Chiang Mai, Thailand – Part 1

-April 7, 2017-

After spending time in Bangkok, we were off to a smaller, much less busy city in northern Thailand called Chiang Mai.  We had a flight around 11:30am so with this only being a short hour-and-a-bit ride, we should still have plenty of time to get settled and to do something with our evening.  We took a cab to the airport, which was a little tricky since it was a different Bangkok airport than the one we flew into (good thing we checked!), and after what seemed like us making a complete circle around the entire airport, we got to the dropoff spot.  Here we come, Chiang Mai!

As we began our descent into Chaing Mai, we saw that there were mountains everywhere.  Not like what we’re used to in Colorado, but we were happy to see them.  Then we landed and noticed a huge difference from what we’re used to back in Colorado… humidity.  It’s REALLY hot and humid here.  The first thing we did after getting off the plane was find bathrooms to change out of our pants and into shorts.

As I waited for Megs to change, I could see and hear a bunch of taxi drivers standing just beyond the sliding doors to exit the airport trying to lure in their next suckers.  We had heard to stay far away from these guys because, as with many taxis in other countries (unfortunately), they’ll scam you.  I saw a kiosk for requesting a taxi and heard this was the safer option so I talked to them.  The process was to buy a ticket from a person at this kiosk, they would radio outside to one of their drivers who would come in and get us, we’d show our ticket to prove we paid, they would take us to their vehicle a short walk away, and then we would be on our way.

A friend who lives in Bangkok told me about an app called maps.me that was a navigation app (like Google Maps) but didn’t use any cell phont data. We would download a map of the area we’d be in (in this instance, Chiang Mai) that we could use later when we weren’t on wifi and somehow the app would show us where we were on the map without using any cell data.  I didn’t (and still don’t) really understand how it would follow us with GPS without using cell phone data so I kept a close eye on our cell phone bill after we started using it. I knew international data would add up fast if we were using data, but the app worked like a charm and we were never charged for it, so maps.me ended up being one of our saving graces for the remainder of the trip.

Back to our cab situation – I bring up maps.me because it helped to make us feel more comfortable when traveling in a cab to know we our driver wasn’t running up the meter on some unknowing tourists.  We got in the cab and I made sure to open the map to compare where our driver was taking us against the suggested route from the app.  The route that the driver took was nearly identical to what maps.me showed.  We pulled up to our very colorful hotel, thanked the driver, and got out.  This would be our home for the next two nights (or so we thought).

As we were checking in, a very cheerful employee chatted us up from our side of the check-in counter.  He insisted on carrying our bags to our room for us, which we hate because we’re perfectly capable of carrying them ourselves and when someone else carries them we feel compelled to tip them. He won the ‘battle’, grabbed our bags, and showed us to our room on the fourth floor.  It was a nice size and had a balcony, albeit a small one, with a view of the nearby businesses and a partial view of some mountains in the distance.  This will work just fine.

After getting settled, we set out to wander.  We had plenty of time before our food tour that night so we wanted to explore the nearby area on our own a little.  We set out without a specific destination in mind but knew we’d head north and in the direction of Old Town Chiang Mai, which was in the center of the city and had stone walls and a moat surrounding it. After walking along a ‘main road’ for a while without seeing much that appealed to us, we went down the dark path of getting hangry at each other.  We backtracked a bit to a small intersection where a number of cars seemed to be turning to cross a bridge.  Maybe all these cars are turning here because there’s something desirable over there, like food. We took the pedestrian walkway past a few crazy people to the other side of the river and quickly found ourselves a place to eat.  We settled in with an outdoor table with a view of the river and some shade.

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Our lunch spot along the Ping River

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When given the option, always order the food that comes with the rice volcano

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Crossing a pedestrian bridge on the Ping River to get back towards our hotel

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I could only hope that floating thing wasn’t a floating swimming pool.

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Our room with our little balcony.

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Watching the sun set over the mountains from the balcony

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Giant fireball sun

That night we were going to do a Night Market Tour where we would go around and try a bunch of different local foods.  Our friends Jeff and Brenna had visited Chiang Mai not too long ago and had really enjoyed this specific tour led by a guy named Sonny, so we booked that same one.  Jeff had mentioned some interesting foods being available on the tour, like fried frog, and we thought it might not be a bad idea to have an adult beverage or two before going out to make sure we had the courage to try everything.

Rewind a little to our our walk back to the hotel after lunch – we stopped and grabbed a few beers and a bottle of wine at a little liquor shop.  As we walked back into the hotel, we asked for a bottle opener for the beer and wine.  They said the owners of the hotel were Muslim so, because of their religious beliefs, they didn’t have any openers available.  They didn’t tell us not to drink.  Just that they didn’t have any sort of openers.

Being that many places we’ve already been didn’t have openers available, and I didn’t think to bring a bottle opener, I had been getting pretty good at opening beer bottles off of random things.  After a quick assessment of the room, my eyes locked on the door hinges.  This was already becoming a go-to option for opening beers in these rough situations.  The wine bottle would be a little more difficult.  We hadn’t opened wine without an opener yet on the trip so we’d have to get creative.  I remembered seeing a video at some point where someone put a bottle of wine in the heel of a shoe and hit the bottom of the shoe off a wall until the cork eventually, slowly, worked its way out a little with each hit.  I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t see it with my own eyes… which is why I YouTube’d the video and watched it again.  After a few modest taps against the wall, I got a little more aggressive with it.  The cork didn’t budge.  We both took turns hitting it against the wall but with how loud each hit was, I was afraid someone was going to call the front desk to complain about us.  We needed a new plan.  Thinking back to a past personal experiences (re: Megs and Laura in Europe, on a boat in Arizona with Och and Josh, etc) sometimes you just need to jam the cork back into the bottle and drink around it.  We anticipated some spillage so the shower seemed like the best place to perform our procedure.  We found a pencil among our things and used that for leverage.  I stepped into the shower, performed a near-surgical procedure, and handed Megs her now-accessible bottle of fermented grapes.

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You just position the cap on the door hinge like so, give it a good pull towards Earth (while not letting it slip out of your hands… I was always afraid I was going to unintentionall throw it on the ground)…

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Voila!  It’s beer!  Hooray beer!

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Tap, tap, tap…

Sure enough, we got picked up and the guy introduced himself as Sonny.  We were off to a good start.  We had to make a couple stops to pick up a few others, a girl from the US (DC, to be exact) and an older woman named Terry from Australia.  We learned the DC girl was at the tail end of an extended trip of her own and Terry was visiting from Sydney, Australia to have some dental work done.  Why you’d leave a huge place like Sydney in favor of Chiang Mai for dental work is beyond me, but hey, Terry can do what she wants with her teeth.

Sonny parked the van and we headed towards a grouping of food carts that had some plastic tables in the middle.  We paroozed the carts as we headed to the tables.  We sat down and Sonny threw his first curveball at us – he wasn’t simply going to walk us from cart to cart getting us food and telling us what it is… he was going to give us some background on the culture and teach us how to speak Thai so we could order the food ourselves.  He handed us each a packet of papers with food names and simple phrases (ie. “hello”, “i’d like to have…”, “thank you”, etc) in both English and Thai, and it also explained how words change based on if you’re a male or female.  For example, “Kob kun ka” was how a female said “Thank you” but for a male, it was “Kob kun kab”.  This was a lot.  We shouldn’t have pregamed…

After talking us through some of the language and teaching us a few things, Sonny asked who was ready to give it a try.  We took turns going up to a vendor with Sonny while the others hung out at the table, waiting to see what kind of food Sonny and his accomplice would come back with.  Most of the things were tame (compared to what we figured we could encounter in a place like Thailand) with things like spicy noodles, something similar to soup, and Megs’ favorite… mango sticky rice.  I definitely used my cheat sheet of terms and phrases when I was ordering, and the vendor kind of laughed at me, but I like to think she appreciated my effort (or maybe she just appreciated Sonny’s money).

