Railay – Same same, but different

From Chiang Mai, we flew down to Krabi with a short layover in Bangkok. Once in Krabi, we were met by our driver and started heading down to the coast, where we were to take a longtail boat to Railay. As we were driving, we could see the tall vertical limestone cliffs…like nothing I have seen before! So magestic and ominous at the same time. My mouth was drooling at how many potential climbing routes are there, waiting to be discovered. And although it would be wonderful if someone developed them, I can appreciate them just as they are. Just amazing.

We got on out first long tail boat ride to Railay, which was only about 10 minutes from Krabi. We landed at Railay East at low tide, which basically meant we had to wade in the mud and water with our packs over our heads to shore. We checked into Railay Garden View Resort, which is a year-old development built on the farthest end of Railay East, past the Last Bar. The trail is still being developed, and the actual bungalows are perched high up steep steps in the jungle, which was a bit of a problem at times coming back in the dark after a long day. There is no AC and only cold water is pumped in from the Andaman Sea. Needless to say our showers were nice and brisk!

After we checked in we walked over to Railay West, which is only a 15 minute walk to the other side of the peninsula. Railay West was more of a beachy beach, and developed with newer, fancier accomodations. Along our walk we decided to change our overnight train back to Bangkok in a few days to an actual flight on Thai Airways. We decided we were done with the 14hr train rides! Once we made arrangements online, we were able to relax. We sat on some woven mats and were able to catch the somewhat overcast sunset, Chang in hand and Paad Thai in our bellies.

Railay has an overall chill vibe, and reminded me a lot of my trip to the Philippines in 2004 to the little island of Boracay. Laid back atmosphere, carefree attitude, cool breeze, dredlocked locals, reggae music, and local beer.  Many of the locals live in nearby Ao Nang and Krabi town, because Railay is too expensive. Whenever I ask them what they think of Bangkok, many of them respond in the same way. “Too many people. Too much pollution.” They all prefer life on the coast.

The storm clouds rolled in soon after the sun set, and we relocated under the thatched roof of the Flametree Bar. We sat for a bit perusing the walls lined with books in all languages and sketches donated by fleeting tourists, then made the hike back to our bungalow by headlamp.

On the night train

I woke up pretty early and downloaded photos in the morning. Breakfast at Suk11 was toast with thai tea butter (this s*** is the bomb!), sweet rice w/condensed milk, jelly w/sweet beans, and fruit. We took the BTS Skytrain to the river, then rode the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat upriver to head to Wat Po. There were several stops along the way, dropping people off and picking them up.

Once we reached our stop, we jumped off and weaved through a small market of dried fish, trinkets, and thai herbal remedies, and stopped for fried bananas and the mother fruit of them all, DURIAN. If you’ve never heard of durian before, lets just say it’s actually banned in some hotels (including our hostel) because some people, even Thais, find the stench it omits to be offensive. David was so excited and I must say I was too! I’ve never tried it fresh. We paid 20 baht for one piece. I was a little worried, but all in all it wasn’t that bad! David actually liked it a lot. It’s only that half-second right before you take that first bite when you get a whiff of that musky, rotten, hot garbage smell. Then you take a big, custardy bite and it all goes away and turns into this sweet creamy mush. Yum.

We finally got to Wat Po, and saw yet more amazingness….highlights which include the gold-leafed Reclining Buddha, which I believe is the biggest indoor one in the world. We donated money and gave alms (dropped one coin each in about 60 pots) and wrote prayers on new roof tiles to replace old ones. Seems like the Wats are in a constant state of maintenance, and it was nice to know that our names, and hundreds of others, will somehow be a part of the structures for many years.

We ate, bought postcards, and headed back to the boat when it started POURING rain. It rained sideways! Everyone was completely soaked. So needless to say, the rainy season came early this year.

We packed our stuff back at Suk11 and went to the train station to catch the overnighter north to Chiang Mai. Once in the station, everyone was going their own way, minding their own business when suddenly the guards rang their whistles and hundreds of people stopped dead in their tracks and stood still. It was weird, kinda the flash mob thing, but different. The only stragglers left walking were the other tourists, looking around confused as always. The huge LCD screen on one of the walls lit up and the national anthem started playing while everyone saluted images of the King. After the song was over, the screen turned returned to regular Thai commercials, someone hit the action button and the train station returned to its normal hustling and bustling like nothing happened. Apparently this happens once every Sunday, at 6pm sharp. We were lucky to have been in a crowded train station when it happened. What a sight to see!

