This is our Asia diary – the day to day bits. The South America diary can be found here.
We spent a manic day at the Chatuchak market in Bangkok yesterday, a place where the phrase “if you can’t buy it here it doesn’t exist” probably applies but also a place where you want to run away from many of the products (animals in cages). So mixed feelings.
80,000 stalls, apparently. We got happily lost and may even have got some Christmas shopping done, before trying to find lunch. We settled for a calm enough looking place, and asked someone to help us with the all-Thai menu that listed about 6 different items. The conversation went a bit like:
“Hi, what’s on the menu?”
“Pork noodle soup”
“Ok great, what else?”
“Pork noodle soup”
Happily, it was very good pork noodle soup.
We’re now in the airport waiting to fly to Chiang Mai, where we hope to see a bit more of the rural ‘real’ Thailand, but have somewhat accepted that it’ll likely be more elephant pants and Birkenstocks. BW
There’s a weird scam they play in Bangkok, where a man will tell you the Grand Palace you want to visit is currently closed for a ceremony. Thankfully, he tells you, he has a friend who for a very reasonable rate will take you around the rest of the sights and bring you back just in time to see the Grand Palace once the ceremony is over.
Unfortunately, the problem is that they stop you to conduct this scam in full view of the Grand Palace… which you can see is absolutely chock full of Chinese tour group and gives you a moments reflection on your plans. So not only do you not take your new friend up on his offer, but you decide not to visit the Grand Palace either. All a bit pointless.
We did however visit Wat Arun – which Lauren was very impressed by – and made a visit to Khao San road so that I could have the classic beer and a scorpion on a stick experience. Yum.
We’ve spent the last week hanging out on the Thai beach resort of Khao Lak – somewhere I have a lot of history with having visited many times previously with family. We honestly haven’t done a whole lot – reading, watching Wimbledon and the Cricket World Cup (it came home!) and exploring the various markets. We did take a fun mini day trip bamboo rafting down a river, in which we saw a few mildly terrifying snakes.
It was also nice to visit the Tsunami memorial here, almost 15 years on from the tragedy. Having experienced the horror of it, it’s quite surreal seeing how things have changed and moved on since. Especially good to see the Tsunami Warning System signs everywhere!
Tomorrow we move on to Bangkok, for a very very different perspective of Thailand. BW
We’re in Penang for a couple of days which is a city on the west coast of Malaysia known for its food! We’re staying in George Town, a UNESCO world heritage site due to the colonial architecture and mix of cultures. Within a few hours we could tell we loved the area. There’s cool cafes and bars, great street art and street food everywhere. We also luckily arrived on the weekend George Town was celebrating it’s UNESCO status with a street carnival showcasing all the different cultures and important events within them. We learned about weddings, baby showers, birthdays and even tried out some Indian Bhangra dancing! LC
Amazing being back in a (relatively) temperate climate. I actually wore a jumper today! And it drizzled! It’s pretty peaceful in the Cameron Highlands, where we’ve spent some time hiking, visiting strawberry farms and tea plantations. The latter are especially pleasant. BW
Hit up the Batu caves yesterday which were cool – hugely touristy of course, and it did make us question whether better regulation is needed at major Asian attractions.
On the other hand, we stumbled across a fantastic Asian vegetarian hole in the wall where we ordered… something, and it was fantastic. For less than £1.50 each.
Now on a bus to the Cameron Highlands, where we’re excited to get back into some hiking! And proper rain!
Busy old day in KL, which is a nicer and more interesting city than I might have given it credit for.
First we took a morning walk across the eco-park canopy, getting decent views of the skyline as we went. We then made a pitstop at the KL Tower (glorified BT Tower), paused for a Guinness at an Irish pub (a chain, with branches in Cork & Mayo…!) and headed into the Little India area. A mosque visit (complete with robing up) later, we walked over to the old seat of the British Government in Malaysia. It’s a beautiful building, apparently designed by the colonials in line with North-West Islamic architectural code and is one of the best remaining examples of Empire architecture, apparently. Rule Britannia.
We then wandered through the cramped, stiflingly hot and pretty decent Central Market before heading back for a siesta. Much needed, that nap, because we’re going to watch Limerick vs Tipperary in the hurling later, back at the Irish Pub…….Sláinte.
We have been bad. 5 days without an update. And in that time we’ve been to Jakarta, Singapore and are now on the way to Malaysia!
