We continued our theme from last month by visiting big, pricy cities in quick succession. We started the month in Tokyo followed by Hong Kong. Then we started our South East Asian leg of the trip, spending a week in Bangkok, and finally moving on to Chiang Mai.
- Countries visited: Japan, China (sort of), Thailand
- Cities visited: Tokyo, Nikko, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Ayutthaya, Chiang Mai
- Hotels/Airbnbs/Hostels stayed in: 5
- Number of over night trains: 1
We went to Tokyo so Jeff could attempt dipping a toe back in the tech world at the try! Swift conference. It afforded him some great networking opportunities and gave him a chance to teach at a meet up. (Little known fact, Jeff is a great teacher.) While he conferenced, I wrote, explored our neighborhood, and hung out with some other girlfriends of the conference attendees. After the conference was over spent 10 days exploring the many different neighborhoods and eating the wide variety of Japanese food.
We have a few posts coming up about Tokyo, so here are just a few quick stories about our time in Japan.
The fishiest meal of my life
One evening one of the “conference girlfriends”, Natasha, and I ventured to Tokyo Ten, a highly regarded sushi restaurant with a set menu and a $70 price tag.
Now, as a quick aside-for most of my life I didn’t like fish (I blame an incident of getting a small fish bone stuck in my throat when I was about 6, it seriously scarred me for much of my life), I have just in the last few years started to appreciate it. I enjoy a good California roll as much as the next person but I am by no means a fish connoisseur.
So I was hesitant to go to a fancy sushi restaurant, with a set menu, let alone spend so much money on it but Natasha was so excited by the opportunity to eat world renowned sushi that I decided to go for it.
It was the most fish I have ever eaten in my life and I admit near the end I was maxed out on fish flavors. We were served course after course of every creature under the sea including: squid, octopus, sea urchin, oyster, mussel, and of course endless varieties of fish. The last course was a single strawberry for dessert and the contrast to the salty, savory, adventurous meal, a simple piece of fruit was the most delicious dessert I have ever eaten.
I don’t think I would partake in a sushi set menu again but I was proud of myself for at least trying everything that came across my plate. Its a meal I know I’ll never forget.
Saving my computer in Omote-sando
For better or worse, we decided to travel with our computers on this trip. Many backpackers travel with an iPad or just their phone, but as programers and writers a computer worked well for us. Unfortunately this means we always have the risk that they might suffer damage, and my computer succumbed to that fate and ended up with a broken screen.
Luckily Tokyo is home to one of the original Apple stores and it was a breeze for them to fix in just a couple of days. Having to go to the Apple store also meant we had reason to go to the very swanky Omote-sando neighborhood several times. Ginza is widely regarded as Tokyo’s upscale shopping neighborhood, but I thought Omote-sando was a much more modern mix of high end brands, local boutiques, and everything in between. Needless to say, if I wasn’t traveling with an already bursting 40 liter backpack, quite a few new items would have made their way into my hands. Instead I just window shopped and walked away with a brand spanking new computer screen.
Thank goodness we have continued to invest in World Nomads travel insurance, our policy has paid for itself twice (the first was when my iPhone was stolen) in seven months of travel!
Monkey spotting in Nikko
We decided not to travel to Kyoto or Osaka while we were in Japan, hopefully we’ll be able to make it back another time, but we still wanted to get out of Tokyo for a day trip to see a different side of Japan. We chose Nikko, a quaint mountain town, about an hour train ride north of Tokyo and the site of many ornate, old temples.
Nikko is home to the Japanese macaques or snow monkey which we were able to spot in the forrest on the way into town. They’re well integrated into the art and culture of the and the temples and the Nikkō Tōshō-gū temple in particular is known for depicting buddhist values in monkey carvings, including these well known guys- 🙈🙉🙊– so I knew I had to see it for myself.
The temple was crowded with tour busses full of tourists, but everyone seemed to be on their best behavior. I was touched by the serenity of the area and enjoyed taking in the mountain views peeking through the surrounding pine forest. It was fun to see the monkey art as well as the other temples in the complex. I would definitely recommend it as a great spot to visit on a day trip out of Tokyo.
A lakeside cup of coffee
After visiting the temples in Nikko we made our way even further north up a winding road to the neighboring town to check out what we heard was an incredible view of a waterfall. The waterfall turned out to be somewhat underwhelming, so we made our way into the small town surrounding the the nearby lake. The view was breathtaking. The crisp blue grey sky reflecting on the glassy water looked like a scene from a painting. As we stood there taking it in, an eerie mist rolled in over the lake that covered whole place in an air of mystery. If it wasn’t for the temperature we could have stood there for an hour just taking it all in.
