0030

Japan 0031

Japan 0032

Japan 0033

Japan 0035

Japan 0037

Japan 0038

Japan 0041

Japan 0043

The next day was cold, cloudy, and rainy.  But, that was ok, because we had to run some boring errands anyhow.  But, nothing is truly boring when you are traveling, because even the most mundane task is different than how you do it at home.  For example, we were told that the best place to buy an extra suitcase for Joan and Steve to bring back all of our collected souvenirs and all the ones they had purchased in Japan, was at a specific mall.  While searching for a suitcase we saw all different sorts of stores that were unique from those you typically find in the US.  After we found Joan a big blue suitcase, we went back to Nishi market to have some snacks and so Steve could buy some knives.  The rest of the evening was spent organizing, packing, and returning to a restaurant around the corner to pick up some of the best gyoza we’ve ever had.  It was difficult to leave Kyoto, but we were excited to head to Tokyo, and on the way we would hopefully see Mount Fuji from the Shinkansen.

Japan 0044

Japan 0045

Japan 0046

Japan 0050

All You Need is Kobe

We hopped on a train and made our way to Kobe.  Kobe is actually quite close to Osaka, only about 20 minutes on the train and we were there.  Luckily, our hotel offered a free shuttle, that runs all day, from the train station to the hotel, so that was convenient.  The Kobe Meriken Park Oriental Hotel is a pretty fancy place.  We booked two rooms with a water view, but didn’t realize that the hotel is on a little peninsula in the harbor, so most of the rooms face the water.  But, we were lucky enough to receive a room facing a ferris wheel that lit up at night and was a constant swirl of color throughout our stay.

hotel view

hotel view 2

Kobe is a smaller city with tons to see.  Our first day we woke up and decided that the buffet breakfast in the hotel would be interesting.  We ate unlimited amounts of pork bao and shumai with delicious dollops of super spicy mustard.  We tried little bits of Japanese cuisine, like pickled cucumbers, miso, noodles, fried pork, steamed salmon and much more for breakfast.  Yum!  After breakfast we slowly made our way to the Ikuta shrine.  Japan is a mix of Buddhism and Shinto.  Shinto is a nature based animistic religion, but more a way of life than what Westerners call religion.  This applies to their version of Buddhism as well.  Anyhow, the Ikuta shrine is a Shinto shrine. We walked around, admired the red ‘arches’ and even got to watch the blessing of a baby.  The grounds of the shrine are beautiful and quite peaceful.

Ikuta Shrine

Ikuta shrine 2

Ikuta Shrine 3

After the shrine we decided to visit the nearby gardens.  We were a little confused because on the map it looked like it was in a building, but we figured there was a garden in the building.  We were surprised to find that it was less of a rock or tree garden, but a bit of a food garden! It was a building with little shops that sold specialty foods, which is just as good as a garden with trees.  Since chestnuts are in season and seem to be a big deal over here, we partook in some chestnut soft serve ice cream.  It was really good.  The creamy, nutty ice cream was accentuated by little chunks of the nuts themselves.  We eventually found a little fudge shop where the owner was extremely proud to let us sample his chocolates.  We ended up leaving with a little sample box because they were so good!  On the way out we, also, found a shop with semi cured mushrooms and meats and that was fun to buy.  The two women shop keepers were very helpful and quite excited to have us.  But, then again, everyone in Japan is so nice it shouldn’t be a surprise anymore.

We thought that the best way to end our day would be to head to the sake breweries and to try some sake.  We made our way over to the sake district of Nada, only to find that sake breweries offer tours from 9am through 4:30pm and it was already 5pm.  Boo! That was a bummer.  But, we found a little sake shop, bought some local sake, and slowly made our way back to the hotel.  On the way we stopped at a little ramen shop.  Boy that was some good ramen, it was full of that yummy miso flavor and jam packed with noodles and other goodies!

That night we went back to the hotel to drink sake and play another round of Farkle.  That was fun, as always, and though Seth won, it was a pretty close game.

Japana farkle

In the morning, Steve wasn’t feeling too great so he decided to hang out at the hotel until evening.  So Seth, Joan, and I made our way to visit the Nunobiki Waterfalls and the Herb Garden.  To get to the top we took the super awesome gondola.  Apparently this is the norm at Colorado ski slopes so they weren’t as impressed as I was, but the view was nice.  And we went pretty high.  The herb garden was quite large and had many types of herbs and edible plants I had never tasted before.  We did a lot of rubbing leaves and sniffing.  That was pretty neat.  We then hiked all the way down to where the waterfall was.  It was a pretty impressive hike for Joan to do in her Birkenstocks.  The waterfall is said to hold some of the purest, most sacred water in Japan, and is on the top 100 waterfalls in Japan list.  It was very peaceful.

