Posts Tagged ‘ wanderlust ’

Journey to the Sahara Desert

This is my second trip to the beautiful country of Morocco. We didn’t have much time on our first visit there so the idea of going to the Sahara was moot. For this trip though, it’s our priority so we made sure we had enough time for it.

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My friend, Jess, booked a tour with Viaje en Marruecos for €220 pp. We’d be with them for 4 days and 3 nights. They’d pick us up from the airport and even bring us to the riad that we’ve booked at in Marrakech. So apart from having a jeep just for the 3 of us, the package included every breakfast and dinner during that time as well as the accommodation. Pretty great bargain me thinks!

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Arriving early in Menara airport, I told my friend to make sure that I get picked up. I have no intention of getting lost nor of being hassled looking for our riad. He (our guide/ driver) was there after a minute of waiting. He then proceeded to ask me where we’re staying. “Hotel Kenzo” I answered. “Where? Do you know the address?” Silence on my part with a simultaneous shrug of shoulders. “I dunno” I eventually blurted out. “My friend sorted everything… we should be able to check it in google” I added as an excuse.😅 He was incredulous that I’d go to a place with no idea as to where I’ll be staying. He eventually got me to my destination. hehe He said that he’d pick us up at 8 in the morning the next day.  I went to our room to catch up on much needed sleep while I waited for my other travel companions who’d be flying from Barcelona and Madrid.

Day 1

The next day, after a hurried breakfast – we just can’t bring ourselves to get out of bed any earlier. We are on vacation after all! – we met up with him at the car park. A quick stop to a cash point that we passed by and we were off!

It was sunny yet cold. I found the landscape totally captivating as it’s different from what I grew up in (more coast as well as mountains covered with trees – life in the tropics) and where I currently live (cloudy London). But once we got to the High Atlas Mountains, its zigzagging road was enough to remind me that as ironic as it sounds since I travel often, I get car sick easily, also I was seated behind the driver (yes, I’ll use that as an excuse and a valid one at that, I think!). To make sure that nothing comes out – and to hopefully get through this in a more dignified way… I slept! Having said that, every time we’d pull up so we can check out the views (and take pictures of course!) I’ll be up for sure!

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We went to see Ait Ben Haddou, an old moorish citadel. Now popular in Hollywood as on site location for many movies (Gladiator, Game of Thrones, etc). According to our guide, even from hundreds of years ago, traders from Mozambique (or it may have been another exotic sounding country) would travel for weeks til they get there. Trade. And then head back home. I was imagining caravans of camel traversing truly long distances, camping at night, moving at a pace that we’d consider slow now.

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We passed by the Valley of the Roses too! But since it was winter, it was endless shrub after shrub -all leafless. I’m certain it’s beautiful in spring! Wish I can go back and see that for myself. Eventually, we arrived in another beautiful valley – looks like I’ll be using this word often to describe the landscapes we’ve passed by in this trip. There was this red mountain, devoid of greeneries that looks liked it’s been carved to look like humongous fingers. Coz of that, they call it the monkey fingers mountain. I’ll have to google that bit if it’s true!

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Less than 5minutes drive away – still amazed by what I was seeing – our jeep pulled over a roadside hotel. Looks like we’d be staying the night here – woot! I made up my mind then to wake up early so that I can go out and take pics the next day. The sun had set on the last bend and was too dark now to explore the area.

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We were led to the receiving area were various biscuits,  nuts, and mint tea greeted us. I can’t get enough of Moroccan tea – I seriously love it! I was trying my best not to finish the ones in our teapot – alas, to no avail!😂

They then carried our bags to our room with us following behind. As is the case with us now, we drew lots to see who’d get to sleep on the big bed. Never had luck with any draw that I already put my bag in one of the single beds before even choosing one. As is the usual, it wasn’t me. 😐😭

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Dinner was kinda hit and miss. The entertainment was alright though – the local guys were playing instruments and singing songs that I have no idea what it was about but  interesting nonetheless

Day 2
Attempting to be up early again, we were still the late ones for breakfast. Looks like many of those who have arrived last night alongside us had gone up and left – or at least have already eaten. Even with my conviction to wake up early the night before…. nah.  It just felt so warm and snug that I just can’t bring myself to get out of bed any earlier! Anyway, I’m not so keen on sweet breakfast which is what French breakfast kinda reminds me of (bread, jams, butter, honey, coffee) only now, with Moroccan twist (pancake, eggs, fresh orange juice, sponge cakes for dessert).

