Thailand 

Thailand 


So today was our last day in Thailand. A few days ago I joined up with my first Contiki tour of the trip through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. There’s about 30 of us from all over the place and we started in Bangkok, then took the night train to Chiang Mai, stayed a night in Chiang Rai and then crossed the border this morning.
I arrived late the night before the tour and took the chance to get to know my roommate for the trip over a few beers across from the hotel costing about a pound each… In case you didn’t know it’s extremely cheap here! The next day we explored one of the floating markets after our taxi driver getting us slightly lost (we realised a lot of taxi drivers in Thailand tend to have no idea where they’re actually going…). Then I treated myself to my first ever massage at a place across the street, all for the extortionate cost of 200 Baht (£4). I felt like a new man and the place luckily wasn’t the ‘happy ending’ kind. We met the group and all went for some food in an incredibly hot restaurant. Now I thought Japan was steamy but the temperature doesn’t seem to change at night here… We then took the opportunity to go to a ping pong show organised by a chap called Chai Chai. Now if you don’t know what one of these shows, Bangkok if famous for them and I’ll leave it to your imagination but they involve Thai ladies doing things with various items in a weird, disturbing yet strangely impressive fashion, google it for more info as I’ll try and keep it PG.


The next day we visited the royal palace after an early start (a common theme of Contiki tours) and then had a boat trip learning a bit more about the city. We left the hotel for our night train to Chiang Mai in the afternoon which unfortunately was no alcohol allowed. Luckily a couple of the New Yorkers on the trip smuggled some vodka in water bottles so we were alright!



Now the next day in Chiang Mai was probably one of my favourites. We arrived at our hotel and then went to visit another temple which they say ‘you haven’t been to Chiang Mai unless you’ve visited’. You could get blessed by a monk and also the temple was where Buddha’s collar bone is kept after it was found by a white elephant. I think that’s the story anyway… Now a main difference here as opposed to Japan which has been a theme of Thailand, is an abundance of people trying to sell you things and also a lot more westerners everywhere than I was used to. I’m the afternoon we went to a Thai cooking class which was so much fun, the chef had many cheesy jokes and we made four different dishes including learning the ‘how to burn your kitchen’ trick above… Following this we went to the night market and I put my negotiating skills to test by haggling away for an outfit for the cross dressing party we were having the next day. 


On that theme that night our tour manager James had booked is front row seats at a ladyboy cabaret. Now this was a lot of fun and a lot less seedy than the ping pong show. They came out to the audience and put on a great show which was both hilarious at times and impressive. They even had a Rihanna lookalike… I’ll let the pictures do the talking!


Now the next morning we left early to head to Chiang Rai and stopped at the White Temple just outside of the city. This was awesome! It was nothing like anything we’d seen before and was designed by a slightly mad Thai artist. There are superhero and film character heads hanging on trees and paintings inside featuring things like bush and bin laden riding on a spaceship together… There are also loads of sculptures everywhere that are pretty cool, including a bunch of hands coming out of the ground as you enter.


We then got to Chiang Rai and settled in before going to visit some of the hill tribes including the ‘long neck tribe’ you may have heard of. This was really interesting and nice to see that as tourists we can help them preserve this culture by paying to visit, but once again a lot of stalls with various items for sale. They even put on a couple of traditional dances for us.


In the evening we had our big final night in Thailand celebrating in style with a cross dressing fancy dress themed party. I looked a bit like Mrs Doubtfire, had a few too many beers, played a few drinking games, and then ended up playing Wonderwall on guitar in the early hours with some Thai kids on the street on the way back to the hotel. The 6am breakfast was far from ideal but I wolfed down some rice before we all headed to the border for our next country Laos.


On reflection Thailand was alot of fun and definitely somewhere where I only scratched the surface of what you can do, so if I came back I’d definitely try and visit more of the islands and coastal areas. Unfortunately there is a darker side and animal tourism is pretty big here, but if you want somewhere where you can have a lot of laughs, visit some stunning places and see some completely crazy things, and where you will find bundles of sunshine all on a budget, this is where to do it.

