14 Hours in Japan

14 hours in Tokyo is not nearly enough time, but it is all we had. The three main objectives for the day: eat fresh sushi from the fish market, try authentic ramen, and find a Sanrio store.

Our first challenge was getting out of the airport and into the city. With some help from the tourist kiosk we were on the subway in no time heading toward the Tsukiji Fish Market for the freshest and most delicious sushi breakfast.

Tsukiji Fish Market

 

We didn’t get to the market in time for the tuna auction (4am!!!) but there was plenty of action to witness at 6am. After about an hour of strolling down the market aisles, dodging trucks and trolleys, and salivating over some of the largest fish we’ve ever seen, we popped into one of the many hole in the wall restaurants just inside the main gate off Shin-ohashi Street.

While it was a bit on the pricey side, it was the freshest sushi I had ever eaten and most definitely the best breakfast of my life. Seafood is my EVERYTHING.

And now onto lunch…

Ramen

We found a small ramen shop in the middle of Shibuya by following our noses and a group of Japanese business men on their lunch break. The sliding wood door opened to a small bar top where two chefs (sent from heaven, I assume) concocted intoxicating bowls of glorious noodle soup. I typically can’t finish a full bowl of ramen but it was so tasty that I inhaled every last drop and still wanted more.

 

Sanrio

Finding a Sanrio store in the Hello Kitty mecca should be easy, right? What I expected to be the easiest task of the day turned out to be an exhausting fiasco.

Why do I need wifi to get wifi? If I had wifi I wouldn’t I need wifi. Connecting to wifi in Tokyo was a pain in the neck. Since we were only in town for the day, it didn’t make sense to invest in a SIM card. And seeing as we were visiting a high-tech country, we figured we could get along fine with the “free wifi” that was advertised everywhere. The problem is you must verify your email address to use the internet, BUT you can’t access your email without the internet. Total catch 22. We basically had to dip into a Starbucks and buy a coffee anytime we needed wifi. It was pretty difficult trying to figure out where we were based on map screenshots and Japanese street signs.

The locals were extremely friendly and tried to help the best they could with the limited English they understood. After a lot of walking (sometimes in circles) we FINALLY found the giant Hello Kitty statue in front of a small Gift Gate store. I was not very impressed by the store but I was thankful that our mission was complete.

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The upside of the arduous search was that it forced us to explore more of the city. We browsed the music selection at the 9 story Tower Records store in Shibuya, window shopped in the Harujuku district, and wandered aimlessly down the streets of Shinjuku.

14 hours in Tokyo left us with sore feet, happy bellies, and the overwhelming desire to return again.

Sayonara for now…

Check out our PHOTOS page for more Tokyo pics.

TOKYO PHOTOS

Our one day layover in Japan feels like a blur in hindsight. After “slow travelling” for three months, having to rush through a city in 14 hours (on only a couple hours of sleep) was exhausting. However, with it being the final destination on our journey back to California, we mustered up every last bit of energy and fucking crushed it!

The photos from our quick stop in Tokyo are now up on our PHOTOS page.

Here are just a few:

More to come on Tokyo soon…

Alabama Hills

Three day weekends call for adventure! And now that I am back working the 9-5, weekends are the only time to get out of town. I hadn’t been camping since our February trip to Fremont Peak State Park and was in desperate need of some nature.

We packed up the FJ and headed for the hills, the Alabama Hills.

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I absolutely love camping in the Alabama Hills. It’s hard to beat the amazing views of the eastern Sierras. We met up with a group of our best camping buddies and spent three days/two nights exploring rock formations, eating delicious dutch oven meals, and gazing up at the limitless stars.

Pet Rocks

Our friends, Pouyan and Janelle, are avid campers and have raised two of the cutest little adventurers. At 4 and 2 years old, the boys have been to more National Parks than most adults. In an attempt to raise my status to “fun Auntie Dejah”, I brought along some rocks, washable paint, and googly eyes to make pet rocks. We ended up with more paint on our clothes than on the rocks, but they were still a big hit with the littles.