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Later in the day, we’d be at the Sahara desert so Jess and I decided to dress “appropriately”- flowy trousers as well as light coloured tops. I wore sandals too. First destination was a panoramic view of the valley we were in. It was a short drive there but the view, I found, stunning! We were pretty high up and you can see the road snaking along the edge of the mountains – and to think we were down there just a few minutes back! I noticed two things simultaneously, first was the view and second was the fact that it was soooo effing cold – and to think I only had sandals on! As soon as our driver thought we’ve spent enough time there, the other people we’ve caught up with have already gone again, I ran to the jeep… rummaged through my bag which was at the back… and put on my (warm) socks and changed to my sneakers. Thought I’d have frostbite!😱

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Next destination was this gorgeous gorge. We were instructed to get off the jeep, walk towards the end of the gorge and that he’d meet up with us there. They’ve made it so that we can appreciate the view/ experience. I felt so minuscule walking between towering mountains! And because of this, we were walking in a very windy path! I was torn between walking quickly to reach the warmth at the end of the pass and taking my time to take pics and to gawk at the view! I was pretty sure I did lots of gawking! Haha

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It was then quite a drive after that. Punctuated by lunch in a local cafeteria/ eatery. Jess was insisting that we eat at places were only locals would go to. Food served was fast, cheap, and huge in size. Toilet was like the ones I’ve encountered in China – ones on the ground and you’d have to squat (if you’re a woman). To dry hands after hand washing is with a literal paper! After a satisfying meal (I love their bread!), it was time for us to get back on to the road.

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We stopped for a while in a shop where we bought some scarf to use as head wrap. While there, the girl behind the cashier asked for our names and quickly fashioned henna tattoo design around it. As touristy as it looks, she then kept putting clothes on us – matched haphazardly at that – and voila! We’re dressed locally of sorts. Hehe a few souvenir pictures in them and then we took them off and went on our way – that last stretch of drive before the Sahara!

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Our driver/guide then proceeded to ask whether we’d like to go swim in the lake. A question I found a bit odd since we’re headed to the desert but I saw in front of me a vast expanse of lake. I said I’d have loved to but didn’t think to bring a swimsuit with me.  Then he chuckled. The lake I had in view was gone! They then pointed out at the one on the right – the one I saw was at the left. I blurted, “is that what they call a mirage? Are we seeing one now? Awesome!!!” Though what instantly came to mind were scenes in movies where people would race towards an imagined oasis to quench their dying thirst away only to find that isn’t the case. I would be filled with despair if that ever happens to me *knocks on wood* it was then explained to us that this naturally occurring phenomenon is caused when light is refracted through air at different temperatures.

DCIM101GOPROGOPR5669.After we made a turn away from the paved road, the jeep pulled over. We were then told to go on top of the jeep for the last bit of travel before we get on the camels. It was so fun!!!! I mean, we were screaming kinda non stop (I was taking pics and my friends would suddenly put their weight on me scaring the wits out of me coz I’m on the edge!) but it was interlaced with laughter and excitement too!

Desert camp experience to follow here.

Heading back seemed anticlimactic now that we’ve seen what we came to see 😐 the drive back was long yet beautiful! Our guide asked if we were happy, an emphatic yes from everyone! Then he turned to me specifically and told me that he’d make me happier… he drove off road, pulled over, then asked us to follow him. He poured some water over a big rock and I saw them more clearly – fossils!!!!😱😆

Before heading out of the town and starting off the long drive back, our guide made true his promise to Jess the day before. He got us a “traditional” pizza so we can have a picnic. A couple of hours down the road, a lone tree here and there breaks the monotony of the barren desert landscape. He parked the car beneath one and got our food and some drinks out.

Upon settling it on the bonnet of the jeep, he sliced it with a dull knife and gave us a big slice each. We then sat around in a loose circle atop a few piles of rocks and ate heartily. It’s a Moroccan Berber flatbread stuffed with onions, olives, and herbs and meat. I found it gorgeous and ate 3 slices! I was really hungry!😍 while we were munching away, a few cars passed us by with their passengers waving at us. Another vehicle even pulled over right next to us. The other driver seemed to know our guide and they chatted a bit. We offered him food and he happily took one and wrapped it away ready to eat later on. His passengers however politely declined saying they’ve already eaten at one of the restaurants back from the town we came from. After some time, we got back on to our jeep and we were off! Passing by a landscape that’s starting to become familiar but never tiring to look at and kept leaving me in awe! <3

 

Traditional Hammam in Marrakech

These past few months, my approach to travelling had been kinda lax. I’d think of a place where I want to go to, when I want to go to, if I want to go with others, and some general idea of things I wanna do and that’s that! So for this trip to Morocco, I’d let my travel buddy, Jessica, do the planning. I’ve looked into everything before as I was planning to do this trip with another but it fell through. So I wasn’t really keen to plan for it (again).