Waterfall

pot head

On our way back to the hotel the most unlikely thing happened, we ran into our Osaka tour guide friend Minako! We were all shocked, but pleasantly surprised.  It was truly nice to see Minako one more time.

Back at the hotel, Steve still wasn’t feeling well, but insisted we continue our plans for dinner at a Kobe beef steak house without him.  Kobe beef comes from the black Tajima-Ushi breed of Wagyu cattle from the Hyogo Prefecture in Japan.  There is no exporting of beef from Japan so you can not obtain it in the US, despite what some vendors purport.  Kobe cattle are fed beer during the summer months to stimulate appetite when it is hot.  The cattle are given massages to relieve stress and muscle stiffness.  It is thought that the meat quality is effected by the contentment of the cows.  Similarly, some producers believe that hair coat and softness of the cattle will improve the overall product and therefore they brush sake over the cow’s coat.  At the end of the day you get a very pricey piece of extremely delicious meat.  But, be warned, this is not anything like American meat.  This meat has an extremely high fat content and some may find it too greasy.  But, we thought it was amazing.  The rich, umami flavor that i hope to experience again, nearly melted in my mouth.  Similarly, the restaurant, Miyasu, was amazing.  The rest of the meal was impeccable as well.

amuse boush

scallop

salad

soup

steak

The next morning we were surprised to hear that Steve was not feeling better, even after a full day’s rest.  So, Steve and Joan went to get him checked out and we wandered around Kobe.  We eventually found an underground area with tons of little restaurants.  We stopped at a place that was serving up noodles on a fry top right at the counter.  We had to order from a little machine and grab a ticket to give to the hostess when we were seated.  For this we needed assistance.  We, obviously didn’ t know all of the options, but we were able to point to some pictures on a cardboard cut out and ask the two guys in front of us which button meant those.  We ended up getting the right pictures, so we did a good job.  It was delicious.  Any place with a line is bound to be tasty.

okonomiyaki 1

okonomiyaki

We hopped back on our free shuttle and made our way back to the hotel to check out the pool.  The pool pass came with a list of rules.  You must wear a swim cap in the pool.  You must shower before entering the pool.  You must wash in between sauna and pool.  No tattoos are to be exposed in the pool area (but when I asked she said it was ok).  And the list went on.  But, it was nice to soak a bit.  It was a rainy day, so looking out over the harbor was nice from the lukewarm hot tub.  And we got to check out some interesting hotel visitors, as well.  There was one guy, probably in his late 30’s to early 40’s who spent almost the entire time we were there sitting in one place, walking to another and sitting, and returning, and so on.  He happened to be wearing a tinsy tinsy, almost thong like neon color bottom.  He was scoping the scene for ladies, and I think the pool crowd was too old for him.  I made sure I stuck close to Seth. LOL

kobe 01

kobe 02

kobe 03

kobe 04

kobe 05

kobe 05

kobe 06

Kuidaore!

Oh Nepal. You will be missed!  It was a very long journey to leave you, about 27 hours from hotel to hotel, and it included a five hour layover in the airport in Bangkok, Thailand, and then waiting for Joan and Steve for another ten hours or so at Osaka’s airport.  Luckily, both airports were nice and had things to walk around and look at.  

Bangkok to Osaka

Bangkok airport

it's like pho but good

 Like I said, we waited for Joan and Steve at Osaka Airport for quite some time.  Our flight landed at 6 am and Joan and Steve didn’t emerge from the arrivals door until about 4 pm.  Seth and I spent the day wandering through the airport, marveling at all the amazing food choices, and noting the different cultural mannerisms of the Japanese people.  So far, I like Japanese culture.  

corn and chicken tea

mom and dad in Osaka

After settling some business at the airport, like JRail passes and money exchange, we grabbed a taxi to our hotel.  Joan found us a beautiful hotel in a very convenient location.  The Hotel Monterey Grasmere is a great choice if staying in Osaka.  It has nice clean rooms near a major train station, near great areas to explore, and the rooms are quite luxurious compared to what we’ve stayed in on our trip so far.  Something instantly noted in our room, and in other public restrooms at the airport, have been the bathrooms.  The rumors are true.  Japan has some high tech toilets with sprays, a heat seat, courtesy noises while you sit, and buttons galore.  If you’re not careful, you could push a button and you’ll be sprayed with water.  At first, flushing the toilet took some time to find the flusher.