In all honesty we really didn’t see much of Jakarta, as we were only briefly there to catch a flight. Said a not too nostalgic farewell to Indonesian food and got our laundry done… yeah, not somewhere we fully experienced.
Singapore we didn’t experience as much as we might have liked either, but not for want of trying! There’s just a lottttt to see, and we just didn’t have the time to see it all. The Marina Bay gardens really are standout, more so even than the photos make out. It’s really amazing seeing the metropolis of downtown contrasted against the huge, manicured gardens and then the harbour behind it all.
Currently writing from a bus, as we head through Malaysia. The short term plan is to spend a little time absorbing Malay culture (And food. And beer) in the capital before getting back into some hiking in the Cameron Highlands. About time. BW
Update on Jogja, as the locals call it. There’s not a whole lot going on but everyone is very friendly! We’ve apparently based ourselves in the hipster area which is two streets of some nice cafes and restaurants but other than that, it’s a loud and chaotic city. It’s a bit more low rise than other Javanese cities due to the earthquakes. It certainly feels much more informal than most other major cities.
We went to Borobudur Temple today which was beautiful! It’s largest Buddhist temple in the world and has multiple layers representing different elements of Buddhism and consciousness. It’s also a place that a lot of Indonesians from rural areas go on holiday so Ben and I were pretty popular and kept getting asked to take photos with families and kids. It was really sweet to begin with and we didn’t mind posing with kids or with people who asked but there were also quite a few who pulled us into photos with them! Overall though, a worthwhile day trip – one of those places we’ll be pleased to have said we’ve seen.
Heading out for satay tonight and then waking up early for our 8 hour train to Jakarta. LC
Exhausting, dirty and a struggle to breathe – but Mount Bromo at sunrise was pretty cool.
We climbed to the volcano rim after watching the sun come up on it, a walk involving a genuine desert and some pretty strong sulphurous odours.
We’ve now moved on to Yogyakarta, an altogether more pleasant city and allegedly the cultural capital of Indonesia! In contrast to Surabaya, we’re in a bright, breezy ‘eco-hotel’ on a street lined with bars and warungs (local street-food style restaurants). A walking tour is the first planned activity to introduce us to the city. It’s been a while – our last walking tour was in New Orleans! BW
Arrived to Java today, Surabaya to be exact which Lonely Planet only gives a couple of lines to saying it’s polluted, congested and lacking in any tourist appeal… thankfully we’re only here as a jumping off spot for our sunrise hike up Mount Bromo, an active volcano!
Special shoutout to the musician who hopped in the boot of our van and kept us entertained with many Oasis singalongs on the way to Lombok airport. Both football and the lyrics to Wonderwall traverse all cultures. LC
So to start with, we apparently had 4.5 earthquake last night but neither Ben or I noticed. Well, the gecko on our roof was being obnoxiously loud so I think he noticed and then decided to wake us up every hour. For those that haven’t hear geckos (it was our first time!) they sound a bit like a woodpecker combined with an aggressive duck or goose…
We headed out on our first tour of the local area with our host Roni today. Bit of background, Roni used to be a teacher but teachers here have to “intern” for 10 years and only get paid 300,000 rupiah a month which is £16!! His wife is in the middle of this so he decided to set up the home stay instead. We wandered through rice fields at various stages of growth and got to see how it’s harvested by hand, right down to beating the rice from the stalks ourselves! Everyone we met was so friendly and curious about us (the entire village knows when Roni has guests) and there was lots of pointing at our pasty skin. We continued on past papaya trees and rows of chilli peppers where we stopped at some cacao trees and got to eat some there and then! Roni cracked it open and you pull out the seeds which are covered in goo and suck them. They have a sweet and sour taste. The seeds are then dried in the sun and become chocolate.
After lunch at a local warung we headed back towards the home stay and stopped at a local coffee producers run by women. They showed us how they combined rice, cacao and coffee beans, roasted them over a fire, ground them by hand (Ben and I had a go!) and then sifted them. This created coffee powder! The whole process took about 30 minutes and then the ladies gave us the coffee we all made to take home.