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Inside the Marrakech souk

My must do for this leg of our trip was to try a local hammam. Hammam is a steam room where people routinely go to cleanse themselves. We asked a lady working in one of the spice shops about any she’d recommend for us – basically, a place she’d even go to herself. She pointed us to one a few streets down from theirs. When we got there, we asked for the price etc (120 dirhams for a wash with massage each). We walked some more and found another one. There’s a discreet sign on the outside –  only a marker. We went in and asked too (70 dirhams for a wash with massage). We resolved to come back the next night then we headed back to the big plaza.

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Jemaa El Fna at night

The next night, armed with our gloves and mint soap/ gel, towel, and a fresh set of undies (knickers, pants, however you want to call them) and 150 dirhams for the two of us, we then set off for our night’s adventure. First, we had to drop off another friend of ours at Jemaa El Fna so she can spend time with her friends while we do our thing – she’s not really a fan of super local stuff (*think: maybe unhygienic, probably not the safest nor the most relaxing thing to do).

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At the plaza, I told Jess that I think we should be turning right. She was absolutely certain that it was on the left though so to the left we went. A minute in to the walk, I told her I’m hungry/ dizzy. She knows me well so she agreed that we have to get something that we can share. We then stopped by a patisserie and got a slice of a moist sponge cake (5 dirhams) to share between us. We had to be conscious of the price as we’re on a tight budget – the rest of our money were with Raquel.

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I was happily munching away, letting Jess lead the way while I followed closely behind her. Keeping an eye out for the hammam signage, we ended up walking at least 15mins and no luck. We found ourselves in the “heart” of the medina. Purely locals, dead end tiny square and it looked like it may be surrounded by houses – but it was already dark – and the place looked relatively rough.  We looked at each other. Turned around without saying a word and started walking back – all the while projecting a look of, of-course-I-know-where-we-are-and-where-we’re-headed-to-and-nope,-we-are-totally-not-lost-and-f*cked-up,-and-besides,-how-can-one-be-lost-when-they-don’t-know-where-to-go-in-the-first-place? look! 😂

Speed walking our way back to the square since we told Raquel we’d take around maybe an hour only, we then agreed to take that right turn that I originally suggested. I was pretty certain now, Jess was doubtful. Either way, we were prepared to be lost again, I was getting more sure that I even jokingly told her that if I’m right, she has to pay for my hammam! It was probably only a mere 20 metre walk from our turn when lo and behold – le bains pour femme! Tadah!!!

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We entered the place, headed for this really tiny window to ask but the man behind it was still busy with his prayers – we can see him bowing, plus the call to prayer was being sounded when we started to turn back from our previous turn. After a few minutes of waiting, he finished and was ready to listen to us. He basically confirmed that it’s 10 dirhams to go in, 70 if we’re going to get scrubbed and massaged too. We were a bit hesitant on what to do next (note: we were hesitating all throughout this experience 😅). Then a kind looking lady came out of an inside door and signalled for us to follow her. Also, the man behind the window, urged us to follow her.

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As soon as the door opened, Jess took a step back “oooh, lots of naked women” she uttered. I tried not to burst out laughing from her reaction. It was a rectangular room with lockers and seats lining its walls. I saw a few tourists putting their clothes back on. We went in, then the lady told signalled us to leave our stuff on the seats. They were asking for money to keep an eye out for them, by this point we only had 5 dirhams left as we’ve given them the 140 already. We think that it may be 5 dirhams per person but when Jess showed them our totally empty coin purse, they let it be. She also signed for us to get undressed. We took off our clothes til we were down only to knickers and wrapped with our towel (that we took from the riad 😅). Another lady, she’s quite robust, came out and told us to follow her – we had our kit with us (gloves and the mint gel). We were led to another set of chambers. This was a dark room, marble and tiles all around, with several faucets strategically placed and lots of pails/ buckets, with a few dippers. The water faucets were always paired – one boiling hot, the other cold water. The entire room was covered in steam from it. This time around, a few semi naked women were seating on tiny plastic stools and/or mats. Some were shampooing their hair, others were covered in soap lather, scrubbing themselves. Others just seemed so chill, chatting away but in hushed tones.

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*This hammam place is not a local one. It caters to travellers so expect to pay (relatively) more for this. Also, taking pics isn’t allowed inside the hammam.