Because our friend Jeff had one out-there item in his tour, fried frog, so we kept waiting for something along those lines.  As the night went on, we were anticipating it so much that we started asking Sonny when we’d get something on par with frog.  We decided if we were doing the food tour, we wanted to experience the more obscure things, too.  Ask and you shall receive.  First he found us a local potato vodka and asked who was up for it.  Liquor?  Now the party is starting!  We all did shots of it – and by looking at everyone else’s faces post-shot, everybody else thought it was just as terrible as I did.  It probably didn’t help that the vodka was warm.  It wasn’t delicious.  Way worse than vodka we’d drink in the US.  Then he found some things being grilled on sticks nearby and he smirked.  “How about these?”  We asked what it was and he told us… pig intestine.  Megs and I looked at each other, paused for a second, and shrugged.  When in Thailand!…

 

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Our main man Sonny and the rest of our night market crew

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Frog legs… well, actually more than the legs.  Frog legs and the rest of their frog bodies.

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Mango sticky rice!  Megs’ favorite.

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Tables and food stands as we were walking through the night market.

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Straight up fish.

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That’s a giant whale tongue in the middle.

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A better look at how big the whale tongue was.  Plus weird colored eggs.

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Super spicy noodles. I’ll never understand why all the food is so spicy in a place that’s so hot and humid. I told Megs I could make a fortune opening an ice cream stand over there.

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Here you go.  Here’s some pig intestine.

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Pig intestine.

The vodka and pig intestine were pretty much the grand finale of the night market tour.  We headed back to the van but not before Terry tripped in a pothole and rolled her ankle, so it took us a little longer than we anticipated to get back to our hotel (between letting her ice it on the sidewalk and helping her into her hotel room which was on the 2nd floor of a place that didn’t have an elevator).  Megs did manage to convince Sonny that we should get some dessert on the way back to the car, though.  Surprise, surprise.  This girl and her snacks…

We went to bed knowing the next day would be pretty incredible.  We would be waking up early to head to an elephant park in a lush area of the mountains to feed, bathe, NOT ride, and who-knows-what-else with some rescued elephants.  Good thing we were stuffed from the night market or we might have been too excited to sleep.  See you tomorrow, elephants!

 

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Bangkok

Our first stop in Thailand was Bangkok.  We were flying in from Bali so we had a relatively easy flight (for Tim. Terrible for me) with a quick layover in Kuala Lumpur.  Our main reasons for visiting were to go to the northern part of Thailand, Chiang Mai, and to check out the islands in the southern part.  That being said, we figured we couldn’t see Thailand if we didnt check out Bangkok.  We got off our flight and decided to try and figure out the bus line.  Tim is pretty directionally gifted so we thought it would be a breeze.  We successfully got on our first bus and headed into Bangkok.  We knew we would have to transfer so we paid attention and got off at what we thought was the correct transfer station.  Unfortunately, the rest of the bus adventure was less successful. It was pouring rain and all of the maps were in Thai, i.e characters.  Typically I can use my Latin background to get a basis of what some words mean but spoiler alert: that does not work with characters.  Tim stood in the rain for about 20 minutes trying to figure out which bus we should get on next.  We watched multiple buses come in and out of the terminal, all with a number on them but none of them with a location on them.  I can’t believe there aren’t more injuries with getting on and off buses here.  The buses don’t even stop, they just kind of roll through and people are meant to just hop on and off as best they can.  After going back and forth about whether or not it would be worth it to just hop on one and hope for the best, we decided to just hop in a cab.  We were shown yet another culture that seemingly has no driving laws.  Cars don’t use turn signals, there aren’t really traffic lanes and apparently, based off of our cab driver’s actions, it is even legal to FaceTime while driving.  Luckily we were dropped off at our hotel without any problems, minus feeling stupid for spending so much time trying to figure out the bus system as our ride cost about 3 dollars.  We walked into our hotel and some great K-Pop music started playing in our room when we turned on the lights.  The light switch automatically turns on the T.V. so for the rest of the time we stayed there, upbeat dance music started as soon as we walked in, which was great.  It was relatively late at this point so we just wandered out to find some dinner.  We were starving and settled on an American BBQ restaurant.  We allowed ourself this as we were already over three weeks in with only Japanese and Balinese food and knew we had a many more weeks of eating foods from different cultures ahead of us. We stuffed our faces with some sandwiches and fries and put ourselves to bed.

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Bangkok Hostel that played K-Pop whenever the electricity came on. Translation – multiple dance parties/day

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Good ol American BBQ. By far the most expensive meal we had in Thailand.

We had minimal expectations and recommendations for Bangkok so we decided to check out the few things that had been recommended and then go from there.  That meant that our first stop was the Jim Thompson house.  We didn’t know much about him other than he was a famous silk producer.  We decided to walk to the Jim Thompson house and explore the city as we went. I couldn’t believe how crowded it was.  There were tons of people everywhere and it was extremely hot and humid. Upon walking around we started to notice the insane amount of pictures of a man everywhere….the sides of buildings, on the money, hanging in the window….who the heck is this guy?  Turns out it was their deceased Monarch…he was, in fact, the world’s longest reigning Monarch.  He passsed away in October and they have an entire year of mourning for him.  Again – noticing more differences in our cultures.  An entire year of mourning where it is disresceptful to drop money becuase the Monarch’s face is on it, there are mini shrines all of the city and again, pictures of him everywhere.

In other news, we also passed a McDonald’s.  If you know anything about me, you know how much I love me some McDonald’s french fries.  Unfortunately, we really tried to limit our consumption of Amercian chain restaurants (minus the night before) so I was not lucky enough to indulge in an delicious french fries, but I did get a photo op with the friendly neighborhood Ronald McDonald.

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Love me some Ronald.

On our way we stopped for a delicious lunch at a cafe.  We weren’t quite ready to tackle street food so found a happy medium where we could try some Thai food but order it off of an english menu so we knew what we were actually getting.  After another hour or so of walking we made it to our original destination, the Jim Thompson house.  We joined an English tour and were taken around his home.  It was an interesting way to learn about Thai culture and why homes are built they way they are.  For instance, there are very specific rules for where the home shrine can be and usually the doorways have a step you have to walk over.  This is because the Thai culture believes that spirits can only travel straight so having a step prevents the spirits from entering one’s home.  The tour also educated us on Jim Thompson himself, his silk empire and his life in Thailand.  Turns out he started out as a military man and eventually retired to Japan where he was able to start producing beautiful silks.  No one knows how he ended up, though.  Turns out he went for a walk one evening and never came back and no one knows what ever happened to him.  My suspicion is that he got eaten by an extremely large snake becuase we heard that happened to someone in Jakarta, Indonesia when we were there.  This man also had gone on a walk and met his demise so it makes sense, right?

 

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So much food, so little money

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Entrance to the Jim Thompson House

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Grounds of the Jim Thompson House

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After the tour of the Jim Thompson house we decided it would be good to head to a biergarden that we found online.  Our walk there was long and hot so we dipped into a mall to cut through and catch some A/C. The mall had a unique boat decor set up in the middle so of course, we had to stop for a photo op.  Anyway, on to the biergarden.  It was advertised as a microbrewery so we thought we could check out some local beer.  We were wrong.  They only served the two Thai beers that we had already tried and charged more than we had paid for them anywhere else.  Oh well.  We still enjoyed our time outside and got to try the infamous mango sticky rice to boot.  It was deeeelish!! Thanks for the recommendation, Cali!!

