A Travellerspoint blog

Kyoto

semi-overcast 23 °C
View Charlotte and Stephen's Adventure! on charlotter45's travel map.

We spent 10 days in Japan, split evenly between Kyoto and Tokyo, and we’ve absolutely loved it! Miraculously, we’ve managed to stick to our £60 a day budget, but we would definitely splash out a bit more if we came again. We decided that we would spend our time in Kyoto seeing temples and other Japanese cultural and historic spots, and then spend our days in Tokyo seeing all that is weird, wonderful and modern. This turned out to be a pretty good way of doing things :)

We did so much in Kyoto, and I took so many photos so this entry (and probably the Tokyo one too) will be pretty long! Sorry!

SAM_2674.jpg
The view over Kyoto from the Skywalk at Kyoto station

Day 1:

After catching a train from Kansai airport to Kyoto, we arrived at our hostel at around midnight and immediately came across two unique Japanese things – an aluminium bottle of Coke, and an all singing, all bum-washing toilet! Yay!

SAM_2559.jpg

SAM_2723.jpg

After a comfortable night’s sleep (first duvet in 3 months!), we got up early and moved to another hostel. We couldn’t have checked in after 11pm at the place we really wanted to stay, so had to stay elsewhere on the first night. This second hostel was amazing value for Japan and it had the exact same duvet and cover that I have at home – it was heaven!

This was a very exciting day for us as we met up with my friend Stu from uni who is doing the JET programme in Japan this year. We only had a few precious hours with him, but he taught us some invaluable Japanese phrases, told us what food we had to try and showed us the joys of Purikura. This is like a very sophisticated photo booth that girls love to use - it basically warps you out of all recognition and makes you look taller, cuter and prettier!

SAM_2706.jpg
You could choose from 3 different leg lengths in this booth!

In the afternoon we went to visit a few of the bigger temples near our hostel and then wandered around the city centre in the evening. Our hostel was right in the middle of Gion, the Geisha district, but unfortunately we didn’t see any Geisha or Maiko (trainee Geisha) at all during our stay.

Day 2:

Today was an full-on sightseeing day, we managed to fit so much in and were so tired at the end of it! In the morning we got a bus up to Kinkakuji temple which has a very pretty golden pavilion on a lake.

SAM_2572.jpg

We then walked along to Ryoanji temple which has a zen garden with some perfectly placed stones in. I didn’t really understand the significance of the placing as all the signs were in Japanese – but the gravel was raked very nicely!

SAM_2581.jpg
The zen garden at Ryoanji

We then got the bus back to the centre of town and bought a (very Japanese) convenience store picnic lunch, which we ate by the river.

SAM_2585.jpg
A sample of the random selection of foods you can buy in Japanese convenience stores

After lunch we visited Nijojo castle which had an interesting floor that squeaked so you could hear when an intruder was coming in – proving that the Japanese have been coming up with crazy inventions for centuries!

After the castle, we walked to the kaleidoscope museum. On our way we stopped to get a drink at a vending machine – these are EVERYWHERE in the Japan! You can’t walk more than 25m without bumping into one, and they’re often bunched together with two or three next to each other! We found another interesting Coke can, this one was massive (no lid though :() -

P1040863.jpg
The ubiquitous vending machine!

SAM_2596.jpg
Big Coke!

The museum was really cool and fun! It was just one room but it contained about 50 kaleidoscopes and they were all so different. Some were really huge and so ornate; they looked just like antique ornaments. Unfortunately you couldn’t take pictures inside :(

In the evening we went to a sushi restaurant and it was so cheap and delicious! I tried pretty much everything (apart from salmon roe and raw prawns) and was very surprised that I liked all the raw fish! I’ve never been to a Yo! Sushi restaurant at home and have always wanted to go, but I don’t think I ever will now as I know it just won’t compare.

SAM_2600.jpg
A real Japanese sushi restaurant

Day 3:

Today we took a day trip to Nara, which has the world’s largest wooden building (Todaiji temple) containing the world’s largest bronze Buddha.