The 2 of us kinda just stood in a corner. Another lady, she’s a bit tiny and looked elderly, told us to come closer to her. She got out a mat, had us sit there and she proceeded to pour (hot) water over the 2 of us then walked off. We weren’t so sure what to do next but I’ve been to a hammam before (one that caters to tourists and another one in Istanbul) so I told Jess that we should apply the mint over ourselves. Several minutes later she came back. She told Jessica to refill the bucket then signalled for me to lie on my front and scrubbed away my skin with the gloves we brought along. A few minutes later, told me to face her and scrubbed away my skin again. Then instructed me to sit down while facing her then scrubbed my face and arms all the while pouring water every now and then on me. When she was satisfied, she told me to go to the other lady (the robust one) who signalled told me to sit on the mat she prepared in front of her. She then proceeded to shampoo my (really long) hair then massaged my head. Rinsing off soap suds all over me, she patted my shoulder to signal that I’m done. I came back to see that Jess was being scrubbed by the old lady so in return for her filling the buckets earlier, I filled up 2 empty ones. Not wanting to just stand idly by, I then washed my hair again as it didn’t feel like it was washed enough. We dried ourselves off then went back to the first room to get changed.

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*This hammam place is not a local one. It caters to travellers so expect to pay (relatively) more for this

Before even getting there though, Jess whispered to me that they told her that she has to give a tip later. The thing is, we have absolutely no more money with us (in case our stuff gets stolen while in the midst of the wash). She was jokingly – though in a serious voice – told me that we have to bolt as soon as we’re dressed. I was being careful when dressing coz I didn’t want any of my clothes to get wet and with quite a handful of hair to dry, and coz of that, I was too slow for her liking. By this time, the elderly lady came out – dressed in a bath robe – asking Jess for tips (hmm.. did it look like I had no money so they kept going straight for her??? Hehe). We apologised and tried to explain in broken French that we didn’t bring extra money with us. She looked quite upset. She sat on a corner seat and was grumpily talking away to the kind looking lady who would signal us to not mind the elderly one. However, when I was beside Jess sorting out our stuff, the elderly lady came up to me – I was holding a plastic bag of toiletries – and she rifled through it “looking” for something. I wasn’t minding it really – well, I don’t understand neither French nor Arabic so I was kinda alright with it. But they all got my friend on edge that when I asked for my comb, she looked like she was ready to kill me for dilly dallying instead of just heading straight for the exit. Eventually eventhough my  head was still wrapped in a towel, she pulled me out with with urgency that I just had to follow suit since the third lady was starting to get all worked up. Again, we apologised before bolting!😂

Moral of the story: always bring a little extra! :D

Back in our beautiful (and stress free) riad! :D

Back in our beautiful (and stress free) riad! :D

 

China 1 Week Itinerary

Great wall. Terra cotta warriors. Dumplings. Maglev. Beijing. These (are just some of the many) things come to mind when I think of China.

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I’ve been to China before but visited Yangshuo and Guilin for its scenic beauty. It was alright because I was already planning a trip back. Due to various reasons, it didn’t happen despite the fact that I’ve already booked my plane ticket, I had my visa, and itinerary and accommodations were sorted. Fast forward to 2015. It finally happened! I was able to travel to China! And this time around, Beijing (and other cities) it is! :D

Michael and I flew to China last May 2015 and went around the country for a week before continuing the journey to Japan.

Arrival in Beijing
Since I prefer not to be holed up in a chain-hotel, we’ve decided to stay in a traditional courtyard in a hutong. Hutongs are “alleys formed by lines of traditional courtyard residences joined together.” The fact that they are  a destination in themselves was a big plus. It’d be quiet and serene within the courtyard but as soon as you step outside, you have numerous choices of shops, eateries and sights to choose from.  We arrived late at night. No problem. My luggage was one of the last to appear in the carousel baggage that the public transport I had read and planned for was already closed. Plan B: take a cab- after figuring out where to get a cab and having them call our courtyard for directions.

Day 1: Beijing
It was a warm and sunny day. We had a “tourist map” of the city. We were ready to explore. And because of that, we decided to walk. First stop was the Bell and Drum Tower. They were pretty close to the courtyard we were staying at and saw it from the night before. The climb up the Drum Tower was pretty steep that when we saw  it was the same for the Bell Tower, we passed the latter -he had a bad sprain from playing football just days before our trip! Outside was this eatery where we were happy to find that all the food and drink we ordered costs less than 2GBP. More walking led to Jingshan Park with a beautiful view of the Forbidden City – our next stop. We walked the perimeter of the Forbidden City and ended up in Tian’amen Square. We took a cab back home. We had a business card with our courtyard’s name written in Mandarin on it (this really helps!).