Hiroshima, Miyajima & Kyoto


So I’m back in Tokyo for my final night after seeing lots of other sights Japan has to offer, I was staying just outside of Hiroshima right by the ferry port to Miyajima for three nights and then went East to Kyoto for three nights. As I’m now at the end of my trip reflecting on my time here, Japan has been really great. The people are extremely polite and the food is fantastic, each place I’ve been has its own unique character, food and sights to see and things to do. The only thing I don’t recommend you do is eat sea urchin… It’s doesn’t taste good and is not worth it!


So me and Rhodri headed down from Toyko to Hiroshima and after sorting accommodation headed into the city to visit the peace park and also sample some of the delicious Okonomiyaki which a district of Hiroshima is famous for. We met a couple of friendly fellow travellers on the way and explored the monuments and memorials of the dark days when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. It was definitely sobering visiting the site and learning a bit more about the history. We then went to check out a baseball game, I didn’t realise but baseball is huge in Japan and the stadium we were heading to for the game also was. Unfortunately we went on the wrong day… The next match was fully sold out so that wasn’t to be! So instead we headed to a local place to have some Okonomiyaki Rhodri recommended we checked out. So this dish is lots of veg and some meat all fried on top of an egg base, this is then flipped onto another egg and served with delicious sauce. I took a picture of our traveller buddies and the chef making the food which are above.


The next day me and Rhodri hopped on the ferry nice and early to avoid the tourists just past seven, we visited the famous floating torii gate which attracts people from far and wide and also had a stroll through the temple. Although the heat was still 30 plus and very humid we also decided to hike up the mountain, now it was pretty cloudy up there but it actually meant we got some pretty good shots of peaks through the cloud and it was all very mystical! After exploring pretty much all of the trails we could up the mountain we decided with the heat we’d get the gondola back down. We also saw loads of tame deer, they’re everywhere and really friendly, but they may eat any paper items you have… And the world’s largest rice scoop. It was all very exciting. After getting back to the hostel mid afternoon we chilled out for a bit, Rhodri headed into town to go to the museum (I admit, the rooftop hammock and a snooze were too good to miss out on) then we went with a group from the hostel to see some fireworks in a local town.



After finding ourselves a spot amongst the locals we watched the display which was pretty incredible. I also met a German father and son travelling together as well as a couple of men from Finland. One who kept trying to get me to ‘invest’ (buy) this random pair of pants he had acquired somewhere… It was all very strange but pretty hilarious. We got back at 11 and me and Rhodri decided to hit up an Onsen to relax at the end of the day, and because it’s super Japanese and I’d never been to one. So Onsens are effectively hot spring pools, the custom is that you’re completely naked and also you have to wash yourself on these little stools before and after. It was definitely a unique experience but one I would recommend, afterwards they even had a counter where they provided male grooming products so it’s like a personal mini man spa in a way. Unfortunately this was my last day with Rhodri as my travel buddy, so in my final day I rented a bike and explored some of the local area, had some ramen and generally took things a bit slower than over the last week.


So then it was time for Kyoto. Now I really didn’t know what to expect here as I had chosen it for it being closely located to Osaka and Kobe so I had the option of visiting both of I’d wanted. It turns out there was loads to do and see and I had a great time. So after arriving a bit keen and early to check it I ended up hanging around the hostel for a while and met a fellow traveller from Ireland Fiona who also didn’t have any plans. Luckily she was slightly more organised than me and had a list of things to check out that had been recommended, we ended up renting bikes and cycling pretty much across the city. In the end it was totally worth it, we first went to the Japanese Snow Monkey sanctuary where a shortish hike later you have stunning views over the city and more importantly lots of monkeys running around. There’s also a room where you can go in and feed them from the inside, so effectively it’s the opposite of a zoo with the people in the cage which was kind of cool. After that we checked out the bamboo path which was also pretty spectacular, especially when your experience of bamboo is small bits supporting plants up in suburban Surrey… We went for some sushi (first time on my trip, shocking I know… Mostly I had been eating ramen and BBQ) and I thought I’d be experimental and get conga eel and sea urchin. Now the conga eel was actually pretty great, the sea urchin was not. It looked like orange goo and didn’t taste good at all… The first food apart from cinnamon salt water taffy in Canada I haven’t liked and I try everything I can. So when we arrived back at the hostel we met a couple of Deutschmen and a girl from Australia, we all had a few beers, they all thought I looked like Chris Pratt (I was extremely flattered but didn’t quite see it, maybe it’s my ever improving travellers beard) then we ended up karaokeing until the early hours somewhere with unlimited beer.