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Random boat in the middle of the mall

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Bye, Ginge! Have a nice little float!

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Mango sticky rice and beer. Nice little afternoon snack.

After our snack we decided to check out the the Tim Tum Shrine. The TimTum shrine was recommended to us by some friends and when we looked it up we thought it would be enterataining to check it out.  It looked like an entire park set up as a shrine to phallic objects.  We thought it would be hilarious to be amongst thousands of phallic objects so of course we wanted to go.  We searched and searched, entered grounds illegally due to getting lost and finally found a security guard.  He personally escorted us to the shrine….it ended up being about the size of a big screen t.v.  He then stood there and waited for us to be done ‘enjoying’ the shrine.  It was so awkward.  We thought we were getting hundreds of pensis and instead got a weird box filled with them.  What were we supposed to do while he waited? We couldn’t really stand there and talk about how weird it was so we did the next most awkward thing, we took a picture in front of it, and went on our merry way. TimTum shrine = fail.

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Tim Tum Shrine. “Penis” shrine.

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Confused by the size of the shrine.  Awkwardly taking selfies while the security guard watched.

From there we headed to check out a rooftop bar that had been recommended to us.  We were told we would get to have an amazing view of the city and enjoy a fancy cocktail. We like to put on our fancypants every once in awhile so we decided to give it a chance.  Upon entering the hotel it was located on top of we already realized we were probably underdressed.  I had on a nice enough outfit with sandals but certainly wasn’t dressed up and Tim had on shorts and a t-shirt.  Apparently this wasn’t fancy enough so he was given some pants to put on over his shorts.  I somehow made the cut, much to the disdain of another other girl waiting for her boyfriend to change.  She was very upset that she had to put on a skirt over her shorts but I was allowed to wear mine in.  We awkwardly stood there while she asked how I got around the rule and complained that it wasn’t fair.  Finally Tim came out of his changing area with a big grin on his face.  His pants were about three inches too short.  If they think putting him in high wadders was a better choice than letting him wear his normal fitting shorts then more power to them.  We climbed a few stairs and found some seats at the bar.  We certainly enjoyed a beautiful view of the city while sipping on overpriced cocktails and eating free snacks. Although a little pricey, it was worth it and we were glad we got to check it out.

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View from the rooftop bar from the bottom

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Drinks with a view of Bangkok down below

Our next day was meant to be our day of temples and shrines.  Typically this stuff isn’t our thing but as they are so plentiful in Thailand we figured it would be good to check a couple out.  We ventured out to find our first shrine and ended up in one of many street markets. We decided to jump in and check it out, figuring we could dip out whenver we were over it.  NOPE.  We had to walk about a mile down this road that the market was on and it was jam packed, so it was a very slooowww and sweaty mile.  People were stuffed away in little corners with their objects for sale and other people were trying to walk down this crowded alley with enourmous carts of things, which doesn’t work out so well.  I don’t love crowds but I figured it was something we should check out. I guess I’m glad we did? I’m definitely glad it’s over.
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Crowded street market

After our trek through the street market we found our way to our first shrine. We had been forewarned that your shoulders and knees had to be covered, but we had also been told that we could borrow clothes to put overtop our “inappropriate” ones.  Seeing as it was about 100 degrees out we figured that was the better option so that we wouldn’t have to walk around in jeans all day.  We got to the first temple, Wat Pho (aka Temple of the Reclining Buddah) and I was immediately told I had to purchase clothing to put over my shorts and there was nothing to rent.  We had heard a lot of warnings about scams around these temples so I wasn’t sure if I should believe the person or not but there were elephant pants on sale for 3 dollars so I figured I  would just buy them anyway.  We walked around the temple for awhile and enjoyed seeing all of the detail put into the different statues and shrines.  After we felt we had sufficiently seen the temple grounds and sweated through our clothes we decided to head to our next destination, you guessed it, another temple.

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Trying not to think about how sweaty I am

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The tallest tourist in all the land

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Reclining Buddah

We decided to check out one last temple before the day was done 1) because we were in the land of temples, 2) because we couldn’t count the Tim Tum shrine as a real shrine and 3) because we had to take a water taxi to get there and I thought that sounded fun.  We headed to the water taxi port and before getting on we decided to try our hand at street food.  Street food is plentiful in Bangkok but we had been too intimidated to order it thus far. We got sweet potato balls and wontons followed by coconut ice cream. It was all delicious.  We then paid our 4 cents….yup, that’s right, 4 cents, to get on the water taxi, hopped on (literally, it was floating close-ish to the dock but not directly touching so you had to just jump) and headed over to the other side of the river.  We spent minimal time wandering around the temple as we realized we were over temples and hopped back on the water taxi to head back out our hotel.  The water taxi ended up being a very cool way to see the city from a different perspective.  It was also something that would never fly in the States due to the fact that it didn’t really seem to come to a complete stop when you were getting on and off and it didn’t really have anything but a thin rope keeping you from falling off.  This is where we invented our song entitled “Sketchy Shit in Thailand”, which basically is about all of the sketchy shit they let you do in Thailand, which is a lot. Despite how sketchy it was, we really enjoyed it and the 4 cent price tag didn’t hurt. I treated myself to a 50 cent papaya smoothie for the walk back to the hotel where showered to leave for our final Bangkok adventure.

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Water taxi cruisin

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Just hold onto this silver pole and hope you don’t fall overboard

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Coconut ice cream! I.e. vanilla ice cream served in a coconut.

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Delicious Thai street food

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Wat Arun – Temple of the Dawn

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Caught mid brain freeze courtesy of my papaya smoothie

 

Our last adventure in Bangkok was that evening when we decided to check out the massages.  I just wanted to get a pedicure but Tim opted for a head, neck and foot massage.  Of course we thought it would be similar to getting massages in the states and, of course we were wrong.  It started out with Tim stating what he wanted and the ladies whispering to each other in Thai and giggling.  I’m assuming it had to do with how hairy his legs are and probably something to do with him having red hair.  Not that there is anything wrong with red hair but as you can imagine, it is a scarce sight in Thailand. Tim sat right next to me and got his massage in a chair that would be in a nail salon.  It was slightly strange to be getting my nails painted while he was getting his massage right there but whatever, I can roll with it. The massage was relatively normal until the end when the lady made Tim sit up on a foot rest and essentially wrapped her entire body around him like a snake until every bone in his back cracked.  EW.  I guess it was all about the experience, even if it was a weird one.  Unfortunately we didn’t keep track of time very well and somehow it was 11:00 p.m. and all of the restaurants were closed so our last dinner in Bangkok was instant noodles that we made in our room.  A far cry from our Japenese ramen but what can you do? We went to bed full enough and looking forward to catching a flight to Chiang Mai the next morning. Bye, Bye, Bangkok!

Bali’s Beaches

It was time to leave the inland area of Ubud and head to these famous Bali beaches we’ve heard so much about.  Based on the amount of time we had left in Bali, we decided to hit up the beaches on the southern part of the island since they were most easily accessible and would be closest to the airport when it was time to go.  Ubud is about 40 miles from the beaches and since we didn’t have our own transportation, we got in touch with the guy who originally picked us up from the airport, Komang. It was an hour and a half drive and he was asking for 350,000 rupiah, which translates to about $26 US.