Sunset in Tian'amen Square

Sunset in Tian’amen Square

Day 2: Beijing
Since we’ve realised that eventhough sights look close together on our map they’re still (really) far apart, we got on a cab to take us to the Temple of Heaven. It seems that the place is a popular choice for pre-nuptial photo session. There were at least 5 couple when we got there. I was checking out the gowns of the ladies. The bf thought the whole thing was too over-the-top. Looks like we won’t have any of that then T_T.  After more walking, and lunch break of course, onward to the Summer Palace it is! He didn’t want to backtrack when it was time for us to head home so we just kept on walking. He admitted that we might have gotten a bit lost after we found ourselves on a dead end under a bridge, beside a river or was it a stream, can never really tell with cars whizzing past overhead!

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The Temple of Heaven in the background

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Day 3: Great Wall of China
We opted to do a DIY trip and away from the crowd of Badaling. We started early, relatively speaking, so we can head to Mutianyu and comeback before sunset.

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The Bird’s Nest in the backgound

The fact that there were so few other tourists there definitely added to its charm! After a fun-filled daytrip to the Great Wall, next stop was the Olympic Stadium, more popularly known as the Bird’s Nest, that was the venue of 2008’s summer games. Then off to Wangfujing Street Market to sample more Chinese food (or in this case, snacks)!

Day 4: Enroute to Xi’an from Beijing

We haven’t been inside the Forbidden Palace so this was our must-do for today before we leave for Xi’an. I was hoping to take a sleeper train from Beijing to Xi’an to save on hotel and train costs but Mike didn’t want to sleep on a train for 2 consecutive nights so we got on a high speed train so we can sleep on a proper bed. We were averaging 300km/hour on our effectively cutting the usual 12hour journey to almost 5hours! It was a comfortable journey with me sleeping half of it away -we ate on the other half. :D

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Day 5: Terra Cotta Army
Terra Cotta Warriors: check!
I’ve read about them in history books from when I was a little girl. Seeing our generation’s greatest architectural find was something I wouldn’t pass up! Even if that meant getting on a 4-hour bullet train ride from Beijing to Xi’an just to see them (and trying the sleeper train from Xi’an to Shanghai)!

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Day 6: Water village of Zhujiajiao

We only really had a full day in China’s biggest city. I should have visited its many beautiful sights but after seeing a picture of the country’s best preserved ancient water town (Zhujiajiao aka Pearl Stream) and I knew that it’s the place I would love to see most! Following online instructions, we still got a bit lost but everything worked out in the end after a young Chinese couple helped us find our way eventhough we couldn’t understand each other. :D My only regret was we couldn’t stay the night here – it’d have been amazing!

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Day 7: Enroute to Kyoto

Our last day in China was drizzly. We did get to see the Bund as it was just a few mins walk from where we stayed at. We wanted to ride the world’s fastest train enroute to the airport. There were lots of people with the same idea coz when we got to the platform, there were tour groups having their pictures taken.  It was a great end to an unforgettable trip ! :D

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I’d love to go back to see other parts of the country! <3

Japan 1 Week Itinerary

Michael and I were on a two week trip between China and Japan. We had an amazing time in China and were pretty sure Japan would be even more awesome!

Touchdown Japan!
We flew to Osaka from Shanghai as it was cheaper than other city combination. We found the plane ticket expensive at £175 each – whereas our return flight to London was around £550. It was already the cheapest one when we were canvassing for prices. Fortunately, it was a very comfortable flight with a meal served. The plane was only half-filled too!

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We flew with Anitea Air from Shanghai Pudong International Airport

We flew in to Kansai (KIX) Airport. I seriously don’t understand how for the life of me, I thought that meant flying in at Osaka Airport! I researched on how to get to the ryokan we’re staying at from there NOT Kansai. It meant an additional hour of travelling for us. No biggie. He wouldn’t stop teasing me for messing up the locations though. He kept saying at least it was in the same country! Pfft!!! hahaha (I’ll get even. ^_^)

Our super kind host took this picture of us after we saw our room for the first time :)

Our super kind host took this picture of us after we saw our room for the first time :)

Whenever we travel, we like trying out new things. Since we’re in the heart of Japanese culture, staying in a traditional Japanese accommodation was a must do for us! To my horror, most ryokan I checked were fully booked on the dates of our visit. I was ecstatic upon receiving a positive response from one that met our wants (a garden view and private toilet). Yoshimizu Inn was a lovely accommodation located at the top of Maruyama Park. Gion, the famed Geisha district, is just at the foot of the park. We’d pass by geishas/ maikos at night on our way back/to the ryokan. I couldn’t be happier with the location really!