The exhaust, noise, and movement on the train kept me up the early part of the night, but once I got used to it, it was more of like someone rocking me to sleep. The bunks are really cool. During the day, the seats face each other, like a little booth, then at night, the train attendant slides the seats and transform them into a lower and upper bunk. I took the upper bunk, of course (so fun!) It was fine except for the loud French people who stayed up playing cards and drinking really bad vodka.

More temples, Sumo & Shibuya

Our second day in Kyoto was a whirlwind temple tour. We did the famous walking tour that starts at Kiyomizudera, a huge temple on the side of the mountain. It’s the definitive temple for it’s style and paved the way architecturally for other temples. The fun part of the walk is all the narrow streets and cool little shops. Bev bought a Kimono, but other than that we skipped all the tourism in favor of our timetable. Back at the Ryokan, Mrs. Uemura made us a fantastic American style breakfast, we packed our bags, snapped a shot with her, and jetted to a few more temples, which are all only a few blocks away from her place.

We made it to Ryozen Kannon with it’s huge white buddha. Right next to it is Kodaiji Temple. The highlight of this temple was the gardening. On a hillside as well, the many buildings are connected by lots of steps and walkways. The trees are so well pruned. There are Zen rock gardens. And, there is a bamboo forest. Very cool. We heard they light it up at night during the summer. Wish we could have seen that. There was time for one more temple before the bullet train back to Tokyo. Choin-in temple is HUGE! The property as well as the temple itself are enormous. I read that it’s size reflects the popularity of it’s particular approach to Buddhism. We witnessed a ceremony of some monks and got to see the New Year’s bell there. It weighs 14 tons and takes 20-odd men to ring it every New Year.

We barely made the train back to Tokyo, ate lunch on the go, but made it back in time to meet Simone at the Sumo tournament. It takes place 4 times a year and we were lucky enough to be there. It was pretty amazing. Those dudes are strong. We had nosebleed seats and Bev was missing her big zoom lens, but nonetheless it was impressive.

After the Sumo, we were hungry, but also wanted to see Shibuya Crossing. It’s a famous intersection where several streets come together and the concept of crosswalks goes out the window. Totally fun to buzz through the mayhem. We stopped at a Starbucks only for the aerial view of the intersection where we ran into some Aussies on holiday. Claire is also a graphic artist, so she and Bev talked for a bit. I was starving so we eventually left in search of food. The streets in the Shibuya district are like a maze, but we managed to find a little teriyaki bar, Yaki Suka. The food was great and the Asahi refreshing. There were probably only ten seats in the place, but you could tell the locals like it after work. From there, we decided to wander through Shibuya some more and absorb the scene. Lots of teens, dressed super hip. Lots of shopping. Tons of lights. Very much like New York’s Times Square. Hopefully, the photos do it justice. It was stimulating.

Anyway, we were exhausted. We hit the rail back to our neighborhood with Simone, bid our farewells, and checked into our Capsule. Bev had to sleep on a separate floor for women. Basically, there are several floors with sinks and toilets and a door to a room with stacked capsules. Bunkbeds almost, except you enter from the head/foot. I hit the sack because we had to get at 6am to shower and make our flight to Thailand.

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Another long post, but hopefully you all enjoy the detail. Thailand to follow.

Bullet train to Kyoto and automated toilets


Click on photo to view gallery

Wow wow wow. My first post overseas! So much has happened already. Today felt really long.  First of all, they don’t call it a bullet train for nothing. It is actually called the Shinkansen…doesn’t it just sound faaaaaaaast?! Most of the people who took the Shinkansen were Japanese business men, who by the way, are always sharply dressed.

The bullet was amazing. We saw Mt. Fuji whizzing by at 130mph. Really cool! We arrived in Kyoto and stayed at Ryokan Uemura in Southern Higashiyama. There were only 3 rooms in the whole place, and it is really like staying at your grandmother’s house. Mrs. Uemura set up everything in our room, which is all tatami flooring with paper screens and everything! Our room looked out into a small garden with bamboo, rocks, and a small shrine.

We hung out for awhile then wandered around for a bit around the neighborhood. We were lucky enough to get a glimpse of a few geisha walking by the Yasuka Pagoda. It was such a unique experience that I almost felt disrespectful taking out my camera. I snapped off one shot while they were walking by, and it wasn’t even a good one! In retrospect I probably should have not cared and taken a lot of photos and just passed myself off as a dumb tourist who didn’t know any better, but I really just couldn’t do that. Forgive me! I am not an opportunist. This quality actually makes me a bad photographer, but whatever. It just felt weird.