japanToilet

We spent 5 days in Osaka and I loved every minute of it.  There are tons of little streets lined with interesting restaurants and shops with cute little toys and nick nacks to look at.  The Japanese really do have an infatuation with anything small and that has a large cuteness factor.  If it’s cute when it’s life sized, make it smaller and the adorable factor multiplies exponentially.  One of our days in Osaka was spent on a tour with All Star Osaka Tours.  Our guide, Minako, was amazing.  She showed us around Osaka pointing out bits and pieces of Osaka history and culture.  She had tons of great little stories to match up with every place we went.  And she’s been quite a help.  Espeically if you don’t speak Japanese, I highly recommend taking a tour or finding someone to translate, because Minako’s assistance was invaluable.

shinto shrine

budda shrine

Osaka Seth

Another landmark we visited was the Osaka Castle.  Perched upon a bit of a hill is a fortress which looks like an elegant mansion from the times of the orient.  Obviously an important castle, continuous groups of children of all ages streamed in and out of the castle doors.  Groups of elderly persons were wheeled and were ushered about, and we were right in the midst of it.  It really is amazing how few non asian people we’ve seen in Japan so far.  The castle was more interesting on the outside than the inside.  The inside had been converted into a museum, but there was a viewing deck up top that proved for spectacular panoramic views of the city.

Japan 0105

Japan Kids

My favorite areas in Osaka happened to be clustered around our hotel.  First of all, there are subway stations in Osaka, and some of them have massive underground mall-like areas.  Namba Walk began just outside of our hotel’s doors.  We’d descend the flights of stairs into an underground world filled with seemingly endless shops and restaurants.  So many of them fulfilling the stereotype of needing to have an adorably cute mascot of some kind.  

Osaka street scene

The most vibrant scene in Osaka occurred at Dotonburi Bridge area.  This area is the Times Square of Osaka, packed with huge billboards, three dimensional caricatures of people and animals and store mascots, and signs with neon lights abound.  We took the necessary photos with the Glico running man, the Kuidaore Clown, and stuck our heads in any cardboard cut out we could find.  Well, at least I did.  We walked over the ‘pick up girls’ bridge where guys hang around in the evenings to pick up on the ladies, and learned why the Honshu Tigers have had bad luck since the early 80’s.  Apparently they won the series and fans would jump off the bridge into the water screaming their favorite player’s name.  There was an American on the team so they went searching for an American to jump off the bridge.  They found an American guy and they picked him up and threw him off the bridge.  The reason the Tigers still have bad luck is because the American has not been recovered, until recently.  He was found, but his left hand and spectacles are still missing.  Minako took out a picture of the American man and we saw that they had thrown in a statue of Kernel Sanders from outside the close by KFC.  Awesome story.  It is said that when they find the hand and specs the Honshu Tigers will break the curse!  

Japan 0009

Japan 0043

Japan 0068

Japan 0092

Japan 0094

Japan 0099Japan 0102

Japan 0103

Japan 0213

good luck

 

I mentioned the Kuidaore Clown but I don’t think I explained the word kuidaore.  Kuidaore is something commonly practiced among the people of Osaka.  Osakans are foodies and kuidaore means eat until you fall over.  I love this idea.  And when you are practicing kuidaore you need to take a picture with the Kuidaore Clown.  So, we did.  How did we practice kuidaore that day? We began the day with pork bao from 551 (go go ichi in Japanese) because they are renowned for their bao.  Yum it was delicious.  Eventually we made our way to another delicious restaurant where we tried okonomiyaki.  This is a wonderful mix of tons of ingredients like eggs, onions, cheese perhaps, maybe some seafood, some rice cakes, you could really put just about anything in there, but it always tastes delicious, and you douse it heavily with mayo, okonomiyaki sauce (which is dark, sweet and savory at the same time) and sometimes hot mustard.  It is so, so good!  While we were there we, also, tried their yakisoba (noodles), and their taki yaki.  Taki yaki is a wonderful dish native to Osaka.  They are little octopus balls served molten hot and doused in mayo, some kind of dark sauce, bonito flakes, and whatever else they put on it.  This is a type of street food and it is amazing.  Though delicious, they are fiery hot inside and my mouth is paying for it.  But the taki yaki we had in the restaurant was a bit different, as it was Tokyo style.  It was milder in flavor and you dipped it in a clear broth type liquid with green onions and kind of salty water.  Not as amazing as the Osakan street version, but still pretty good.  We, also, tried something that I could compare to an omlette, but a little different.  That was delicious too.  The food was amazing and plentiful.  Surely kuidaore was achieved.  

okonomiyaki

pancake

Later, we tried some freshly made soy milk.  It tasted different than any I have ever tasted.  It was fresh like the beans themselves, and had no artificial sweetness like the ones you buy in the stores.  And the couple who ran the shop were great to talk with (with Minako’s help, of course).  They were just as curious about us as we were of them.  We learned that they were closing the shop in about a month to retire while they could still enjoy their time together.  One goal for them was to visit Honolulu for the woman to run in the Honolulu Marathon.  That’s awesome.