As we got out of the car and I paid him, Komang seemed extremely grateful.  I paid him the requested amount, but also tipped him by covering a highway toll of 10,000 rupiah ($0.75 US) and an actual tip of 30,000 rupiah ($2.25 US). It’s amazing how far the dollar goes in places like this.

Our hotel was located not far from the main hotel area in Jimbaran, a touristy area about 20 minutes south of the airport. This was one of those hotels where they won’t just hand you a key and let you be on your way. They asked us to sit at the front desk with them, gave us some fresh apple juice, and wanted to make sure we understood everything available to us and that they understood what kinds of activities and amenities we were looking for. We just wanted to relax at the beaches so we just made sure taxis to the beach areas wouldn’t be an issue, and it sounded like they wouldn’t be. There was a nice outdoor pool off to the side of the check-in area and all of the 20 or so rooms at this resort either walked out directly to the pool (first floor) or overlooked the pool (second floor). We were on the second floor. We had a sink and nice long counter (hooray, we should be able to do laundry!), a sufficient amount of space in the area with the bed, and a balcony. Looks good to us!

Megs was a trooper and did some laundry as we were getting settled. This consisted of putting some clothes in our small sink, adding the detergent, washing it with her hands, letting them soak, then rinsing and eventually hanging them anywhere there was space. A majority of the space happened to be in the bathroom so it ended up looking like the bathroom was in disarray after about the third or fourth “load” that she did.

After that, we decided we would head to Jimbaran Beach and hang out there until dinner. Rather than taking a taxi to Jimbaran, we opted to take the 20 minute walk. The way that Jimbaran is set up, there’s a line of about 10 different restaurants side-by-side to choose from… and hardly anything else in the immediate area. The taxis drop you off in a large parking lot (or in our case, you walk to this point) then you have to walk through one of the restaurants to get to the actual beach. Every restaurant has employees, mostly men, yelling out to you to invite you in. “Hungry? Come in! We have all types of seafood! Where do you want to sit?” It was a little more forceful that inviting, but you get the idea.

We decided we weren’t quite ready for food so we picked a random restaurant without an aggressive guy out front, walked through it (there were almost no people in the restaurant, if any at all… everyone was seated on the beach out back), and got to the beach, and started walking. The beach itself wasn’t too bad. Not too crowded. A little garbage but not so much that it looked run down. And the beach stretched in a half moon shape all the way to the airport. It was nice watching the planes take off from the airport in the distance and trying to guess where they were headed. Thailand? Australia? Kuala Lumpur? We should have told the passengers there’s no reason to go to Kuala Lumpur…

We walked along the beach for a while, which was nice since this is the first time on the trip we had been at a beach. We eventually got hungry and headed back to the restaurants. We looked over the menus of the first three or so before we realized they all had roughly the same options at roughly the same prices. We decided to head back to the one on the end because we would have one side where there were unobstructed views of the beach. Because of the slant of the beach from the restaurant down to the water, we chose a table a few rows back to get a better view for the sunset.

Google Maps screenshot

Something I failed to mention up until now – Any time we had to get from one place to another, it was via Google Maps screenshots. We didn’t have an international data plan so we had to take screenshots of the route before we left the hotel and hope that we didn’t make a wrong turn along the way.

Jimbaran Beach

Jimbaran Beach just before sunset.

Dinner at Jimbaran Beach

Our dinner spot on the beach.

Restaurants at Jimbaran Beach

Looking left down the beach at all the other restaurants.

Jimbaran Beach

Looking right down the beach. A friendly pup hung out near us laying in the sand and occasionally begging for scraps. The airport is at the end of the land mass in the center of the photo.

Jimbaran Beach at night

Our view to the right as the beach lights came on after sunset.

When we looked over the menu, we saw that most prices were in the form of cost per kg. We didn’t know if this meant all meals were served in a kg size, which would be 2-3 times bigger than what we normally have at home, or if it just meant that the price would be adjusted to a fraction of that based on the size of the catch. After asking our waitress, it seemed like it was based off of the size of the catch. I ordered barracuda and Megs went with mahi mahi.

We watched the sun set as we waited for our meals. There were some hills in the distance which made for a nice backdrop, even though the sun set over the water and not behind the hills. When the sun was mostly down and our food was delivered, I found out that the barracuda was actually a kg portion size. I looked at Megs and shrugged. I assumed there was no way I was going to finish it. As we were eating, I realized a few things. One was that it was dark enough that it took me until halfway through my meal to realize the head was still on my fish. As I was cutting pieces off for myself, I nearly chomped down on a mouth full of razor sharp barracuda teeth. Second, somehow I was slowly finishing all of it. At some point, Megs had called it quits on her own meal and jokingly asked if I wanted to finish it off. “Sure.” I took her plate and started eating the rest of it as she sat there watching me. This went on for a while and at some point I think it moved from disbelief that I was still going to it being comical. I eventually finished off her whole meal. Then I finished off the barracuda that I still had left. “Are you done?” she asked. I looked down at the table and saw some food still there.  Nope, not done. “Mmm, vegetables! And there are still some peanuts left here…” I wasn’t actually hungry but I continued to be a garbage disposal and eat every last thing on these giant plates as Megs shook her head at me.

Sunset fish dinner on Jimbaran Beach.

Megs’ mahi mahi on the left and Tim’s barracuda on the right. Look carefully and you can see the barracuda’s head on the left side of the plate (with teeth going up towards the tomato).

The next day and the following few days would be beach days. We didn’t know much about the specific beaches… just the vision of Bali beaches we had in our heads from movies or travel websites. We spent a little time that morning doing searches like “best beaches in Bali” and I had a good idea of where we would be heading that day. It looked like there were three or four beaches that seemed to be in a row on the southern coast of the island. We called a taxi, packed our day pack, and went downstairs to wait for the cab to arrive.

When it showed up, I told the driver where we wanted to head that day. I named one of the beaches from the list we saw online and he seemed a little uncertain. I named a second one knowing they’re all so close together and we could easily walk from one to the next. He still didn’t seem too sure. I named a third and he seemed to get it. We were on our way.

The drive was supposed to be about 20 minutes according to my Google Maps search before we left. A few times throughout the drive we would come to an intersection and he would ask me which way we should go. I don’t know, dude, you’re the driver who said he knew where we were going! I would just repeat the name of the beach and hope we ended up there. After about the third time of this happening, we were at an intersection where I saw the word “Uluwatu”, which I remember seeing on a map at some point but I couldn’t exactly remember if that’s where these beaches were. He asked which way, I said “Uluwatu”, and we were promptly on our way in the wrong direction.

After about 30-35 minutes, we pulled into a parking lot. There didn’t appear to be any beaches around. “We are here. Uluwatu,” he said. “Is there a beach here?” I asked. “Umm… maybe 20 minutes,” he replied. So… what’s here?

Apparently it was a temple that overlooked the water. I had read about this online so it was unexpected but not a complete bust. We decided we might as well check it out since we were here. He said he would wait for us to walk around so he could take us to the next place, but of course that would come at an additional fee.  I had had enough of this guy. “Don’t wait,” I told him.

In order to get in, we had to cover up with sarongs. It took a few tries before we had them tied properly and looking acceptable enough for the guy at the front gate to allow us through the main entrance but we got it right and we headed in. On the way in, a guy passing us stopped me and said “I’d recommend you take that sunscreen out of the outside pocket of your backpack. If the monkeys see anything, they’ll come after it.” Ah, crap. More monkeys. Time to be on high alert so I don’t have a repeat situation from The Monkey Palace.

We spent about 30 minutes walking around, taking in the views, avoiding the monkeys, and even running into two of the people from our sunrise hike at Mt. Batur, our French friends Cecile and Charles. We also managed to escape the area without any monkey situations (though we did see them approaching a number of other people).