This became a repeating pattern… The next day, a few of us rented bikes again to explore the other side of the city and some of the temples and gardens which were really beautiful. In the evening we had a couple of drinks, went down to check out the hostel bar then essentially dragged anyone who was keen with us to yet more karaoke! This turned into a great night, with about nine of us from all over the globe starting at midnight and going until close to five in the morning, with unlimited beer, all for the equivalent of about 10 pounds… Also this was a great example of the people side of travelling, all of us were solo travellers not having known each other for more than a couple of days, a couple of hours in some cases, and we had an English (yours truly), Irish, American, Canadian, Australian, Swedish, Indian, Venezuelan, Deutsch, and French all karaokeing the night away. Definitely a night I won’t forget.


After a lie in and the guilty moment when you get woken up by housekeeping cleaning close to midday, also the hilarious moment when half your dorm has missed check out because of karaoke infused antics, me and Fiona went to check out the torii gate paths in yet another area of the city. Walking off the hangover definitely helped and the gates just went on and on… We were probably walking a couple of hours at least the majority of which was through these gates, there were also lots of shrines etc along the way. So the final night was more subdued having been pretty karaoke’d out and also with a lot of our karaoke buddies having left that morning. I’ve spent today travelling back to Tokyo and am chilling out before I fly off to Bangkok tomorrow for my first Contiki where I’ll be visiting Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam in just under a month. If it’s anything like the last one I should have a pretty awesome time…

Tokyo



So I’m sat on the bullet train to Hiroshima having spent the last few days in Tokyo. Luckily once again I’ve been fortunate enough to stay with Rhodri a Welsh friend from home who’s been teaching in Tokyo for the last year. If it’s your first time in Tokyo the transport can be pretty intimidating so I needed all the help I could get… Our first night we met up with a couple of Rhodri’s friends and went to a local place where they had all sorts of types of meat, as in nothing goes to waste, the meal included stomach, fish scales and intestines. But it was actually delicious and just tasted like teriyaki infused great Asian food. 



The next day I started exploring proper and headed out solo on the transport network, once you get used to it it’s actually not too bad and it’s so efficient you can find your way around quite easily. I explored around Asakusa checking out the temple there and also some of the temples around the park by Ueno station. On the way back I stopped by at the world’s largest electronics store with everything you could think of! So some cool bits and pieces I noticed about Tokyo I wanted I share, firstly every station has their own jingle when you come on and off the train, my favourite of which was the beginning of ‘under the sea’ from the little mermaid. Some other things I noticed are there are vending machines with drinks everywhere! And I mean everywhere. Which is good because my first day it was 32 degrees with 85% humidity, so being the pale Brit that I am it was pretty intense… The tactic of drinking loads and stopping by convenience stores I passed for their air conditioning seemed to do the trick. Also in case you didn’t realise already some Japanese adverts are hilarious, and everyone looks so damn happy, I mean I’d buy that shampoo… 


To finish off the day we went to another traditional restaurant in Shibuya, you may have seen before but this is where they have the biggest crossing in the world. Super exciting right, a road junction where people cross the road, however it’s actually pretty damn cool and like the Japanese Time Square. The food we had was once again delicious and more regular (as in chicken and dumplings etc) than the previous night, the place was super traditional and we had to take off our shoes as we went in and sat on sunken tables etc. Then we went for some Karaoke (when in Rome) and had a couple of beers to finish off.



My second day I went over to Odaiba which is an island to the east of Tokyo, they have the Miraikan science museum which absolutely blew my mind. They have Asimo who is the world’s most advanced humanoid robot, he comes out every hour and puts on a show, running, hopping kicking a ball and even singing whilst doing sign language… Also a couple of slightly creepy looking humanoid robots that you can talk to, a robot pet that reacts when you stroke it, a great immersive 3D theatre, an exhibit that turns your movement and speech into information then makes a song out of it, and loads of other interactive exhibits everywhere. Safe to say if you’re in Tokyo check it out.