SAM_2634.jpg
Todaiji temple

Needless to say, both these world records were pretty impressive, but the best thing about Nara was the deer! The temples are situated in a big deer park and they are so tame. You can buy ‘deer biscuits’ and feed them and they all bow their heads to ask for the food. It’s crazy and we basically spent the whole day feeding the deer and trying to find the little scruffy scared ones to give food to as it seemed that all the big pretty deer got fed by everyone else!

SAM_2655.jpg
Feeding the deer

SAM_2620.jpg
This poor man got surrounded!

As well as playing with deer and visiting temples, we found the time to visit a pretty little Japanese garden. I also purchased my first of many Hello Kitty souvenirs – a phone charm with Hello Kitty dressed as a deer with a ‘deer biscuit’ that says Nara on it! Strangely, I purchased this inside the big temple as it had a gift shop.

SAM_2614.jpg
Yoshikien Garden

SAM_2649.jpg
Hello Kitty Nara!

We just did our usual wandering around the centre of Kyoto in the evening and discovered that the Japanese are able to make ANYTHING cute –even doughnuts!

SAM_2685.jpg
Cutest doughnut ever!

Day 4:

I spent the day in bed today as a cold that had been brewing for the last couple of days had got a lot worse. Stephen was also pretty ill but he made it out for another full day of sightseeing. His favourite place was Fushimi Inari Shrine, which has thousands of red gates leading up to the top of a big hill.

P1050304.jpg
Red gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine

Day 5:

We set off earlier than we needed to catch the bullet train to Tokyo as we wanted to take some photos of Kyoto station, which is huge and very cool. It contains food courts, sky walks, a rooftop garden, department stores and even a concert stage!

SAM_2672.jpg
Just some of Kyoto station

We decided to pay the extra money to go on the fastest possible train as we thought we shouldn’t pass up the opportunity, so off we went to Tokyo at 230km/hr!

SAM_2715.jpg
The bullet train

Posted by charlotter45 18:23 Archived in Japan Tagged kyoto japan temple shopping museum castle eating Comments (0)

A brief visit to the Philippines

Manila and Boracay

sunny 35 °C
View Charlotte and Stephen's Adventure! on charlotter45's travel map.

Considering how many islands make up the Philippines, we spent a very short time here and would like to come back and spend more time in the future. We spent 24 hours in Manila before heading to the island of Boracay for 8 days, followed by another 24 hours in Manila before flying to Japan.

Manila:

Manila is a really big city but there are so many cheap and reliable public transport options to get around, our favourites were tricycles and 'jeepneys':

P1030165.jpg
A jeepney

P1040118.jpg
A tricycle

We spent our first day in Manila walking around Mall of Asia, which is basically just a massive mall! What surprised me most was the amount of fast-food and casual restaurants there were. It seemed like there were more eateries than shops and they were all really unhealthy and really busy - we quickly learnt that Filipinos love to eat!

Boracay:

The following day we got our flight to the mainland nearest to Boracay and then a ferry across to the island. It wasn't very nice weather on this first day and we were a bit worried it would continue as it was just coming into the rainy season, but luckily this was the only day of bad weather that we had :)

The island was beautiful, but so busy with Filipino tourists, not at all like the other islands we've been to! The main beach - White Beach - was lined with shops and restaurants (mainly restaurants) and the path was always packed with people walking from one end of the beach to the other. Boracay wasn't really our idea of a paradise island, but it was nice to just be able to relax for a week and have easy access to everything we needed.

SAM_2488.jpg
White Beach

We stayed 4 nights just off White Beach and 4 nights on another beach about 2km away called Diniwid. Diniwid beach was much quieter and our accommodation there was amazing. It was a house built on a cliff and we had a lovely view out to sea from our balcony. We still walked to White Beach in the evenings for food and drinks as there was lots more going on there.

SAM_2504.jpg
Our balcony

SAM_2506.jpg
View from our balcony

We didn't do much in the way of activities on Boracay - only sunbathing, eating, swimming and walking up and down the 6km beach! Although one day we went parasailing and Stephen did two dives. I attempted to do a dive through a 'discover scuba diving' course but I didn't like it all! I felt very nervous and scared and only lasted about 10 minutes :( It's a shame that I didn't like it as everyone thinks diving is amazing, and it was an expensive way to learn that I didn't like it, but at least I know now. Maybe I'll try again in the future, but not for a while!

