Japan – Tokyo and my existential crisis

People had said to me that we would get a culture shock when we got to Japan.  Everything was going to be so scary, strange and alien.  People wouldn’t speak any English, menus would all be in Japanese, they ate weird stuff, listened to Babymetal and watched tentacle porn.  However arriving in another country had never felt so much like coming home.  

When we met Hajime from Japan in Laos, he had shown us a map of the Tokyo underground and it looked scary as hell.  So, as we landed and made our way nervously through the airport, we were already stressing about how we were going to find our air bnb using this multicoloured tangle of a map.

Immigration took a matter of seconds.  No queue.  No messing.  Just pure efficiency.  We were off the plane and reunited with our bags within fifteen minutes.  We went to the train station in the airport and braced ourselves for the communication problems.  The lovely lady explained to us in perfect English, how to get to our subway stop.  She gave us a map (which we used the whole time) and highlighted our route and explained the subway changes we had to make.  It was so easy.  The subway is really so simple once you understand what the colours and numbers mean.  And it is super efficient.  I mean we noticed when a subway was thirty seconds late – that’s how impeccably on time it is!

So within no time we were in our cute and tiny air bnb with the most delicious store bought cheap sushi and chocolate that tasted like an eighties easter egg (when chocolate was still good).  I was in heaven!

We spent the next two days exploring Tokyo.  I loved it all.

I ate the most delicious mackerel that I have ever tasted in a little restaurant near our air bnb. (They had an english menu and it was fine!) I had no idea what all the little side dishes were or how I was meant to eat my seaweed but it was all delicious. I’m getting a juicy mouth just writing about it!

We went to the government building which is one of the tallest in the city.  

You can get some great photos there and if you hang around before dusk you can get both day and night pictures.  Plus they have some really cute things in the shop up there whilst you are waiting!

We went to Golden Gai, which is a collection of over 200 bars, most of which fit less than ten people! They are so cute – Many have themes such as the Troll pub, or Halloween.  We were obviously in “Death match in Hell”, a metal and movie bar, complete with Japanese Wayne from Wayne’s world.  We met some great people in there and had an amazing (and toe curlingly expensive) night.

We went to the famous Shibuya crossing and I just happened across a mall with a whole floor of stationery.  Hundreds of diaries, bullet journals, stickers, and washi.  All there for the taking, and all ridiculously cute.  I had to walk round with the mantra of – “everything I buy I have to carry on my back.  everything I buy I have to carry on my back” (It would be worth a spinal injury I think).

We bought a subway day pass and just hopped between areas – Tokyo really is enormous but the subway is so easy.  And the places are so different – upmarket Ginza with it’s offices and upmarket shops, is a couple of stops from Akihabara, which is geek central – with it’s teens dressed in anime costumes and many games arcades with crazy Japanese music. It’s a city of contrast but with a common thread of perfectionism and good manners.

We went to a few parks in the city. If Japan does one thing impeccably (and it does everything impeccably) it’s parks.  In the middle of the biggest city in the world and I can’t hear a sound other than birds and the soothing music they play in the park (which was randomly “auld Lang Syne”).  

It was in the first park where I contemplated the fact that I might be dead,  This was heaven or some kind of perfect holding place until I accepted I was dead.  Actually, if I remembered correctly there was really bad turbulance on the flight in.  Maybe that’s when it ended and I didn’t know.  Why else would food taste so good, the air smelll so sweet and the temperature be so perfectly just right?  And as if there would be so many planners and stickers in one shop? And what the hell is Japanese Wayne doing here?  Why are the trees growing up out of the ground? 

Surely it’s not real.  Everywhere I go smells like flowers mixed with my childhood and everyone I meet is lovely and polite and sweet.  I look at Andrew and wonder if he died too?  I asked him and to my surprise (I thought he would ridicule my idea) he agreed.  It appeared we were in heaven.

So we decided the test would be that, if when we tried to leave Japan we couldn’t, we would know we were really dead.  I’m writing this in Cairns, Australia so we know we are alive. But we also know that we utterly and completely love Japan and will definitely return.