Now in the evening we did a lot, first off we went around Akihabara which is the electronics hub of Tokyo, where I went in the store the day before. Had a little explore around there and then had probably the most surreal experience of my trip to far. So in Japan they have these places called ‘maid cafes’, we were handed a leaflet and Rhodri hadn’t been so we thought we’d check it out. So you go in and all the staff are women dressed as maids, they also act super Japanese and nice to you. If it’s sounding seedy at this point it really isn’t as that’s it, it’s just very different and there were couples and families so not just guys in there. So we went in and had the drink and a picture package, I got to request a Pikachu on my coffee and Rhodri had a penguin. Unfortunately you’re only allowed to take pictures of your food but to describe it the room was all pink with bows etc everywhere and all these maids running around with contact lenses to make their eyes look bigger and blue. Next, one of them went to the stage and said something to one of the men sitting down, he very excitedly got up from his chair then put his bunny ears on (he’s brought from home I assume…), went to the stage in front of everyone and grabbed a furry bear paw from the basket for his picture with the maid, they did a bear growling pose and that was that… Firstly this was a fully grown man in his forties, secondly I realised what I assumed were a Pokemon card collection booklet was a booklet of all the Polaroids from all his previous visits so he was definitely a regular, and thirdly no one seemed to bat an eyelid. Well apart from the two of us sat there taking this surreal experience in. So then naturally me and Rhodri got to do the same, slightly nervously went on stage grabbed some bunny ears and had a picture with our maid. We even were so well behaved we got a certificate afterwards inviting us to come back. We then explored a bit more of the area before heading around to Shinjuku. 


This area has the civic building where you can go up 45 stories for free and get great views of city, so we did that then headed to see Godzilla. Unfortunately he was up a building and quite dark, then grabbed some food before wandering around some of the tiny pub/bars that are littered around the streets in the area. Now by tiny I mean it, there is a bar with six stools usually, and that’s it would be unusual to find more than ten people in there. 


So now I’m writing this while heading out of the city on the bullet train to Hiroshima, I’ll be there for 3 nights and then head over to Kyoto. So let’s see what’s in store outside of the big city.

A few days in beautiful Honolulu Hawaii

A few days in beautiful Honolulu Hawaii


So after a lot of exploring over the weekend it’s now my last day in Honolulu as I’m flying off to Japan tomorrow. So I thought I’d just sit by the pool for a bit and chill out today before Japan.


So I fly out tomorrow and my stay here has been another example of how AirBnB is brilliant (don’t worry I’m not actually sponsored by them… I wish). So I’m staying in an apartment building which is about 45 stories high, one of the rooms in the condo has three bunks so there are six of us staying, essentially it’s a mini unofficial hostel and all of the pictures above were taking here. . Now to the great bits about it, it was really affordable and is right next to Waikiki beach in one of the most popular areas of the island, there is a pool, gym, hot tub, roof terrace right at the top with incredible 360 degree views, and finally the host Kane takes guests out at the weekends adventuring.


So we’ve been all around to parts of the island I wouldn’t have seen without staying where I have, getting to do waterfall hikes, drop by a sacred cave and visit at least 4 different beaches (that I can remember), all in two days. On top of this, staying in the condo has been great to meet other fellow travellers to explore the island with. 

So although my stay here has been 4 nights and 3 full days it has definitely exceeded my expectations. Once again I think mainly because we’ve not just stuck to the tourist spots. Waikiki itself (pictured above) is quite high rise with a bunch of hotels but still pretty stunning. However by staying where I have been, with a host who takes you places the locals hang out, you get a much better experience of the island in my opinion. Some random unexpected funny moments include getting pretty schooled in my first ever rap battle by a Texan and a guy from Atlanta (I definitely ironically lyrically involved tea and crumpets at one point) and meeting some Hawaiian gynocologists on the beach…  Without context these sound pretty weird I know. So if I came back I’d definitely try and check out the other islands and more of this one as it’s so much bigger than I thought with loads to do and see. 



Finally if you visit Hawaii definitely try the local coconut infused beer ‘Koko Brown’, it’s delicious, and if you’re into sushi and fish try ‘poke’ it’s basically loads of chunks of delicious fish in a variety of sauces and comes with rice, both are pictured above for your viewing pleasure!