SAM_2521.jpg
Parasailing

Manila:

We arrived back in Manila at around 4pm and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening walking around the upmarket Makati area. This is obviously where all the expats hang out as there were lots of nice restaurants, bars and shopping centres around. We also saw what could only be the world's smallest McDonald's (selling only ice cream and drinks):

SAM_2553.jpg
It was so small the 'd's' of McDonald's hung off the edge!

We rounded off the evening by going to Chili's for all you can drink frozen margaritas, but we only managed to have 2 each as they were pretty sickly and strong!

The following day we got up early as we had to be at the airport at 1pm for our flight and there were still some things we wanted to do. We got a jeepney to Intramuros, the old part of Manila, and got a little tour around there by 'pedicab' (basically someone cycling you around). Afterwards we walked back to the parts that we thought needed more time to look around. After this we went to the National Gallery and National Museum. We had a lovely guide at the museum who explained all the exhibits to us, which wasn't expected at all as the entry price was so cheap! Unfortunately we had to cut his tour short as we had to hurry to the airport :(

So that was our brief visit to the Philippines, hopefully we can come back another time and go to Palawan which sounds more like our idea of an island paradise.

Posted by charlotter45 00:18 Archived in Philippines Tagged food beach gallery museum mall Comments (1)

Ho Chi Minh City

sunny 35 °C
View Charlotte and Stephen's Adventure! on charlotter45's travel map.

With only three full days in the capital of Vietnam, I didn’t think we would have enough time to explore it fully, but it turned out to be the perfect amount of time to do everything we wanted to :) I really enjoyed the city, it was a cool mix of old and new and a good end to our month in Vietnam.

Day 1:

We got the bus from the airport to as near to our guesthouse as we could get, and walked the rest of the way. Dragging my bag across roads in Ho Chi Minh proved to be pretty difficult as they are crazy - I’ve never seen so many motorbikes in my life! I thought Hanoi was bad but this was something else!

We were staying in the backpacker’s area so there was plenty of cheap food and even cheaper beer, so this kept us busy for our first evening. After being bitten a few times, we went into a supermarket to buy some insect repellent and came across 6 litre bottles of vodka, gin and rum! Obviously we didn’t buy one, but it would have only cost us about £15 if we’d wanted to.

P1020681.jpg

Stephen also got his first haircut of the trip and they did a fairly good job for £2!

SAM_2419.jpg

Day 2:

Today was a day of full-on site seeing! We did Lonely Planet’s suggested walking route and saw lots of the historical buildings and went inside the Independence Palace. It took all day and was a good way to see the sites, even if it did take us around some pretty random streets that didn’t seem to have much on them!

P1020709.jpg
The old and the new of Ho Chi Minh City

Walking around all day got pretty hot and tiring so we decided to go somewhere with air con for a drink. We picked New York Desserts Café, and our ‘drink’ turned into an Oreo mud pie and a lemonade float for me, and a 12 layer chocolate cake and a chocolate Coke float for Stephen! It was so delicious, but probably the unhealthiest food we’ve had the whole trip, especially as it was just a ‘snack’!

SAM_2430.jpg

SAM_2429.jpg

As well as the heat it was also tiring having to risk your life every time you wanted to cross a road! There are no pedestrian crossings, everyone drives very fast and red lights are not necessarily obeyed. Here is a picture of the crazy traffic in Ho Chi Minh, right outside the Notre Dame cathedral (not anywhere near as impressive as the one in Paris obviously):

P1020789.jpg

Day 3:

In the morning we had booked onto a trip to see the Cu Chi tunnels which the Vietnamese dug during the war to confuse and hide from the US soldiers. It was pretty interesting learning how big this network of tunnels was and the traps and tricks they used to capture the Americans. There were sections of tunnel that you could go in (widened so that Western tourists can fit!), but I was a bit scared to go in. Stephen did though – here he is getting into the hidden entrance:

SAM_2448.jpg

In the afternoon we went to the War Remnants museum where we saw lots of US army tanks and helicopters and various photos from the American War. Most shocking were the pictures of the children who were born with deformities due to the spreading of Agent Orange and other chemicals over Vietnam.