Cambodia – Siem Reap

After Pnom Penh we travelled by bus to Siem Reap, solely for the purpose of seeing the Angkor area including Angkor Wat.  Upon arrival, we realised that this wasn’t our kind of place.  The tuk tuk drivers move very quickly with the variety of their offers from “tuk tuk?” “Lady?” “Weed?” “Heroin?”, within a five second pitch.  Again, this might be driven by the population still recovering and the survivers of the Khymer Rouge times, still scrambling to get a leg up in the world by any means possible.  Even if it means offering complete strangers heroin.  Anyway, we headed to our hostel which was damp and smelled like fish and vinegar.  A fine mix (for a sushi restaraunt).  In order to avoid the stench, we googled and found a metal bar, which turned out to be a lovely chilled acoustic open mic night, where I sang! Ok honestly I just harmonised for one song whist holding someone’s droopy Mic stand (not a euphemism).  It was called the harbour, for those who find themselves in Siem Reap.  And for the fellow geeks, they also have board games including Catan!


We did our obligatory Angkor Wat and other temples tour.  Most hostels (including our smelly one) organise a tuk tuk for you as its an early start. 4am early.  We did our trip with Matt (from Thailand and Laos) and a lovely girl we met called Rut.  The place was amazing.  In hindsight I wish I had paid for the three day ticket.  It is super expensive, I think £60-70?, but you could go back and spend more time there.  We only managed til midday as it was too hot and it would have been nice to go and see the temples we missed.  Also, top tip – If you are going to get the one day ticket, if you buy it after 5pm the day before, you get the remainder of that day free so you can see the sunset, then your ticket is also valid the next day 🙂

We had some fun times at Matt’s hostel (again we were trying to stay away from ours) and had a few drinks.  The nightlife is lively in Siem Reap and it is full of tourist bars, restaraunts and stalls selling fried insects.  Matt’s verdict?  Awful.  Clearly I did not go near this.  I was frightened of it even dead on the stick!  We also played Dare Jenga where, amongst other things, me and Andrew had to swop tops and he had to hold hands with another guy for whole round!

The rest of Siem Reap was chilled.  We spent way too long there really so didn’t do much the last couple of days.  We moved to a cheapish hotel with a roof terrace and hot tub (aka cold tub as you don’t need hot water in that weather!).  There were lots of cute cats and the room didn’t smell of fish.  I call that a win 🙂

Cambodia – Pnom Penh

You can’t come to Cambodia and not see the killing fields.  This is what we told ourselves, as we had heard awful things about Pnom Penh and we were worried about safety.  One of the girls we met at the Laos border crossing had said she was attacked by a group of street kids that wanted to rob her of her purse.  She also nearly got her phone snatched her by from thieves on a motorbike.  We had heard several of these kind of stories, and looking back at the place, I dare say its true, but luckily nothing happened to us.  We deliberately avoided the tourist strip and instead headed into the local area which seemed nice enough and safe, although you can tell the difference between cambodia and the other south east asian countries.  It came very close to India, in the state of disrepair that it was in, there was rubbish everywhere and there was more apparent poverty.  

It was just after their new year though, so maybe this isn’t normal!  We stayed in a lovely hostel though with a pool and met up with Troy (whom we met in India).

We had a trip booked for the next day where a tuk tuk driver would take four of us to S21 no the killing fields.  I don’t know anything about history (even as recent as this) so we decided that we would watch a documentary before going.  (I had gone through the whole of Vietnam without having a clue about what happened in the war and felt a bit ignorant doing so.). I’m so glad we learnt a bit about it as this hammered it home to me. The suffering that these people had been through.  When people were first moved out of their homes in Pnom Penh, they were told it was for their own safety as there was going to be a bombing.  They could come back in a few days.   But this was not true.  They were to be killed if they were any of these things – educated, spoke a foreign language, were from another country, had soft hands, wore glasses, practised religion, were an artists or musicians, lived an urban life and had no agricultural skills. 