Dinner was at the home stay – Roni and his wife made us a delicious jackfruit curry (also saw jackfruit today, they’re HUGE!) and now we’re ready for bed once prayers are finished. There are 3 mosques near us so we can hear a lot of sermons but they all start at different times! I’ve also just noticed a lizard on the ceiling in our room so between that, the gecko and potential earthquakes, I won’t be sleeping tonight it seems. LC
Yesterday was a cycle ride so enjoyable it’ll deserve it’s own blog post – essentially we rode around the entirety of Gili T, stopping to snorkel, eat street food and drink cocktails.
Today we moved on from the tranquility of the Trawangan Island to the… tranquility of inner Lombok. Got the ‘slow boat’ over this morning (took 30 minutes, cost less than £1) and then went inwards on this surprisingly big land mass. We’re in Tetebatu, a tiny (TINY) little village, not known for much beyond rice farming. Oh, and being in the shadow of Mount Rinjani, a famously active volcano.
Our plan for the next few days is just to embrace the local culture – a market here, watching the coffee grinding process there – maybe visit a couple of waterfalls and enjoy the pretty sensational home stay we’ve managed to wangle. BW
Lauren became a PADI qualified scuba diver today!!
I, on the other hand, had some pancakes and a Bloody Mary.
Who’s the real winner?
IMPORTANT UPDATE: there isn’t a whole lot to do on Gili T…
Sad to leave Ubud, which was frenetic but very pleasant. On the other hand, happy to be on Gili Trawangan! We took the boat here earlier today, standing like cattle on a Bali pier before the sweltering hot journey over. It’s known by some as Gili ParT(y) and has a lively nightlife reputation. But I’m sitting here outside our hotel, beach just feet away, and it’s got a kind of Canary Island vibe. Except Asian. And crowded with Aussies rather than Brits.
We’re here to scuba dive! Or at least Lauren is – she starts her PADI Open Water course tomorrow morning. I was hoping to complete my Rescue Diver course here but sinusitis likely means that’ll have to wait. Guess it’ll have to be some beach reading, cocktails and maybe some light snorkelling for me… hard life. BW
We’ve been in Bali, Ubud to be exact, since Thursday night. It’s a really lovely town with lots of delicious, cheap food! £1 satay anyone? We’ve visited the Monkey Forest which actually had some really cool temples deep inside where we saw some monkeys conspire to open a woman’s zipped-up bag and extract her belongings! We also met up with Megan (Lauren’s sister who is now living in Bali with her boyfriend Mike) and did the Campuhan Ridge trek followed by some even more delicious food in a cafe in the middle of a rice paddy!
Last night we went to the Ubud Palace to see the Legong Dance which was a show mainly about the trials and tribulations of princes and princesses. The dancers were amazing and even had their hand and eye movements choreographed!
Today we’ve spent mainly at our hotel, catching up on life admin, ready for the Gili Islands and some diving next week. LC
Theres been no update for a while as we had a little Ibiza detour to celebrate the wedding of Mr & Mrs Stone! It was absolutely glorious and we’re very proud of them both.
Back to Hong Kong… and happily reunited with our luggage after Aeroflot left it in Moscow 🤦🏻♂️. We’ve mostly been hanging around Kowloon seeing family and eating dim sum. Yesterday though we took the bus down to Stanley at the southern point of Hong Kong Island, before catching the iconic Aqualuna boat back which was extremely worth doing, getting to see parts of the city-state we’d otherwise never have whilst sipping wine.
Tomorrow we leave HK and fly to Bali! BW
Yesterday we hiked to Tai Long Wan in rain so bad it destroyed the iPhone hidden in my zipped up pocket… a phenomenon apparently called “black rain”. Fun times. No photos because as mentioned, the phone in question was destroyed! BW
Had a fun time in Macau, whizzing around the major sights before ending up at Fernando’s beach restaurant for chicken and chips. The old town is quite pretty, reminiscent of Lisbon with nicely paved streets, old Christian ruins and colourful churches. Much of the city however is devoted to the Chinese gambling industry – huge casino hotels dominate the skyline and the tourism sector.
Wonder if it was more Portuguese before the handover to China in 1999? And what exactly is the Grand Lisboa meant to look like? BW
It’s a rainy day in Hong Kong, so we’re having a life admin day in a Sai Kung coffee shop. Not that the rain makes much difference, we’ve been wet the entire 5 days we’ve been here so far thanks to the extreme humidity!