Arches

You can’t go to the Alabama Hills without scoping out some of the awesome rock formations. Sean and I took the dogs on a morning hike to check out the different arches. We lucked out and had the popular Mobius Arch all to ourselves for a good 15 minutes.

Manzanar

On Monday we took a trip 10 miles north of Lone Pine to Manzanar – the site of one of ten American concentration camps where over 110,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly held during World War II. It seemed fitting to pay a visit on Memorial Day.

Star Gazing

We spent our nights looking up at the stars while eating cinnamon rolls wrapped around sticks and cooked over the campfire.

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Now to figure out how many more camping trips we can fit in before the year is over…

MAY – FILM CHALLENGE

May Photos for our FILM CHALLENGE are now posted. This month we went camping in the Alabama Hills and brought along our Canon AE-1 and Mamiya RB67 Pro S, shooting with both 35mm and 120mm film. I’ll be posting a blog about our trip soon! In the meantime, here are our favorite film photos:

Throwback Thursday: PERU 2013

This one time Sean and I went on an amazing adventure to Peru. We ate ceviche in Lima, trekked through the Amazon, and got engaged at Machu Picchu. It may forever be the BEST vacation I have ever taken.

Here is the video of the trip that changed my life forever:

And a few of my favorite photos:

For the full album, check out our PHOTOS page.

 

 

Circle Train – Yangon, Myanmar

My favorite part about travelling is getting a glimpse into the lives of people all around the world – where they live, work, play, and pray.  Learning about culture requires more than walking through a museum or taking a generic tour. Sean and I have found that the best experiences come when we fully immerse ourselves into the daily lives of the natives. For a peek into the local life, we hopped on the circle train to ride the 2-3 hour (28 mile) loop around Yangon.

The railway is the cheapest mode of transportation in the city, costing us only 200 kyat (less than 15 cents US). It mostly serves lower income commuters and is typically void of any tourists. In fact, Sean and I were the only tourists on the entire train. We found a place on one of the carts and made ourselves comfortable.

The coach quickly became a moving market as hawkers walked back and forth throughout the carts selling everything from fruits, vegetables, and snacks, to cigarettes and sweet treats. Locals would jump on and off the train (because it never stopped for more than a few quick seconds) squeezing into any open spot on the benches. There were times when Sean and I had plenty of space to stretch but most of the time we were the filling of a sweaty Burma sandwich.

We rode for almost 3 hours – past rural areas, city streets, and rows of shanti-like houses. While we received quite a few stares, they were all accompanied with friendly smiles.  This simple train ride to nowhere turned out to be my favorite excursion/outing in Yangon – and it cost us less than a dollar!

Magical Myanmar – 2 week itinerary

Myanmar was the high point of our 3 month trip to Southeast Asia. There are so many things that I can go on and on about but I will begin by sharing our two week itinerary.

Our flights in and out of Myanmar and all our hotels/hostels were all pre-booked ahead of time. We had read that finding a place to stay upon arrival can be tricky but not necessarily impossible.  Everything else – our bus tickets, tours, bike rentals, etc. were booked through the hotel/hostels typically a day in advance.

YANGON (3 days)

DAY 1: We flew into Yangon from Kuala Lumpur and arrived early in the morning. The Visa on Arrival process was surprisingly quick and easy ($50 USD/per person). We pulled cash from an airport ATM (they had a few to choose from) and had a quick cup of coffee while using the airport wifi to get our bearings. From there we took a taxi to our hotel and had a small bite to eat before hitting the streets. The Sule Pagoda was walking distance from where we were staying so we went there first, followed by a two hour ride on the circle train (blog post coming soon), a walk to Kandawgyi Lake, and fancy dinner at White Rice.