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Day 1 Kyoto
Temple hopping
Even if I wanted to squeeze in as much as possible for every trip – the two of us just can’t be bothered to be rushed from one place to the other. Sticking to a detailed schedule is only a dream. He needs his sleep. I like to take lots of pictures my time in a place I love. After getting some much needed sleep (and breakfast), we head out to enjoy sunny Kyoto! We walked around the park where our ryokan is located as well as saw the temples there. Then walked towards the direction of Kiyomizu-dera while stopping several times for snacks and drinks along the way.

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Kiyomizu-dera aka Pure Water Temple

We spent the afternoon in Fushimi Inari Taisha. The shrine was made more famous by the film Memoirs of a Geisha. It was pretty crowded at the base of the mountain but there were relatively less people as you go up the steps. I was quite keen on wearing a kimono while walking around Kyoto. That trek up the mountain made me thankful I did not get to do it. :D

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Fushimi Inari Taisha

For dinner, I made reservations with Gion Nanba. I was excited for us to try a multi-course traditional Japanese cuisine known as kaiseki. It was a pretty expensive meal at 75GBP each. But since we already flew (almost) halfway ’round the world for our love of Japanese food (and culture), might as well splurge for this instance and budget on the others!. :)

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Standing at the left is the owner/ (head) chef of Gion Nanba

Day 2  Arashiyama Day Trip
When we were planning for our trip, we allotted 3 days for Kyoto and 4 days for Tokyo. Eventhough that was the case, I was still keen to go to Nara plus I wanted to visit Osaka and not to forget of course a must trip to Arashiyama! He had to remind me again and again that we will have no time for Kyoto at that rate.  He said I should choose just one – Arashiyama IT IS! :D

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Beautiful bamboo groves

First stop was the beautiful Tenryu-ji Zen Temple and its Sogenchi Garden. I enjoy visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites so that was a pretty cool plus! Yeah, almost all of Kyoto is a Heritage Site but that didn’t make me any less excited! I realise there are some people who scoff the at the thought of visiting Heritage Sites but they were made so for good reason and I, for one, am happy to see for myself why! Every person’s travelling style/ taste is different and that’s what makes this world interesting. We headed for the north gate exit of the temple which led us straight in the middle of the bamboo groves (pictured above).

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Tenryu-ji Zen Temple and its Sogenchi Garden

I know I just said that kaiseki is expensive but I just couldn’t pass up another one – lunch this time around! – when it’s relatively cheap AND with amazing reviews! Our ryokan arranged for us to have lunch in Nishiki restaurant. It was impossible for me to do so since there was no English translation at their website. It was a more relaxed experience from the night before I guess that’s why we loved it even more plus it was cheaper too!

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A wonderful lunch at Nishiki!

A friend suggested- thanks Sucelle!- that we ride the romantic train of Sagano. Intrigued by the name of the ride, I read more about it. Also known as Sagano Scenic Railway, it is a 25 minute train ride from Torokko Saga Station to Torokko Kameoka Station (and vv).  It runs along Hozugawa river. We enjoyed the view immensely!

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Riding the Sagano scenic train ride was his must do for Arashiyama :)

Day 3 Bullet train-bound to Tokyo
Originally, I was planning for us to pass by Kawaguchiko to see Mt. Fuji enroute to Tokyo so as to prevent us from backtracking. After some research and having a plan in place, we had to abandon it due to force majeur – there was a typhoon that day. It literally started pouring rain after we got to the foot of Maruyama Park from our ryokan. We headed to Kyoto Station and bought our shinkansen (bullet train) tickets straight for Tokyo instead!

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Arriving in Tokyo late that afternoon, we headed to our hotel. Got ready. Headed out. Our destination: Akihabara, a district in Tokyo that is famously known as electric town. Having just arrived from Kyoto where it was all temples and shrines, this place provided such a contrast and was the quintessential hi-tech Japan we had in mind. We spent the night in arcades and in a maid cafe that was pretty interesting. I can see that the bf was very quite happy to be there! haha

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Konichiwa from Akihabara!

Day 4 Tokyo
The game of baseball seem to be popular in only 2 country – the USA and Japan. Since we can’t get any bus to take us to Mt.Fuji this day, Mike announced that we can watch a match instead! He was hoping to squeeze it in and he got his chance! I wasn’t sold to the idea as I had my heart set to seeing Fuji on that particular day so was pretty bummed out about it. To get me even partially interested, he said that the team playing is one of, if not the, most popular team in the country. Plus he said that the interior of the stadium is pretty awesome. Alright, I guess let’s give it a go then! After visiting Meiji Shrine of course. :D (I did enjoy watching the game – it was such a low scoring one though.)