My final week in Canada exploring Vancouver and surrounding areas


So today is very sadly my last day in Canada and it’s safe to say the five weeks I’ve been here have been incredible, in a few hours I’ll be flying off to Hawaii. Over the last week or so since my last post I’ve been visiting various places around Vancouver and exploring more of this amazing place so prepare for a lengthy blog post.


So firstly exactly a week ago was Canada Day! Now before my trip I was expecting parties and boozing etc, however to my pleasant surprise that seems not to be what the locals do here. Most Canadians on Canada day actually go to the great outdoors on vacations, camping, hiking, biking and the sort and the city was actually really quiet. So on the day itself we decided to follow suit and have an outdoorsy day. We went to a place in North Vancouver called Deep Cove and kayaked (in sit on kayaks which you can safely say I was far from a pro at… How I didn’t fall in I have no idea) and then hiked up Quarry Rock. Some other eventual parts of the day were my first sunburn of the trip (completely my fault) and secondly representing my Canadian enthusiasm with a shirt reading the slogan ‘Canada, bring your eh game’ which actually got a positive reception amongst Canadian folk.


Another trip was over to Bowen Island, this was pretty spur of the moment and came from me looking at where the Vancouver ferries go to and spotting one port called ‘snug cove’. Now it wasn’t that snug but it was lovely and we spent the day driving around pretty much all of the island (it’s about 5km long) trying to find hidden spots along the way.



Another day we hiked hike a trail called Dog Mountain which starts at the top of the road going up Mount Seymour, it takes about 3-4 hours round trip and you’re rewarded with incredible views of all of Vancouver and surrounding. For under an hours drive from the centre of the city I would definitely put it on your list! Be prepared for bugs though… I ended up being followed by a few over friendly mosquitos before the realised they weren’t fans of copious amounts of bug spray.

Also on the theme of the great outdoors once again we were lucky enough to borrow the Mantei’s camper van for a couple of days and spent a night camping by Hicks Lake (about an hour drive from Surrey still strongly in BC). We had s’mores by the campfire, swam in the lake, had an explore, got some great photos and even got a chance to mess about recording a few songs by the lake in the evening.


Finally yesterday on my penultimate day we decided to road trip down to Seattle, where I’ve been staying in Surrey is less than half an hour from the US border and the total trip should take 2-3 hours. Unfortunately we encountered a slightly ignorant US border officer who made me go to have further checks because of the ‘squiggly lines’ in my passport (I went to Dubai for a week 4 years ago…). Anyway, after that debacle I rewarded myself with a pint of super American Coke and we got to Seattle just after lunch. 
We went to the original Starbucks, that’s right the first ever and had their signature unique blend. We explored the iconic ‘Public Market Center’ that’s right spelt the American way, and it was actually pretty cool, there’s a wall with an American flag made of gum, loads of mystic Meg fortune tellers, men throwing fish about, machines that for a quarter tell you you’re ‘harmless’ in matters of the heart, retro photo booths that give zero warning when they’re about to take photos, cardboard cutout stores and all sorts of weird and wonderful shops and market stalls all over the place. We also went to the (probably more iconic than the market) space needle and popped into the museum to check it out.


So it’s with great sadness that I leave Canada, and some things I’ve learnt:

– Canadian people do indeed love donuts, Tim Hortons is everywhere and if it closed it would probably cause some sort of national crisis

– Canadian people are indeed as nice as you’d think, if not even more so. I’ve been SO lucky to have met the amazing Mantei family who were kind enough to let me stay in their home for a few weeks, they really made me feel at home and I was able to experience what life is like for real Canadians and see the things tourists don’t see.

– Bears aren’t as common to see as you’d think, and also not as scary. They generally avoid people and just keep themselves to themselves unless you’re in between them and food or they have cubs.

– Mounties are not common at all, I mean yes they do exist but I didn’t see one and apparently it’s more of a ceremonial thing. The police are pretty much all in standard police uniform. The picture above with the bear dressed in Mountie gear minus hat was the closest I got.

– Canada is even more beautiful than you’d think and there are endless places to explore and new things to see in the great outdoors

– Canada has a super cool young prime minister Justin Trudeau who’s super forward thinking, take note USA

– Canadian people love golf, there are courses everywhere, I even played a round myself. 

– Some Canadian people love to watch Coronation Street… it must be like us and Neighbours