DAY 2: Breakfast at the hotel was $3 USD for eggs, beans, fruit, chicken, potatoes, and veggies. We then decided to take the ferry to Dala Village which turned out to be a major scam. I will go into detail on the scam in a separate post but for now I recommend skipping Dala altogether. If you do decide to check it out, refuse the tour guide that is offered at the ferry ticket office and explore the village on your own. If you take a rickshaw be sure to negotiate the FINAL cost before accepting a ride. The half day excursion across the river ended up costing us over $150 USD!!! The village itself was beautiful but the sham left us feeling depressed and upset. After lunch a couple drinks at the Black Hat to lighten our spirits, we took a taxi to Shwedagon Pagoda to watch the sunset. Finally, we went to Inya Lake for a fancy and authentic Italian dinner at L’Opera.

DAY 3: Feeling like we’d seen most everything on our list, we spent our final day getting brunch at the Bruch Society, drinks at the Sule Shangri-La Hotel, and unsuccessfully searching the city for a Myanmar soccer jersey. After checking out of our hotel and grabbing our luggage, we took an hour long taxi ride to the bus station to catch our 13 hour (overnight) bus ride to Nyaung Shwe

  • Taxi from the airport to the city center: $6 USD
  • Taxi from hotel to bus station: $5 USD
  • Overnight bus (JJ Express) to Nyaug Shwe: $20 USD
  • Circle Train Ticket: Less than 10 cents per person!
  • Hotel: Clover City Center Hotel – $37.50 USD/night
  • Shwedagon Pagoda Entrance Fee: $5 USD
  • Best things to do/see: Sule Pagoda , Circle Train (my personal favorite), Kandawgyi Lake, Shwedagon Pagoda, Inya Lake.

***2 days in Yangon is plenty.

INLE LAKE/NYAUNG SHWE (2 days)

DAY 1: After a long and arduous overnight bus ride, we arrived in Nyaung Shwe at 7am and had breakfast at our hotel, Aquarius Inn. We then rented bikes for $1 USD (even though we had a bike tour scheduled for the next day — worst idea ever) and spent the day riding around the lake. Highlights included a private boat ride around the water village, lunch on the jetty, an uphill ride to the Forest Monastery, and wine tasting at the Red Mountain Estate Vineyards & Winery.

DAY 2: Grasshopper Adventures is a company that offers guided mountain bike tours. My ass was destroyed from the previous day of biking but I pushed through the pain. The tour lasted the entire day biking through villages and farms, stopping at a molasses farm, bakery, rice whiskey maker and monastery, followed by a boat ride,  lunch at a family restaurant, and kayaking on the lake. It was a great way to see Nyuang Shwe while getting in a decent workout.

***We could have easily spent another 1-2 days in Nyaung Shwe.

MOUNT POPA (1 day)

DAY 1: From Inle Lake we took a 7 hour (mini)bus ride to Popa Mountain Resort for a quick night stay. After seeing pictures of the views from their infinity pool and restaurant deck we knew we had to make a stop at the resort. The only attraction in the area is the Mount Popa Monastery at the top of the a volcanic plug. While it looks sparkly and pristine from afar, we had heard that it’s not worth the 777 steps it takes to get to the top. Especially since the steps are guarded by hoards of monkeys and shoes are not allowed. Instead of climbing a never-ending path of monkey shit covered stairs, we opted to admire the temple from the comfort of the infinity pool in our comfy bathrobes.

  • Hotel: Popa Mountain Resort – $82 USD/night
  • Bus tickets from Nyuang Shwe to Mount Popa: $37 USD
  • Best things to do/see: Mount Popa (that’s about it).

***There are day trips you can take directly to Mount Popa from Bagan. We basically stayed here for the view.

BAGAN (4 days)

DAY 1: The taxi ride from Mount Popa to Bagan was about an hour long. We got to our hostel, New Wave Guesthouse, in the mid afternoon and had a bite to eat before walking down the road to check out the pagodas in our immediate area. By sunset we found a nearby temple that was perfect for watching the sun go down — it would end up becoming our go to pagoda for sunrise/sunset. Enlightened by the beauty of Bagan, we walked back to our hostel and found a nearby restaurant before bedtime.