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Day 5 Sumo Wrestling
Peak tourist season in Japan is during cherry blossom season. Our trip was booked 2 weeks after it. </3 Why? Because he we opted to time our trip while it’s sumo tournament. I figured, since he let me decide most of the trip, I can I think concede the “when” part of our trip. Sumo is the Japanese style of wrestling and is the national sport of Japan. Being a traditional sport, it is filled with religious rituals (eg the symbolic purification of ring with salt) and only men practice it professionally. We spent a whole day inside the Kokugikan Stadium. To not get bored, I got busy eating the various food sold inside plus I’d go outside every now and then to check out what’s happening outside the ring. Fan-girling the sumo wrestlers if you’ll ask the bf what I was doing. Sheesh! ^_^

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After dinner, I suggested we go to Asakusa to see a few more sights before we call it a night. :)

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Day 6 Daytrip to Mt. Fuji
The main reason I agreed to skip the cherry blossom season is because it’d be the Shibazakura season. Ahhh… Japan and its beautiful blooms! <3

Fuji, Japan

Fuji, Japan

Returning back to Shinjuku after our daytrip to Kawaguchiko, we decided to stay in the area and explore. This district is crazy fun. WE LOVE IT! From bargain shopping to robot restaurants and nonstop karaoke, we all gave them a go! It was such a fun night! This was also the night that Mike and I realised that we both love karaoke. :D

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Day 7 Tokyo
For our last day in Japan, we wanted to take it easy, visit a few sites and go back to our favourites. We left our luggage in Tokyo Station then walked to the Imperial Palace. Upon seeing how huge the place is was enough to tire me out even before we got started. We did manage an hour of walking before we called it quits and ate lunch. I was almost falling asleep by then. I wasn’t so sure how we ended up in an Irish pub/ resto. I ordered a burger but was served a burger patty on top of some green salad and with rice on the side. I knew we should’ve just stuck with local food! ;) It was probably the downcast weather that was making me feel sluggish. Thankfully, the sun shone shortly afterwards, well, at least it stopped raining. We headed back to Shibuya to while away the time before it was time for us to head back to the airport. The crossing really amazed us. Seeing huge crowd of people moving in an organized chaos while we’re just chillin’ – we liked it! Sang our hearts out in another karaoke session and then gorged on kaiten (conveyor belt) sushi. Mmmm. <3

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Mmmm...Sushi galore at affordable prices!

Mmmm…Sushi galore at affordable prices!

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Spot the bf! :D

Happy to head back home but sad to leave Japan - we'll definitely come back! :D

Happy to head back home but sad to leave Japan – we’ll definitely come back! :D

Bangkok’s Vertigo Grill and Moon Bar

My boyfriend and I love eating out. I am thrilled everytime I get to try a hole-in-the-wall place that serves amazing food at cheap affordable prices. Michael, on the other hand, doesn’t mind spending (a bit more) for a. great place with good food, b. a nice place with great food, or c. an awesome place with equally good food! You get the drift. ;) That’s why with that in mind, I made a dinner reservation for two in Banyan Tree Hotel’s rooftop restaurant – Vertigo Grill and Moon Bar when we went to Bangkok last December. I just know he’ll love it – plus it’s my Christmas and anniversary and birthday gift for him! :D

P1180114 Having just arrived from Siem Reap, we weren’t up to much that day after checking into our hotel. We’re off after getting ready. I was contemplating walking to Banyan Tree Hotel coz it looked pretty close at the map but Google map squashed that idea when it showed that it’d take us 40mins – not happening since the BF is finding it too warm already. -_- I dunno if it’s because of the bf or if we just look like we’d agree to being scammed but cab drivers as well as those in tuktuks keep quoting exorbitant amount to us even if the place we want to go to is just a few minutes drive away. That complaint aside and after some haggling on my part, we settled on a tuktuk. He’s not too keen with haggling. He keeps on converting back to sterling that’s why he finds it cheap. I keep converting to pesos that’s why I was finding it so expensive! We did find the idea of being dropped off in front of a 5star hotel in one, amusing. Anyway, we really wanted to ride on one too so all is well.