We decided to have a treat evening as it was our last night in Vietnam, although this didn’t involve very Vietnamese activities or foods! First we went to a bar on the rooftop of a tall building and had delicious olives (something I miss so much about home) and cocktails. After this we went to the Hard Rock Café. We had planned to go elsewhere for drinks after dinner, but the band were good and lots of funny things happened so we just stayed there until late. Never before have I been to a Hard Rock Café (or anywhere!) where 5 year old girls have got up on stage and sang ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’, and teenage groups of girls have got up and done dance routines to the songs the band where playing! Best of all was the (extremely camp!) staff getting up on the tables to dance to ‘Moves Like Jagger’.

P1020848.jpg
Rooftop cocktails

P1020936.jpg
Teenage girls doing a dance routine at Hard Rock Cafe!

Day 4:

Our flight wasn’t until 1am so we had another full day. We got the bus to Chinatown and had a look around the best temples there. We felt that we were definitely out of the tourist zone – we were the only non-Vietnamese/Chinese people to be seen anywhere! After Chinatown we just wandered around the shopping centres and around the backpacker area again. For dinner we had Vietnamese food for one last time (boo :() before we flew off to the Philippines

Before we left, people asked me what country I was most looking forward to visiting and I always said Vietnam. When we arrived in Hanoi I really thought I would hate it and I was really disappointed, but now, after travelling around Vietnam for a month, I can safely say that (overall) it’s been my favourite country so far :) Hopefully we’ll be able to come back one day as there were a lot of places that we wanted to go but just didn’t have the time.

Posted by charlotter45 06:43 Archived in Vietnam Tagged traffic tunnels city sightseeing drinking Comments (0)

Phu Quoc Island

Feeling free at Freedomland

overcast 30 °C
View Charlotte and Stephen's Adventure! on charlotter45's travel map.

While staying on Koh Rong in Cambodia, our new friend Betty told us about Phu Quoc and the place she stayed called Freedomland. We thought if she was saying this island and resort were amazing, when we were currently on the beautiful island of Koh Rong, then it must be good!

We splashed out and booked a flight from Da Lat to Ho Chi Minh City (no more buses please!) and then transferred onto a flight to Phu Quoc.

We felt right at home the minute we entered the Freedomland resort – it was small and cosy but the bungalows were well spaced out and it was very quiet. They don’t allow visitors and it’s quite isolated from everything so it feels very private. Our bungalow was beautifully made and decorated and had an outdoor bathroom, which was a first!

SAM_2358__Large_.jpg

SAM_2356.jpg

We walked to the nearest beach in the afternoon but it was cloudy and the sea was very choppy so we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the deckchairs and hammocks on our balcony. Unfortunately weather stayed cloudy for most of the time we were on the island – apart from the day we left, of course!

The absolute best thing about Freedomland was the 5 course dinner every night! It was communal so you got to know everyone staying there, and each course was so beautifully presented and delicious. Definitely the best food of the trip so far! Peter, the owner of Freedomland and the chef, took real care each day to make sure we had an amazing dinner each night, even giving us all a free cocktail when he wasn’t 100% happy with one of the courses one night. I wish I took more pictures of the food because it was so pretty, but I usually forgot to bring my camera!

SAM_2379__Large_.jpg

SAM_2386__Large_.jpg

We spent two of our days on the island hanging out at our resort or at the beaches nearby and the other two days exploring the island by motorbike (I feel like I’m spending increasing amounts of time on the back of bikes recently!).

Our first day on the motorbike took us up to the north of the island where we visited a fishing village and another beach. It was ok, but it was a bit rainy that day so we got pretty wet and it wasn’t the most interesting scenery. But it was still something fun to do!

We visited the south-east of the island on our second day on the bike and we had such a good day. Peter had recommended that we go to Sao Beach, and other people staying at Freedomland had said it was really nice. It was cloudy when we left so we didn’t think it would be good beach weather, but by the end of our one hour drive to get there the sky was clear and sun was shining! The beach was gorgeous – really fine white sand and clear blue shallow sea, definitely one of the best beaches I’ve seen.