The documentary I watched made a really good point.  I knew the Khmer Rouge regime was recent (1975-1979).  But what I didn’t realise was that, this meant that anyone over 38 would have been alive then.  This is crazy.  The person selling you street food, your tuk tuk driver, the old lady walking down the street, all lived this nightmare.  So the next day when we got in our tuk tuk, the first thing I noticed was that our driver was late forties so would have seen it.

We went to the killing fields first and we took the audio tour.  If anyone does this you NEED to take the audio tour – you learn so much from this.  So you walk round the area and hear the stories from survivors, whilst seeing the places that the events took place.  There was the truck stop, where the truck pulled up full of people, confused and scared, who had been told they were being sent to a new home.  Some of them maybe believed it, and stepped off the truck with some hope of a new life.  This hope would soon be dashed as they were packed into windowless buildings until the night fell.  At the night time there was a big tree in the centre, to which a large music system was hung.  They played music loudly through the night to cover up the screams of the people being killed.  Bullets were too expensive so they were beaten in the head, or had their throats cut with sharp tree leaves.  There was a special tree for babies and children.  Babies were killed by being held by the foot and their head smashed into the tree.  The Khmer Rouge didn’t want any survivers from a family coming back years later to avenge their family so they killed everyone.  Their motto was “when pulling our weeds, remove them roots and all”.

The bodies have now been taken out of the mass graves and a memorial sits in the middle of the grounds to honour those who lost their lives.

We then went to S21, which I thought wouldn’t be as bad however it was worse.  I dint take any pictures here other than this one.  

In side the cells were horrendous – there were pictures of how the cells were when they were discovered.  The Khmer Rouge had killed the last prisoners in a hurry and their pictures of them still strapped to the beds, were on the walls.  The rooms were barren with only a metal bed which they were tied to and torture equipment was brought in.  Other rooms were the size of a wardrobe which could house two prisoners.  Some prisoners shared rooms and were attached by a long metal pole which forced them to lie down, they couldn’t sit up, talk, or change position.  They tortured the prisoners in horrific ways.  They dunked them under water, hung them from their arms and put living centipedes up women’s vaginas to make them confess to crimes they didn’t do.  

On the audio tour for the killing fields I was so angry to discover that the Khmer Rouge still held onto their UN seat until 1993.  Why didn’t the rest of the world know what was happening?  Why did Pol Pot get to live a happy life til his death fairly recently?  It really makes me wonder if this is going on somewhere in the world now and we are all blithely unaware, watching the kardashians dominate our “news” instead.

Lots of “Firsts” in Jaipur!

Finally everything sorted with sim card and internet, we manage to book a train to avoid Delhi.  I really cannot stand the thought of going back so we spend a whole 23 hours on trains avoiding it!  We left Shimla on the toy train at ten in the morning and we didn’t arrive in Jaipur until after 9 the next morning.  

In Chandigarh we get our first sleeper train. 

 In the UK we decided we wouldn’t go below AC2 class, which is like the second class.  Unfortunately as we booked this so late there was only AC3 class.  We are sitting in Chandigarh station and I am just imagining how nice and warm my own bed is in England and conjuring the horrors that might be on this train.  I imagine being tightly curled up around my backpack, whilst being thrown around by the train and keeping one eye on the dodgy passengers so they don’t steal any of my shit.  However I was pleasantly surprised.  

The dodgy passengers turned out to be a nice family and a lone younger guy so we didn’t feel threatened.  We were very tightly packed in and we were both too long for the bed but it wasn’t too bad.  The train kind of rocks you gently to sleep!  AC3 means that there are three tiers a top middle and bottom. I was on the top and andrew was middle.  

Another family got on with a tiny baby and he swopped with them so they could sit together.  My heart sank when I saw the baby.  I figured that was sleep out of the window but it didn’t make a peep all night!! However I saw a creepy crawly (possible a cockroach) on the other side of the train wall so I didn’t sleep anyway, constantly checking the wall behind me and jumping at every tickle on my skin.
We arrived at Moustache hostel in Jaipur.  It is so much warmer here!  We actually got a bit sunburned!