We’re very grateful to be being put up my Uncle Mike and Aunt Diane for the first stint in HK, near the expat-friendly town of Sai Kung. So far, we’ve used the opportunity to visit the cinema (Detective Pikachu!), wander through Kowloon’s infamous markets, eat plenty of dim sum and try and get fit for the impending Ibiza wedding with plenty of walking. We’ve got plans to visit Stanley on HK island and take another hike to Tai Long Wan. Before that, we plan go to Macau tomorrow, mostly to sample some of the Portuguese/Asian fusion cuisine.
It’s good to be back. BW
Kyoto may be even more appealing than Tokyo. The old capital combines Japanese metropolis with old-world Gion and green outskirts. We’ve enjoyed the lot, but particularly Gion. This ancient district is the home of ryokans, temples and the Geisha, as well as backstreets full of dimly lit izikaya’s and gin bars (!!!), all concealed behind wooden facades straight out of The Last Samurai.
So we’ve been busy. We visited the huge bamboo forest to the west of the city. We’ve trekked up the famous Mt. Inari and through it’s alleged 32,000 vermillion gates. That was a bit otherworldly to be honest, and I have absolutely no idea how it was achieved.
We’ve walked down more backstreets than I can count to temples both tiny and grand, and spotted a couple of Geisha on their way to and from engagements.
Last night, after our first Katsu curry in Japan (how, only now!?) we treated ourselves to a gin bar visit. Japan excels in tiny, hidden bars with limited seating that somehow makes it feel more exclusive. A particular highlight was a cocktail featuring mushroom gin, soy sauce, sake and umami bitters. Genuinely tasty, though a little bit of a fungal aftertaste…
Today we’re off to Osaka for a night, taking us slowly closer to the airport from which we’ll fly to Hong Kong tomorrow. We’ve messed up a bit and the place we booked doesn’t allow check-in until 10pm, so we’re getting to sit in our Kyoto hotel lobby using their WiFi and toilets until they kick us out 🙂. BW
P.S. Before I forget, must also write about how when we went to the bamboo forest the other day, we bought some painted postcards from an old man who asked me where I was from and then started Irish dancing in front of his stall while professing how much he loved Enya! Then, later that night, when out for dinner, our server asked where we were from and told me he studied English at the Language Centre in Cork! Loving all the Japanese with Irish connections. LC
Two diary updates in one day. Spoiling our loyal readers… (hello, is anyone there?).
Mt. Fuji is closed to walkers until July. The snow and ice make it too treacherous to scale (even in June!?) but alas – today we did the next best thing and hiked neighbouring Shukiyashama. It only took a few hours to gain 700m of altitude, but the summit presented us with 360 degrees panoramic views of the surrounding countryside and of course, Fuji-san itself. I say of course – apparently we’ve been very lucky to get such clear views of a mountain considered elusive. Many people arrive and never see Fuji, as it’s covered in clouds the whole time!
Tomorrow we have another quintessentially Japanese experience – the Shinkansen bullet train is delivering us at speed to Kyoto. Sayonara for now. BW
P.s learned a Japanese proverb today, which goes something like “He who climbs Fuji once is a wise man, he who climbs Fuji twice is an idiot”. Lovely stuff.
Arrived to the Mt Fuji area and it is beautiful! We got a bus from Tokyo yesterday and our host, Jun, picked us up. He runs a ryokan, a restaurant and a crystal shop/cafe in town that also has rental bikes. He lent us two for free and we headed off on a cycle around the lake to catch our first proper view of Mt Fuji.
Afterwards Jun brought us back to the ryokan, high up in the hills and told us a little bit more about himself. What a back story! Turns out he’s half-Irish, half-Japanese. His dad was a priest from Youghal in Cork, Ireland when he moved to Japan in order to administer the last rites to American soldiers fleeing Vietnam. He fell in love with a geisha and left the priesthood while his mum, left the world of geishas. He even has a slight Cork accent! LC
Happy birthday to me! And happy new diary. We’re in Tokyo, which I can happily say is one of the best cities we’ve visited so far. It’s clean, ultra-modern, interesting and the food is 👌🏻.
We’ve managed to fit in all of the major tourist activities in 2 days, which we regard as a major success. Mostly it’s been about sushi, gyoza and sake. But we’ve also visited a cat cafe, a temple, and the mad arcades of Akihabara. Tomorrow we head down towards Mt. Fuji and our traditional Ryokan accommodation! BW