SAM_2363__Large_.jpg

SAM_2370.jpg

Phu Quoc, and Freedomland in particular, is one of those places I would love to go back to but I know I probably never will, so I was pretty sad to leave. Thank you Betty for your excellent recommendation!

Posted by charlotter45 06:33 Archived in Vietnam Tagged food beach motorbike bungalow Comments (0)

Easyriding from Nha Trang to Da Lat

semi-overcast 30 °C
View Charlotte and Stephen's Adventure! on charlotter45's travel map.

This is going to be a photo heavy blog for two reasons:

1. I did nothing except sunbathe and eat during our 4 days in Nha Trang
2. We did too much to talk about on our Easyrider trip from Nha Trang to Da Lat

Nha Trang:

Nha Trang is a big beach resort in central Vietnam. It has a beautiful 7km stretch of white sand with a perfectly clear turquoise sea. It was very busy and there were a lot of Russian tourists there. All I did was relax on a sunlounger on the beach outside a place called the Louisianne Brewhouse. Stephen spent his days getting his open water diving qualification (he might get around to writing about it, but seeing as we're still waiting for his entry on the slow boat from Houay Xai to Luang Prabang from 2 months ago, I wouldn't hold your breath!)

SAM_2088.jpg
View on Nha Trang beach from my sunlounger

SAM_2100.jpg
Cooking our own dinner one night

SAM_2099.jpg
Something we could have chosen for the BBQ!

SAM_2105.jpg
Our lovely lunch at the Sailing Club on the beach

Easyriding from Nha Trang to Da Lat

Easyriding is basically hiring a man with a big bike to drive you around Vietnam for however long you like. They strap your big bag to the back of the bike so you can lean on it (which is pretty comfortable) and you spend the day driving around the countryside seeing the real Vietnam. We chose to do 3 days from Nha Trang to a place in the highlands called Da Lat, and it was the best 3 days we've had in Vietnam so far. Our drivers were called Hai and Binh and they were lovely! They were so knowledgeable and were excellent drivers, plus they took us to amazingly cheap and delicious local restaurants for lunch and dinner every day. It was the best fun ever, and if you ever come to Vietnam you must do it!

Here are some pictures which summarise our 3 days:

SAM_2227.jpg
On the bike with Hai

SAM_2270.jpg
Cruising along the open road

SAM_2119.jpg
Stop at a fishing village

SAM_2271.jpg
Drink stop with some other Easyriders that we met along the way

SAM_2301.jpg
Elephant falls

SAM_2279.jpg
SAM_2221.jpg
Just a couple of the incredible views

P1010581.jpg
The best and cheapest beef I've ever had, being cooked by Binh

P1010525.jpg
Overtaking an oil tanker on a winding mountain road - bit scary!

P1010726.jpg
Elephant rock

P1020089.jpg
Us with Binh and Hai when we arrived in Da Lat

P1010608.jpg
We were taken to karaoke one night - very funny!

Da Lat

When we got to Da Lat we were taken to see the 'Crazy House' - which is basically just a crazy house that some architect built. You'd have to see it to believe it but it was like something out of Alice in Wonderland!

SAM_2323.jpg
Stephen climbing the (very unsafe) stairs to the top of Crazy House

In the evening we went to have dinner with friends we'd met who had also been easyriding. We went to another very cheap and yummy local place. While we were eating a parade went by outside - apparently it was Buddha's birthday!

SAM_2343.jpg
Dinner with friends

SAM_2348.jpg
Buddha's birthday parade

The next day Stephen wanted to go canyoning but he couldn't find anyone who would/could do it with him (as you had to have a minimum of 2 people), so he went mountain biking in the morning instead. In the afternoon we walked around the town but it was cold and raining, it felt so miserable and like we were back at home! It's about 20 degrees in Da Lat as it's in the highlands but you'd think it was -20 from the way the local Vietnamese dress: They wear big fur coats, earmuffs, gloves, scarves, etc!

We had an early flight to Ho Chi Minh City the next day so we had an early dinner and then went to bed. Next stop: Phu Quoc Island!

Posted by charlotter45 22:41 Archived in Vietnam Tagged mountains beach scenery friends motorbike Comments (1)

(Entries 11 - 15 of 38) « Page 1 2 [3] 4 5 6 7 8 »