The hostel was amazing.  We stayed in our first shared dorm here – a 6 bed shared dorm.  I was imagining rowdy people coming in stinking drunk at 3am and not being able to pee when you need to!  But again I was pleasantly surprised. 

There were only four of us in the room, one lovely guy called Troy and an Indian guy who travels all the time and has been pretty much everywhere!  The dorm was super quiet and clean.  

 I really like Jaipur.  The pink city, although nice to look at, is full of the same tat that is everywhere.  People selling you the same scarves and trinkets.  

I think all the city centres are going to be the same in terms of touts, scams and shopping.  You could be anywhere.  We did get our first rickshaw here!  We’ve taken a few now and it’s not as scary as you might think.

We did see the Hawa Mahal although we didn’t go in.  It was stunning outside though. We are already waaaay over budget in India. Its not as cheap as you might think. 

Also we spent a day at the Amber fort which was amazing.  

It was half an hour out of Jaipur and it was a nice quiet day out.  

We paid for entry and explored taking in some culture 🤓

We head to Agra next which I think will be tourist central!

Day 1 in Delhi – Sort of a nightmare!!

So after a year of planning and saving we step off the plane into a completely different culture wondering what awaits us! For  the next three hours we do the most british thing ever.  We queue. We queue for our passports to be checked in the longest queue ever.  Standing in the “foreign passports” queue with all the other brits and americans, but its quick – it’s like a Primark queue – looks worse than it is.  After half an hour and nearing the front we find out we are in the wrong queue.  If you have the evisa then there is a separate queue – much shorter but twenty times slower.  Another 45 minutes then we queue for the visa check (an old man in a chair), queue for baggage, ATM (literally no cash in any of them) taxi then sit in a traffic jam for an hour! So far, so Britain!

It changes when we leave the airport though.  The poverty here is obvious – children run in between the cars begging or trying to sell balloons or water. We drive past several slums and people are washing their clothes on the pavement.  And man, I have never seen so many dogs foraging for food.

The taxi driver who was meant to take us to the hostel is waiting for another passenger so his mate takes us.  Driving here is something else and not for he faint hearted.  It is definitely a case of who dares wins!  Lord knows how we are going to cross the street  I look at my online map (because I’m a clever clogs and downloaded it for offline use) and we seem to be going past where I think the hostel should be.  We drive up the busiest road I have ever seen in my life and get out of the taxi into a dark alley.  We follow dutifully past a man peeing on a wall and children running around to the hostel.  It isn’t the one we booked!  It turns out that when you book your hostel there is no point deliberating over little details as we did because most of them are owned by the same company.  If there is no room in one they just put you in another. So we are shown our room which is up 4 flights of steep ass stairs and up onto the roof with building work everywhere.  There is a hole in the wall.  After speaking to them we ask if there is anything else.  They say they can give us a much better room at another hotel for no extra cost.  We accept.  It is soooooooo much worse than the hole in the wall room.  

The worst hotel room ever

I wish I knew the name of this to warn people never to go there but it was dark. (UPDATE – found out it is called hindustan)

  I tried the sink tap and the water came out of the wall underneath it. 

You had to ring up for hot water – however there was no dial tone.  The toilet was the worst thing I had ever seen!  

We didn’t manage to find an ATM so we had no convertors for chargers or money to buy water or anything.  Desperately thirsty I tried out the filter bottles we bought.  They are meant to filter out 99.99% of bacteria and viruses.  Well I am filling it from the rankest bathroom tap ever in Delhi so if these work it’ll be amazing!!

I half sleep with one eye on the door and one eye on the air conditioning unit (I am sure there are spiders in there).  I’m scared of touching anything but my silk sleeper (god I’m glad we bought these).  It’s so loud with people shouting and children screaming and someone with terrible taste in trance music.  At half 12 there is a banging on the door. I think I hate India 😦 The hotel proprietor has decided that now is a perfectly reasonable time for us to sign in.  Hopefully tomorrow brings more normality!