DAY 2: We woke up at 5am to catch our first Bagan sunrise at the same pagoda down the road. Getting up at the crack of dawn is worth the view, I promise. Half asleep, we went back to our hostel for complimentary breakfast while we waited for our personal tour guide to arrive. Nway Nway, our guide and new friend, took us on a day long e-bike tour to some of the more famous temples (the most beautiful one, the biggest one, the oldest one, the tallest one). We also checked out a local market, had a traditional Myanmar lunch (not appetizing and probably gave us food poisoning), smoked a cigar with some older village women, and walked through a lacquer workshop. The tour ended by visiting one of the “best” sunset viewing temples. While the view was breathtaking, it was hard to fully enjoy with hundreds of other tourists (we personally preferred watching from the less popular/less crowded temples).

DAY 3: By this time we felt comfortable enough to rent e-bikes and explore pagodas on our own. The day was spent riding from pagoda to pagoda looking for secret passages to climb up. There were times where we had temples all to ourselves. In the evening we rode to a nearby pagoda festival to listen to live music and buy some traditional clothing (at way cheaper prices than the tourist markets). It was a nice glimpse into the lives of the natives (we ended up being the only tourists there!).

DAY 4: We loved Bagan so much that we added another day for more pagoda hopping and a visit to the museum. The hostel was able to add another night to our stay without any trouble.

  • Taxi from Mount Popa Resort to Bagan: $40 USD
  • Hotel: New Wave Guesthouse – $35 USD/night
  • Personal Tour Guide (arranged through our hotel) – $57 USD (including tip)
  • E-Bike Rental: $5 USD/per day
  • Main Pagodas Tourist Entrance Fee: $18.50 USD (all other pagodas are free)
  • Bagan Museum Entrance Fee: $3.50 USD
  • Best things to do/see: pagodas, pagodas, and more pagodas.

MANDALAY (4 days)

DAY 1: We caught our final sunrise in Bagan at 6am before getting picked up at our hotel for a 5 hour bus ride to Mandalay. After checking into our hostel, Four Rivers B&B, we took to the streets in search for food. We found a small locals restaurant nearby where we consumed delicious bowls of noodle soup for under $2! In the evening we took a rickshaw to a pagoda festival where we stood out like sore thumbs being the only tourists in sight. We rode the man operated ferris wheel, played some carnival games, and watched a portion of the live music/dance show. Best night in Mandalay, by far.

DAY 2: Our second day was booked with a group tour organized by the hostel. 9 tourists split between two taxis making stops at a monastery, silk factory, a couple pagodas, lunch by the river, a visit to a small village, and sunset at the U Bein Bridge. We ended up getting dinner with a few friends that we had made in our tour group.

DAY 3: Since the Royal Palace and Mandalay Hill were not visited on our previous tour day, so we decided to check them out with our new friends. In the evening we went to an amazing Chinese restaurant, Super 81, and then capped off the night drinking beers on the roof of the hostel.

DAY 4: For our fourth and final day in Mandalay we made it our mission to find Myanmar soccer jerseys. We had searched in every other city but came up empty handed. It seemed to be an impossible operation but after a half a day of searching all over the city, we prevailed. With said jerseys in hand, we took a taxi to the airport and headed back to Thailand.

  • Hostel: Four Rivers B&B – $20 USD/night
  • Mandalay Archaeology Tourist Fee: $7 USD
  • Royal Palace Entry Fee: $1 USD
  • Best things to do/see: Pagoda Festival, U Bein Bridge, Royal Palace, and Mandalay Hill

***2 days is all you really need in Mandalay. If we were to do it over, we would skip one of the big cities (Yangon/Mandalay) and either add more days to Inle/Bagan or check out the beaches in the south of Myanmar.

****Additional Expenses: Visa Application: $50 USD, SIM Card: $12 USD (for 2 weeks)

****There are cheaper and more expensive accommodations, ways of transportation, and tours. Most of the time we tried to go with cheap options and once in awhile we would splurge (ex. Mount Popa Resort).

FINAL PIECE OF ADVICE: Go to Myanmar as soon as you can. It won’t be long before Starbucks and McDonalds start popping up and taking over.

More Myanmar albums coming soon to our PHOTOS page!

Here is a quick video of our trip as well…