We moved on and walked around Gion on Shimbashi Dori, past all the fancy bars. They were so many of them, stacked one by one on top of each other, 5 stories high. It is interesting to see so many modern bars right in the heart of this ancient city. But such is Japan, a place of many dichotomies.

We decided to forgo the fancy pants restaurant that everyone recommended in favor of a little Japanese BBQ joint down the road. It was really good, and I had a funny battle with the automated toilet. The toilet lid opened automatically when you locked the door. This took me off guard and I thought I was going crazy, so I had to lock and unlock the door a couple of times to make sure it was actually doing what I thought it was doing. I couldn’t figure out how to flush the toilet because, of course, all the buttons were in Japanese. I left the washroom as it was, embarrassingly asked our server how to flush the toilet, then ran back upstairs to finish the deed. The owner of the restaurant laughed as she figured out what was going on. I hope she thought it was cute funny and not dumb American tourist funny!

Anyway, that was our first day in Kyoto 🙂

Pack it up!! Pack it in!! Let me begin.

The infamous packing post. Instead of writing a long exhausting list of what we are packing, I’ve posted these beautiful photos. Please click on the photos to see the Flickr notes. Our goal is to not check any luggage. Of course this will probably change as we pick up stuff over the course of the trip. We plan on doing laundry in the sink and trading guidebooks/novels along the way. When we return, It will be interesting to review what worked and what didn’t work. I am probably missing something here, but I can’t think of anything right now. Oh, pacsafe and the 17-35/2.8 are not pictured.

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The exploded view

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All packed up. Total weight: David’s pack=18.4lbs, my pack=16lbs + 9lbs (Domke bag)

Hanami

It is cherry blossom (Sakura) season in Japan right now.  Hanami, the custom of enjoying the beauty of flowers, usually happens between March and May, and thousand of Japanese head to the parks to hold parties under the flowering trees until late into the night. Sakura blooms themselves only last about one week in one place, and from what I’ve read on my Couchsurfing.com Tokyo forum, there are some travelers who plan on “chasing” them for 6-7 weeks from south to north Japan to extend Hanami. HOW COOL IS THAT?

I was saddened by this, as we are in Texas at the moment, and not in Japan. But to my delight, our Redbuds are blooming right now in our own backyard! It almost seems that overnight, the hot pink blooms have doubled in quantity, on cue,  just for me. So, although we aren’t able to officially join Hanami in Japan, I am going to have a little party by myself under my Redbud, right here in good ole Texas…

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Texas Redbud

Bev and Dave’s WORLD TOUR

It has been a long dream of mine to travel around the world. Literally. Circling the planet in one direction, chasing the sunset so to speak. Circumstances haven’t allowed it until now, and I am happy that David and I are both at a point in our lives where we can create the kind of trip we want and hopefully do it the way we want. We are no longer dirt poor college students, and don’t yet have children who depend on us for their every need. We do have a mortgage though, and that’s going to be tricky, but with enough savings and booking extra photography gigs, we hope to come out of it with a new perspective and an experience of a lifetime. Did I mention we are doing this all in the span of seven weeks?!

Where the heck are we going, you ask? Well, this was the part of the planning that probably took the longest to decide. We pinned up a map in our dining room and for the last six months have been moving little red push pins around all over. It’s full of holes now, but we managed to finalize our itinerary and dates without killing each other.

Here it is:

Japan: Tokyo, Kyoto
Thailand: Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Krabi
Indonesia: Bali (Ubud, Kuta)
Morocco: Marrakech, the Sahara, Essaouira
Spain: Barcelona, Granada
Ireland: Dublin

In my hand at this very moment, I have our RTW tickets. (Round-the-World, hee hee). We got quotes from several different companies and ended up with Air Brokers, a company that is based in San Fransisco specializing in RTW trips.  It was great working with them because we were not limited to certain airlines or routing weirdness. Some companies limit you to 4 legs per continent, and that included routing you through cities that you don’t even want to go through! We can write a whole other post on just airline alliances, but that part of our planning is over, and there is much more to plan! If you have any questions about this topic, let us know, and we’ll tell you all about it. 😉

More to come. Stay tuned…