Wearing a sarong outside Uluwatu Temple

I’m not sure I understand the sarong, but I am positive that I look fantastic in it.

Outside Uluwatu Temple

Megs’ dress made her exempt from the full sarong but she still had to wear the orange piece. At this point we we were nearly at the temple, looking back on where we came from.

Uluwatu Temple

Made it to the Temple! Not sure if we weren’t allowed pictures inside or if we just didn’t take any. Regardless, this is all we have to show of the actual Temple.

Looking west from Uluwatu Temple

Looking west from the Temple

Looking west from Uluwatu Temple

Looking west from Uluwatu Temple

We left the temple and scanned the parking lot for a new taxi to take us to a beach. I saw some guys wearing the same type of shirts as our original driver so I approached them. They were all waiting for their previous riders and didn’t have room for us but they pointed us in the direction of a taxi stand. I approached the stand and asked if they could take us to Dreamland Beach. This wasn’t the beach that we planned to go to that day but I got my bearings straight and realized that by telling the driver to take us towards Uluwatu, it put us on the southwest corner of the island and to get to the south central part we would have to drive back to the central area then head south (in a V-shape) – there was no direct route along the southern portion of the island from beach to beach. Anyway, the driver pulled out a laminated card, pointed to Dreamland and it showed something like 250,000 rupiah. I laughed and said “No way. We were thinking about 75,000.” He laughed back and said he couldn’t do that. I thanked him and we started to walk away. He then proceeded to call after us a number of times. “Hey! Come back! How about 200,000? Why are you walking?” I only turned around one more time to tell him we wouldn’t be riding with him because he didn’t have a meter (which is something we read as being a must-have for any taxi you get in to avoid being ripped off) and we kept walking. We decided we would walk to the next beach that was 20 minutes away, based on what our original driver told us. Even if it wasn’t Dreamland, it would be a beach.

After walking on a small road for about 5-10 minutes, we wished we told the original taxi to wait for us. It seemed like a weird road we just didn’t like the feel of it, so when a taxi pulled up behind us and asked if we needed a ride, I saw the guy had the same shirt as our original driver and also that he had a meter, so we hopped in. He said the beach close by isn’t worth going to so he took us to Dreamland, which he said is his favorite beach on the island.

There was a long driveway approaching the dropoff area for Dreamland. The driver dropped us off and told us that when we wanted a ride back, to walk back up the driveway. Taxis like his would be cheaper up there. It had something to do with the fact that taxis who wait at the dropoff area of the driveway have to pay a fee to wait there whereas taxis who just drive to the beginning of the driveway don’t, and those fees, or lack thereof, are reflected in the cost to the passengers. We thanked him and got out of the car. We were finally at a beach, for real this time!

We walked down a boardwalk past some shops and bathrooms/showers that led us to the beach. I had refused to buy sandals due to limited space in my backpack, and also being cheap, so I carefully took off my Sperry’s as to not get any sand in them, picked them up, and headed for the sand. We walked across about 30 feet of sand before coming to a number of beach chairs and some umbrellas, most of them in use. We looked around for an open one and some older woman walked over to us and pointed out two under an umbrella. We thanked her and, before we could put our stuff down, she said “150,000 rupiah.” I was starting to understand that everything in this country was negotiable so I quickly shook my head and said “we have to pay? I’m not paying 150,000. Maybe 75,000…” She responded with “I give you good deal” (anyone selling you something always resorted to this). “I’ll do it for 100,000, but you must be quiet about it. They paid 200,000…” pointing to an Asian couple next to us. We agreed to 100,000 and we started to settle in. Before we could do that, the older woman asked “You want massage? Or body board?” We told her no, she didn’t seem to like that answer, lingered for a while to see if we would change our minds (which we didn’t), and she eventually walked away.

Fast forward five minutes and she was back with a body board. She leaned it up against my chair and said “body board?” and smiled at me with what teeth she had, as if seeing it would entice me to want it. “No, we’re good.” She kept lingering. She moved it around as if she was riding on the waves while she was smiling. “No, thanks”, I said. She kept lingering. I said “…maybe later” in an effort to try something different. She saw this as an opening and said “I’ll leave it here so you can think about it.” At least she finally left.

Dreamland Beach

We made it to Dreamland!

Dreamland Beach

Our home for the afternoon

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Dreamland Beach

Two paths cross: Megs strolling on the beach, and a couple having a Bali

The next few hours were spent in the water, under our umbrella, telling the beach ladies “no” to their offerings of body boards, massages, food, drinks and whatever other things they offered, and of course people-watching. Some highlights of our people-watching were…

1. the Asian couple apply and reapply their sunscreen where, instead of rubbing it on, it was a mix of patting and doing karate chops on the other person, and

2. the group of 3 Asian women who were “having a Bali” and took pictures of each other for the better part of an hour. Our favorite times were when the one closest to the ocean was taking the picture and they tried to get the other person while they were on the beach, but an unexpected wave would come up behind the camerawoman and soak her. This was especially entertaining when they would get knocked onto their back and their straw hat would get taken away.

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A wave crashing the two women having a Bali.

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Running away from the wave mid-Bali

In our people-watching, we noticed that many of the women didn’t wear bathing suits. By that, I don’t mean these were nude beaches. Quite the opposite, actually. The women wore long-sleeved shirts (though a light material) and wouldn’t take it off to go in the water. We thought this was an interesting choice since they’d coming out of the ocean looking like wet dogs with their drenched clothes. To each their own…

We started to get annoyed by how crowded the beach was and how many “Balis” were going on so we opted to climb the hill next to the beach for a better view, then grab some food.

Dreamland Beach

Crowds of people either standing around or having Balis

Dreamland Beach

Crowds and Balis.

Brides at Dreamland Beach

Not one, but TWO brides having a Bali on the rocks.

Crowds at Dreamland Beach

Lots of people just standing around on the beach in non-swim attire.

Overlooking Dreamland Beach

View from a grassy hill that put you on top of the giant rock-face next to Dreamland

Overlooking Dreamland Beach

View from a grassy hill that put you on top of the giant rock-face next to Dreamland

There were limited options for food so we just went for the first place we saw, just off the sand. We ordered a Hawaiian pizza and some fish. Megs started with the fish and I started with the pizza, then we did the ol’ switch-a-roo.  Megs decided she wasn’t too keen on the pizza so we were about to switch back after I took one or two more bites of the fish. Megs ended up feeling pretty lucky that I decided to take those couple extra bites because after extra bite #1, I looked back at my food and saw that there was a full fly cooked right into the fish. Not one that had been killed and had been put in there. It looked like the fly somehow got IN the fish and was cooked that way. That was all the fish either of us would eat that day.

I told the waitress about the fly situation and she half-heartedly apologized and took it away for me. I told her we would take the check and she asked “do you want to pay for the fish?” I almost didn’t know how to respond to that. Are we still talking about the fish with the fly baked into it? We are? Ok, then no. No I do not want to pay for that fish. Thanks.

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We paid our bill, watched the sun set, and got a cab back to our place. We didn’t get to the beach we were looking for, but we got to a beach. And we were in Bali. Hard to complain about that.

Jimbaran Beach

Cool little grooves/pools in the rocks on the beach

Sunset walk along Jimbaran Beach

Sunset walk along Jimbaran Beach

Jimbaran hotel pool

Late night swim at the hotel pool

The next day we woke up and realized that our clothes that were hanging in the bathroom to dry were arguably smelling worse now than they did the day before. Maybe they would be better after they fully dried?