Osaka mamma

soy milk

There are so many things I want to share! Osaka was amazing, so I’m trying to do it justice.  

kushikatsu

Japan 0008

Olo olo

Osaka Shrine

wheel view

Japan 0023

We decided that we were going to put our lives in peril while dining in Osaka.  Fugu is a potentially lethal meal of puffer fish.  You have to be trained and certified to handle fugu, and you can, literally, die within hours of eating if improperly prepared.  Stories have been told of people who regularly eat fugu, but suffer symptoms of tingling in extremities and facial numbness. Minako had showed us a famous fugu restaurant, so we decided to live on the edge.  It was a very delicate fish, so delicate in fact that it hardly had any flavor.  Yes, we dined on fugu, but will we order it again? Probably not.

fugu 1

fugu 2

If you don’t know already, sushi is my absolute, hands down, favorite food.  So, having a meal of sushi in Japan was a pretty big deal for me, and has definitely been on my bucket list.  Anthony Bourdain visited Osaka and dined at a tiny tiny sushi bar run by an old couple.  It took some effort, but after wandering around asking numerous people, we finally found this exact restaurant.  We told the couple that we were interested in omakase, chef’s choice.  I was in heaven.  We were in Japan, at a tinsy tiny sushi bar, eating amazingly fresh toro, blue mackerel, abalone and so much more.  Something interesting we tried was bamboo shoot sushi.  I’ve definitely never seen that on any sushi menu before.  I’d say it was all amazingly delicious, but that would be a lie.  I wasn’t a fan of the abalone.  It had the consistency of chewing on a rubber band, and the raw calamari sushi was like chewing on the sole of a shoe. I chewed it for a really long time before giving up and swallowing.  But, the experience was enough for me.  I even tried uni (sea urchin) and it wasn’t that bad.  I really hope I get more sushi experiences before we leave.

berkley sushi

Kathmandu Part Deux

We’re back in Kathmandu, and though it was difficult to leave the countryside, it’s nice to have the comforts of home and to be in one place for an extended amount of time.  Once again, we are staying at the Hotel Courtyard and it’s just so comfortable here.  We’ve been borrowing DVDs and spending long lazy days recuperating.  Seth’s knee is hurting a bunch so we’re trying not to walk too much.  Luckily we don’t have to do too much walking because Thamel is so convenient.  We’ve been buying souvenirs and frequenting our favorite restaurants, like New Orleans, Fire and Ice, and Green Organic Cafe.  Like I said, we’ve been enjoying having a ‘home’ for the past week.

thamel

McDonalds

walMart

One evening we had dinner at the hotel.  We noticed that the group of people we were hanging out with seemed to be pretty close.  Eventually it came out that these people were expedition groups that had just gotten back from Manaslu (the mountain that seems to be the precursor to climbing Everest).  But, they happened to be on the mountain at the base came when the recent avalanche hit at 4am one morning.  That happened just before we left on our trek.  Some of them had continued on, but for some the tragedy had been too much and they decided to come back to Kathmandu.  Either way they all had some pretty intensely horrifying stories.  Two guys told of how they were catapulted 30 feet and when the movement stopped the top of their tent had been ripped off and all they could see were the stars.  When they got up they found that they were mere feet from a huge crevasse.  Though these expeditioners made it out with scary stories to tell, many died and some are still missing.  What a difficult decision to make, to continue on or to head back.  So many factors at play.

One day we revisited Pema’s clinic where I got a massage while Seth received acupuncture on his knee.  I thoroughly enjoyed my massage and wondered how Seth was enjoying his acupuncture.  I imagine that acupuncture, though being stuck with needles, is quite relaxing as well.  Otherwise, why would people do it? It’s supposed to make you feel good.  So I got the run down from Seth afterwards.  Apparently it is not relaxing and doesn’t feel good.  He says it feels just like sticking needles into you.  He said they stuck a bunch of needles into his knee, and every once in a while they would twist them and push them in a little farther.  Then they hooked electrodes to a few of the needles and zapped him.  He said that his knee felt better for about a half an hour after that, but then it was back to hurting like normal.  But staying off of it has helped it a bit this past week.  That and Tiger Balm and some pain relieving ayurvedic oil being massaged into his knee at least two times a day.

berkleyMassage

We’re getting ready to fly to Japan tomorrow.  I’m going to be sad to leave Nepal.  It’s a beautiful country with nice people.  And, because we’ve gotten to stay in one place it’s turned into a home away from home.  This said, we are SO excited for Japan. And we are really happy that Joan and Steve are joining us.  That’s going to be so much fun.  We’re looking forward to bring in a very clean, polite, safe country.  This isn’t to say that Nepal isn’t polite or safe, or even clean.  But we’re expecting a lot from Japan.  Anyhow, we’re moving right along!