Since March is the off season, the little town was almost entirely shut down and the only people we saw walking around were the other passengers on our bus. At one point we were wandering around before catching our bus back to Nikko and a woman saw us walking aimlessly and called to us from across the street to come into her cafe. Though it was obvious she was probably hoping we would be one of her few customers of the day, she was so sweet and enthusiastic that we couldn’t say no. Her restaurant was just a few tables in a small building that looked like it might have once been a one room cabin over looking the lake. She served us coffee in porcelain tea cups and tried to chat with us in her very limited English and our non-existent Japanese. The coffee and her kindness stick out as a sweet little memory of the day.
Local Art is alive in Hong Kong
We spent a week in Hong Kong and it was one of the most unique cities we’ve visited. The British influence on Chinese culture, the size, the sheer amount of people, it was quite a place to behold.
One of my favorite aspects was the modernization of old spaces. One day on a walking tour we visited a building complex that started out as a school in the 1880s then in the 50s housed policemen and their families and was recently turned into an artist collective called PMQ (as a testament to its former life as the police married housing) The current iteration hosts galleries, shops, cafes, even spaces that offer cooking and jewelry making classes.
I was so curious about the building that I went back after our walking tour was over. It was wild roaming the halls imagining what the small shops would have been like as apartments for a family of 4 or more, a set up that is still very common in Hong Kong today. I also really appreciated seeing the wide variety of local art in a city that is very oriented towards touristy or commercial shopping.
More on our first impressions and favorite spots in Hong Kong soon.
Celebrating my 30th at the W Bangkok
On the 19th I celebrated my 30th birthday. I am a birthday person. I know some people (Jeff) don’t care much about celebrating, but I love to combine reflecting on the previous year, dreaming about the year ahead, and a bit of something special on my birthday. For this milestone I wanted to treat us to a fabulous experience, so we used credit card points I had saved up to treat ourselves a suite at the W. We spent an indulgent few days lounging by the pool, taking long baths in the luxurious tub, and having the best 9 course birthday dinner at Sathorne House.
Just a few months ago I thought we would be in Australia for the month of March, then at the beginning of the month I expected we would still be in Japan for my birthday. It wasn’t until about a week before that we decided to head to Thailand and the timing couldn’t have been better to take a few days to simply and whole heartedly relax and enjoy each other’s company. One of my biggest lessons of the trip has been that the greatest parts of our lives are rarely exactly what we planned, and my birthday showed that to me again. The few days were better than I could have imagined and I welcomed my third decade on Earth as relaxed and content as I could possibly be.
Eating all the street food in Bangkok
After my birthday we spent a week taking in the in Bangkok visiting several major temples and trying as much street food as we possibly could. We stayed in a perfect location right near the Skytrain that gave us access to Michelin recommended restaurants and downright delicious street food, all within minutes of our hostel. To say we ate well in Bangkok is an understatement.
We have a few posts about everything we did and ate coming soon.
Taking the overnight train to Chiang Mai
When we were planning how to get to Chiang Mai we happened upon some reviews that said the overnight train was a great option- the trains are quite new, cheaper than a flight, and we figured the overnight ride would save us on the cost of a hostel for a night. So in the interest of ecological preservation and adventure we decided to go for it.
The experience turned out to be very pleasant. The train cars were open with two seats facing each other that later folded into bunk beds on each side of the aisle. We spent the first few hours of the journey reading then around 8 we went and had tea in the dinning car. When we got back our seats had been made into beds with fresh sheets, blankets and even decent pillows. It was a slow ride, but definitely one of the best experiences we’ve had on overnight transit. So much so that we’re planning to take another over night train in Vietnam!
We’re now in Chiang Mai for a few weeks of rest and work. After covering so much ground since December, we’re looking forward to hanging out in one place for a few weeks with minimal plans. At this point in our travel we are craving a few weeks of “working rest” that includes lots of writing, eating vegetables, and finding a place to get a work out in. Aside from a visit to the Elephant Nature Park we have nothing planned and we’re looking forward to seeing how the weeks unfold.
We’re working on lots of upcoming content, and can’t wait to fill you in on some adventures that we haven’t written about yet. As always, thanks for following along!