At breakfast that morning, there was a little kid running around. We picked our table and went to get our food. When we came back, the kid’s toy truck, probably at least a foot long, was on Megs’ chair. It was annoying but she just moved it to the ground without saying anything to them and we started to eat. A few minutes later, the kid came over and made himself at home by putting his hand on our plate of fruit. We shooed him away saying “no, no, no!” like you would to a dog, which worked, but when we looked up at the parents, they did and said nothing. They saw it all happen but didn’t offer to get us new food or even so much as apologize. Rude.

We decided we were going to try to turn this day around by getting a clear idea of the directions to Karma Beach (one of the beaches we failed to make it to the day prior) and get a better beach experience than Dreamland. We read that there would be a fee of roughly 400,000 rupiah, or the equivalent of almost $30 US (hopefully total and not per person, but we couldn’t find a straight answer to that) but, after some debate, we decided we were ok with it because it would be a private beach and we wouldn’t have to deal with the weird beach ladies trying to give us massages or all the people having Balis in front of us on the beach.

Today’s cab driver actually knew where we were going and properly got us there. It was a single resort at the end of a small, not-so-busy road. We walked down a walkway towards the back of the resort while being greeted by workers and a seemingly nice view that peeked out occasionally between the trees.

We got to the reception desk and the guy there asked if we were staying there or just visiting for the beach. Since we weren’t staying, he told us about the charge. The only difference is he told us the price was 500,000 rupiah… and it was per person. Per PERSON?! We weren’t expecting that. We told him we were going to think about it and walked away.

Our thoughts…

A portion of this fee, maybe 300,000 per person, could be used for food and drinks. If you didn’t use it, you lost it, though. We could get lunch here for “free” rather that getting it from another restaurant. But that’s still 500,000 that we’re spending. There was another similar beach nearby that was somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000 rupiah per person but we would have to take another cab there. We could just put this cab money towards staying here, so to speak. Ultimately, it was way more than we planned to spend on a beach but we decided to go for it and not let it bring us down. After a failed attempt to negotiate the price down a little, we paid the money and went in.

The resort was on a dramatic hillside with the beach below. The only way to access the beach was by way of an incline (shout out to the Pittsburgh Incline!). While waiting for the incline to take us down, we saw the views of the beach and were impressed. The beach was small but the water was a beautiful shade of blue. We looked at each other and agreed that we already felt like we made a good choice.

View of Karma Beach

Looking down on Karma Beach while we waited for the incline

Monkeys at Karma Beach

More monkeys? Ah crap…

The incline at Karma Beach

The incline taking some guests down to the beach

The incline to Karma Beach

Here we come, beautiful blue water!

We got to the bottom and there was a hostess waiting for us. She asked where we wanted to be seated, under the roof near the restaurant or on the sand on the beach, and we chose the beach. As we were getting settled in, a server walked by and asked us if we wanted anything. Yep, sure do! Beers. We’re in full-on relax-and-enjoy mode!

There was a steep grade from where the waves were breaking and hitting the shore to where they would stop and head back to the ocean. This grade, mixed with the strong current and the rocks that had settled in the sand, created a challenge for exiting the water. It was quite entertaining to watch others struggle to exit the ocean from the comfort of our shady umbrella.

We eventually got in the water to cool off. It was warm but not too warm, and the water was fairly clear. It made for some nice swimming, especially with the scenery we were surrounded by.

Karma Beach

Our little Karma Beach with the incline along the right side. We lucked out with the umbrella farthest on the right (closest to the bar).

Karma Beach

Karma Beach

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Karma Beach

Shaking off like a shaggy, wet dog…

After a while, it was back to relaxing under the umbrella. Another round of beers? Why I don’t mind if I do! Back to people-watching. There was an older guy who kept getting tossed around by the breaking waves. He constantly ended up knocked over and rolling in the sand. He was smiling so big, I doubt he even realized his back was bleeding from the rocks.

I took a little walk over to the next beach, the one that cost less but would have ended up being more because we would have had to paid to get there… it was bigger, maybe 150 meters compared to ours that was maybe 40 meters, but our water was nicer and there were less people. We made the right choice.

Eventually it started raining and everyone ran under the thatched roof of the restaurant which was only a few steps from our umbrella. We waited it out for an hour or so but it didn’t let up. We used up our allowance of our tab and decided we would call it a successful day and head back.

We cabbed it back to the hotel where half of our clothes were still smelling bad and we didn’t have time to do anything about that since we were leaving the next morning. We relaxed for the rest of the night, thought about what the cat might be doing back home (a thought we pondered multiple times throughout the trip), and got ready for bed.

The next day we were all excited for the trip to Thailand. We got to the airport and made it through security pretty quickly. As we were walking to our gate, Megs said “I don’t feel good.” I looked at her and tried not to look too concerned but her face looked a weird mix of pale and green.

There were multiple trips to the bathroom in an attempt to thwart the sickness before takeoff but she was still looking and feeling this way when we got on the flight and the probability of getting sick mid-flight was high. Our seats were in the front row, which we would normally be excited about, but there was only a bathroom in the back of this plane.

We took off for a layover in Kuala Lumpur (ugh, THAT place again) and once the seatbelt sign turned off, Megs headed for the bathroom again. While she was gone, the stewardess brought food and drinks and even came back to clean up. Megs was gone for more than 30 minutes and I was starting to get concerned. I got up and headed for the back of the plane to see if she was ok. Luckily, if you can call it that, I found her sitting in the back row with her head down. She said nobody was sitting in that seat and rather than possibly needing to get up multiple times, she would just stay there for the flight. At least she wasn’t passed out in the bathroom. She assured me she was ok and there was nothing I could do to help so I headed back to our seats.

Things weren’t much better on the second flight from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok but we made it there without needing to move to a seat near the bathroom, so we’ll call that one a small victory.

And so begins our Thailand adventure!

Ubud

Bali! We have arrived! For any of you that have seen Eat, Pray, Love, I’m sure you can picture what scenery was in my head. Bright, blue oceans, endless rice fields, people on bikes, and open air houses. I couldn’t wait. Our trip to Bali started off with an upbeat song, Jess Glynne’s “Hold My Hand”, that started playing on the airplane as it started to descend. I had never had this happen before but I liked it.  

View of Bali from the plane

Our time in Bali was to be spent between Ubud and the beaches, starting off in Ubud. We had arranged a driver to take us to our Air B&B and much to our delight he was waiting for us at the airport with our names on a sign. Of course we wanted picture documentation but due to a slight language barrier our sign ended up in the garbage before the photo could be captured. Oh well. We hopped in the car and headed to our little house for the next couple of days. It had been advertised as “romance and ducks in the rice fields”. I liked the combo so it seemed an obvious choice. We were dropped off and the house was charming with a beautiful screened in porch overlooking rice fields. It was very serene. What wasn’t advertised was the huge gaps that lay surrounding the doors and windows. Also that the bathroom was outside. This didn’t bode well with someone that is terrified of snakes and had to run outside in the dark at night praying a snake wasn’t lying in wait outside the door/on the sink/ curled up on the toilet.  

Outdoor bathroom, i.e constant risk of running into snakes.

View of the rice paddies from our deck

About 15 minutes after being dropped off at our house a lady with a moped showed up. One signature and $12 later we had keys to the moped for the next 3 days. No proof of license, insurance or any other things we would expect. We quickly realized the rules in Bali might be a little bit different. A quick test drive down the driveway and we were on our way into the town of Ubud. It was absolutely nothing like I had expected. No people merrily biking along through fields wearing floppy hats, no big trees blowing in the wind…. just people and mopeds everywhere . It was nuts. I’m also convinced there are absolutely zero traffic laws. Just cross your fingers, step on the gas and hope for the best. Luckily that mantra worked for us and we survived all of our moped treks. We spent a bit of time wandering the streets before heading back to our house before dark (understandably Tim was a little nervous driving after dark). There was a cute restaurant about 50 feet up the road from where we were staying so we enjoyed apps, drinks, dinner and dessert for $9. Holy crap this country is cheap. 