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I made online reservation a month before – while I was booking for everything else. We arrived around 6pm to catch the sunset. The restaurant is located on the 61st floor. A lift took us up the 59th floor and we had to walk the rest of the way. There was an ongoing private party in the other half of the restaurant so it was kinda noisy too -a drunken kind of noise that is. The view from up there was pretty nice. I found it pretty windy and had to tie back my hair in a ponytail or else, my hair would keep whipping my face -_-. He found the breeze perfect!

We ordered a set course menu. I wasn’t able to take a picture of all the food though as I tend to get distracted by the food and with the fact that I’m more keen on eating them than taking photos. ;)

For starters, he had Angus beef carpaccio with parmigiano and black truffle. I had butternut pumpkin soup with pumpkin tortellini.

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Main course for the bf was a flame grilled Wagyu MB5 served with mashed potato, buttered asparagus and wild mushroom jus while I had flame grilled lamb rack.

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Dessert is Vertigo chocolate cake… 5 layers of chocolate sin! :D

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During the meal, we had our picture taken by one of the staff there. They later came back to give us a souvenir photograph as well as some sweets in cute tiny packages. After our meal, the guy who was attending to us came back with a drink compliment of the restaurant as it’s a special dinner for us. That was a sweet end to a lovely night! <3

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Souvenirs include a photograph, sweets, and a rose. :)

Souvenirs included a photograph, sweets, and a rose. :)

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Vertigo Grill & Moon Bar
21/ 100 South Sathon Road
Sathon, Bangkok 10120, Thailand
Open daily (weather permitting), 6pm – 11pm
Attire: Smart casual
Click to book a reservation here

 

DIY: Daytrip to Fuji Shibazakura Festival

I only had one goal for the Tokyo-leg of our Japan trip – to see the pink moss in full bloom with Mt. Fuji in the background!
Disclaimer: probably because the bf made sure we get to watch a sumo match and a baseball game, and visit a robot restaurant amongst others hehehe

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Shibazakura is a flower that grows thickly, covering the ground like a lawn. The shape of its pretty flower petals looks like that of sakura (cherry blossoms) and it comes in a variety of colors including different shades of pink, white, and light purple, with some petals having striped patterns. –Japan MWM

There are few but vital things to consider when going to Kawaguchiko for a daytrip: How do you go there? Do you take a bus or take the train? What’s the weather gonna be like? Will you be able to see Mt. Fuji? Will the flowers be in bloom?

I was originally planning for us to go to Kawaguchiko from Kyoto as a stop over enroute to Tokyo to avoid backtracking. But on the intended day of travel, the weather was bad wasn’t so good.  It was continuously raining in Kyoto and according to the weather report, it’d be raining in Tokyo too. Turns out there was a typhoon that passed by the country while we were there. Since we weren’t too keen on getting soaked with our luggage in tow, we decided to just head straight to Tokyo. We’d save a trip to Mt. Fuji for another day.

I was checking out the weather report on a daily basis after that. Plus, there’s also a website that would show you a live feed from the Shibazakura festival. Pretty handy! The Fuji Shibazakura Festival is an annual event that is held when the flowers are in bloom – mid April until late May.

When I was checking out the route to get there via hyperdia it hit me that there are other alternative public transport to get there. We didn’t get a JR pass and I wasn’t too keen on shelling out 18,000 yen for transport alone. We opted to take the bus because it’s a direct trip – no need to transfer. PLUS, it’s way cheaper (7,000 yen/ return/ 2pax)! The only catch is you have to make (an online) reservation to make sure you’ll have a seat on the day and time that you want to travel. We decided to wing it one clear day and arrived at the bus station around 11am to find out that the next available seats are for the 3pm trip. Oh no! I easily booked a reservation when we got back to the hotel that evening.

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Boarding on time at Shinjuku

Two days after, we were back in Shinjuku. Following the West Exit (or expressway buses) sign we arrived just in time for our scheduled departure. When we got to Kawaguchiko station, there was a booth outside that’s selling ticket for the festival along with discounted return bus trip, it’s another 30-40 minute bus ride away.

We were still 30mins away when we first got a glimpse of Mt. Fuji. We’re just happy that we could see it inspite of a cloudy forecast. It turned out to be a warm, sunny day with a clear view of the beautiful volcano.

Here are some pictures from our daytrip. :)

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Woot! First glimpse of the beautiful Fujisan!

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Looking for an ATM that accepts non-Japanese issued cards – the only one we found was at the post office!

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Taking a picture of the bf taking a selfie! :D

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So colourful and beautiful!

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The full bloom of the flowers had just finished a few days before – still looked amazing!

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Seems like a good choice for nuptial photos too!

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The queue for the coach back to the train/ bus station