Our sweet ride for Ubud

Enjoying Balinese beer with dinner

After dinner we headed back to our place to get ready for bed. We had forced numerous bugs out of the house and Tim was focusing on one last gecko. After about 20 minutes of trying to shoo the gecko out I finally told him to give up. He responded with “just let me finish …. don’t worry about it” . In my head I’m thinking it is a tiny little gecko that can’t really do any harm so I wasn’t understanding the urgency. He finally told me to take a look and upon him pulling back the curtain I understood why he was trying so hard. I can only describe what I saw as a mini alligator. It was huge! It was so long and thick. It had to be evicted immediately. If you would like to imagine what the next 30 minutes looked like, picture flashlights, lanterns, chasing, running across the bed, screams and finally a slammed door and victorious “hooray!” Gecko gone. Phew! 

The “gecko” on our wall. And by “gecko” I mean alligator

Our attempts to shuttle the gecko out of our room

The next day we woke up and decided to take a yoga class at the yoga barn. Personally I don’t care for yoga but it had been recommended and we were in what was supposed to be a very zen part of the world so we figured what the hell. We hopped on our moped and headed into town. After a bit of trouble parking the bike we had signed up for a beginners class and headed up to the yoga room. It was unlike any other yoga room I had been in. It had a thatched roof with open sides that looked out onto tons of trees and ponds. There was calming music playing and a soft breeze wafting through the room. Forget yoga, I’m ready for a nap! I was so relaxed. Nonetheless, the yoga instructor came in and gave us a class. It was surprisingly enjoyable. We bent, we stretched, we “ommmed”,  we stood on one leg, we chanted, our instructor even played the guitar. Like I said, unlike any other yoga class I had been to. We left feeling extremely relaxed and ready to check out Ubud.  

Grounds of the Yoga Barn

Getting his zen on

Mellowed out after yoga

One thing that had been recommended to us was the monkey forest. We had loved seeing the monkeys in Costa Rica, Guatemala and Japan so we figured a whole forest of them would be right up our alley. We were wrong. It started off well enough. The road leading up to the forest had monkeys running across it and there were several perched outside the entrance. They were cute and seemed harmless enough so we decided to head in. We had been forewarned that they like to steal anything they can so we  put away all of our belongings into our shared backpack and began wandering through the forest. They were everywhere! Big monkeys, baby monkeys, noisy monkeys. It was all well and good until out of nowhere a momma felt threatened and ran right in front of Tim with her baby and started and hissing her monkey head off at another monkey. Tim froze until she retreated and then we decided to get away from some of the crowds of people. We took a different path and enjoyed seeing the monkeys playing, eating and sleeping. A little while later we were crossing a small bridge when a big monkey started eyeing Tim up. No matter where we turned the monkey kept staring at him. Next thing we knew the monkey jumped on Tim’s back and started stealing his backpack right off his back. Understandably Tim got nervous and basically started ripping the backpack off this back to hand it over. Meanwhile I was yelling “stop! Don’t give it to him! It has our passports, money and phones! Noooo!” Tim abruptly came to a halt and dumped the whole thing upside down, shaking the monkey off. We took off as quickly as we safely could and decided we had enough of the monkeys. A few wrong turns later we were safely out of the monkey forest. No more monkeys for us if we can help it!

Pre-monkey attack, hence the smile

They are cute…from afar

Entrance to the Monkey Forest

 The rest of the afternoon was spent enjoying lunch, walking around town and signing up for a bike tour for the following day. We ended our day with dinner at a warung (local outdoor eateries) and headed to bed early to prepare for our early morning bike tour. 

Watermelon juice with lunch

We awoke the next morning and headed to a nearby coffee shop to grab coffee and wait for our ride. We were getting picked up to be taken to the departure point for our bike tour. My aforementioned “Eat, Pray, Love” fantasies had me very excited for the bike tour as it was intended to take you mostly through rice paddies. Our first stop was at Tengalalang Rice Terrace. It was gorgeous. The rice paddies were so expansive and so green. We took a few pictures and were then taken to our next stop, Luwak Coffee. Here we were given a tour of the coffee farm and were told about the different types of coffee they produce. They are known for their “poo coffee”. Ummmm what? Apparently the Luwak eats the coffee bean and then passes it, undigested, where the bean is collected and used to brew coffee. After our little lesson we did a coffee tasting including, you guessed it, the poo coffee. When in Rome, right? It actually tasted pretty good. We also tasted coconut coffee and bought some as a souvenir. Of note, this was before we had learned to haggle so we grossly overpaid for it. That one bag of coffee cost more than any meal we had in Bali. 

Tengalalang Rice Terrace

Channeling my inner Julia Roberts

Ready to try some poo coffee!

Mmmm coffee


After the coffee we had breakfast with a view of the volcano. We then hopped on our bikes and began our trek. It was awesome!! We biked through villages, under canopies of trees and alongside endless rice fields. It was the Bali in my mind come to life. We stopped periodically along the way to learn about how the rice is harvested, talk about the small towns we rode through, learn about the temples located in each town and the daily offerings made to them and view the beautiful scenery. Unfortunately, we did get slightly duped along the way. There was a massive hill that we had to bike up at one point. Everyone ended up having to jump off their bikes at some point and walk their bike because it was so steep. Tim eventually was walking two as he was graciously helping another lady on our tour. When we reached the top there were tons of kids at the top saying hi and handing out little bananas. As the tour has advertised fresh fruits along the way we took them and stared eating them. I made it about one bite before I stopped as it was full of some sort of hard seed. Next thing I know they are telling us we had to pay for the stupid bananas that we didn’t even eat! Like I said, duped. A little bit later we got stuck in a monstrous downpour. We pulled over and rain coats were handed out. Guess what was left for Megs. A garbage bag. Normally I wouldn’t be concerned about wet clothes and shoes but considering we only had about 5 outfits per person for our trip one ruined outfit isn’t the best. The tour guide leaned in uncomfortably close to me and whispered in my ear “shhh. The raincoats don’t actually work but the garbage bags do.  You got the best option.”  Ummm thanks? Seeing as I had no choice I threw the garbage bag over my head, jumped on my bike and we resumed our ride. 

Breakfast with a view of the volcano

One of the small towns we cycled through

Stop at another rice field, pre rain storm debacle


Our bike ride brought us to a cafe just as the rain was ending. My tour guide was right… the garbage bag actually worked. I was minimally damaged by rain and mud. We enjoyed a nice lunch overlooking the city and were treated to a performance of young girls dancing to traditional dance to Balinese music.  
After that our guide drove us back to town. We had checked out of our hotel earlier that morning so we had our bags with us. As we were walking to our next place of residence we got stuck in another rain storm. A nice lady cleared out space on the floor of her small shop and insisted we come in and sit down to wait out the rain. Luckily it didn’t last long and we were able to move on. We found our homestay and walked into the courtyard. It was a bit odd as it seemed to be a lot of people’s houses all in one courtyard. We finally found the woman we needed to and she showed us to our room. Lesson learned. You get what you pay for. Our $14 room got us a bed, a toilet and a shower next to the toilet with no divider. Basically when you showered you got everything else in the bathroom wet. Luckily our plan was to leave at 2:00 a.m for a hike so we just needed a place to lay our heads for a few hours. We headed out for dinner and to sign up for our tour the following day which was a sunrise hike of Mt. Batur, a local active volcano. We ended up back at our home stay where we got about two hours of sleep before our alarms went off for our hike. 
We got our sleepy butts out of bed and headed out to the street to wait for the car to pick us up. Standing on the street that early/late felt pretty sketchy, but not as sketchy as jumping in a random car that pulls up and says “Tim and Meghan? Ok, get in” . Ok…. I guess we are getting in. We picked up a few more people and drove for about 45 minutes before stopping for our 3:00 am breakfast of banana pancakes and coffee. We continued to drive until we reached the base of the hike. Of course the advertisement had promised everyone a headlamp. Of course not only did they only have flashlights, they didn’t have enough so Tim and I were asked to share one. Our guide was a tiny little woman that spoke broken English and had a hard time keeping track of us so one shared flashlight wasn’t ideal but oh well. Off we went. The hike that early was beautiful because you could see endless stars in the sky. We had a young German couple as well as a pair of friends from France on our tour so we enjoyed chatting with them as we hiked. The hike was very steep, only allowing for single file hiking (which provided more challenges with the shared flashlight). We could tell it was kind of sketchy but had no idea how much so until we came back down. It was pretty cool hiking up because all you could see was headlamps and flashlights so it looked like hundreds of ants climbing up a hill. After about an hour and a half we had reached the top, about 40 minutes before sunrise.  Tim and I found a good spot and posted up to watch. The sunrise was unbelievable. It was just gorgeous coming up over a lake. We got fed a second breakfast of banana sandwiches while we took in the sights. Our poor French friends had their food stolen by the monkeys. We stayed for about an hour and then our group was ready to go. Not our tour guide, though. She was too busy laughing at the monkeys and taunting them with bananas and bread. It was weird.  

View from the top of Mt. Batur

A 2 a.m. wake up call and challenging hike were well worth the views

Gorgeous sunset from the top of Mt. Batur

The monkey that stole all of the food!

Caught in the act!

 

The hike back down was very steep and provided a clearer indication of what we came up. How we all managed to get up without falling off the side of a cliff is beyond me but thankfully no one did. It was so rocky, narrow and windy that it would have been easy to misstep and over you go. The hike back down was beautiful but not as enjoyable as the one up. There were a bunch of college bros, I’m going to say they were Canadian to take some slack off of Americans, that were blasting their rap and party music. Not ideal when you are just trying to enjoy nature but oh well. Our guide also lost us at least 3 times, which was humorous. The sunrise lead to a gorgeous day, though, and we really enjoyed it. Definitely one our favorite things that we did in Bali. Our tour ended with another visit to another coffee farm and some fried bananas. In case you were curious that was 3 bananas in about 6 hours. 

Our trek back down

Our new German and French friends that we hiked with

Met a puppy pal on our way down

Even the bottom had a great view


After being dropped back off at our room, we took showers next to the toilet, gathered our stuff and checked out. We were getting a ride to the beach that afternoon and had a few hours to kill before heading out. We had been talking about going to a fish spa and this seemed like an ideal time to do it. In case you don’t know, this is when you put your feet into a tank full of tiny fish and they eat the dead skin off of them. A couple of bucks later we were ready for our 15 minute “spa treatment”. IT WAS AWFUL. Terrible. I hated it but I think Tim mildly enjoyed it. I couldn’t keep my feet in without screaming and squirming like a tiny child and finally gave up after 10 minutes. I shudder just thinking about it. It was like an instant, ticklish vibration one your feet but watching the fish was so gross. Yuck. I pushed the awful experience aside and we enjoyed a quick lunch before heading to meet up with our driver. Thanks for the great time, Ubud! Now off to the beach! 

Not quite sure I like this whole fish spa thing

Tim was entertained

Clearly I wasn’t sold on the whole fish spa thing

Things Tim is too big for in Japan

We went to Japan knowing that Tim would stick out like a sore thumb.  Not only does he have red hair on his head and face, he is extremely tall.  Basically, Tim literally did not fit in Japan.

His feet were too big for the slippers


His feet were also too big for the snowboards

He could barely squeeze into the gondola on the mountain


He rarely fit through the doorways

Or the walkways through the towns 

He was basically the tallest person in the country. 


He was also too tall for the showers but I will spare the photographic evidence. 

Don’t worry, he still had a great time and he has fit in much better in the rest of the world so far 😊

Bali… or Kuala Lumpur?

From Osaka, we took a subway/train combo to get to the airport. Our flight tickets were from Osaka to Bali via a layover in Kuala Lumpur, getting us in at about 1:30am the next day, March 28th.

Somewhere between booking our flight to Bali and this day, we found out that the 28th is Nyepi, a holy day celebrating the Balinese New Year. The 27th is a day of partying and a celebration followed the next day by a day of nothing. When I say this, I quite literally mean nothing. When I first heard about this day and doing nothing, I assumed it would be no turning on lights, no tv… things along those lines. It’s actually six levels past that. That was all true, but businesses don’t open, there are no taxis running, and even the hotels can’t allow anyone to enter or leave. Since we would be getting in after the calendar day turns to the 28th, we likely wouldn’t be able to get to our hotel. Even if we did, we wouldn’t be able to check in.

Back to the 27th and our day out. Because we had a layover in Kuala Lumpur and because we wouldn’t be able to do anything in Bali anyway, we decided to just get off our flight and not take the second leg. We would relax for a night in Kuala Lumpur and do things like eat food and have electricity instead.

We got to the check-in counter with plenty of time to spare… over an hour and a half. The woman behind the counter was asking us some basic info: to see our passports, if we had bags to check, and when we were leaving Bali. We answered the questions with flying colors until the last one. “We don’t have a flight out yet.” She didn’t like this answer. “You don’t have one? Then how are we supposed to know when you’re leaving? The Bali government won’t let you enter the country without a flight out. I can’t print your tickets and allow you on this flight. They’ll send you right back after your plane lands.”

We had never heard of anything like this before from any of the countries we have ever visited. We asked if she was serious and she assured us she was, very much so. Megs decided to try another tactic. “Ok… we actually aren’t going to Bali. We’re getting off at out layover in Kuala Lumpur and spending a night there. It’s going to be a holy day when we land because it will technically be the 28th and we wouldn’t have been able to get out of the airport anyway…” I interjected with “Your customer service team hasn’t been responsive or helpful when we’ve reached out asking for more details pertaining to what we can do since we’re getting in on this holy day,” just for good measure.

The rest of the conversation went something like this…

Lady at the counter: You’re getting off the plane and not taking the second flight? I absolutely can’t give you these tickets then. 

Megs: Why?

Lady: Because I heard you say that you’re not taking the second flight.

Megs: Why does that matter?

Lady: Because you can’t do that.

Megs (becoming increasingly annoyed with this lack of an explanation): but WHY?

Lady: Our responsibility is to see that you get from your starting point to your destination. You just admitted that you are going to prohibit us from doing that, so I can’t give them to you.

Me (trying to find a quick solution knowing that we can’t miss the flight): …fine, I guess we have to go to Bali then.

Lady (after giving a pause and a long stare): Well I still can’t allow you on the plane without a flight out of Bali.

Megs: So if we step out of line and book a flight, you’ll give us our tickets and we’ll be allowed on?

Lady: Yes.

So we stepped out of line and started looking up flights. We debated on if we were actually going to book one right then and there, or just say that we did. The first option seemed much better with all of the trouble the free airport wifi was giving us. It would connect for 30 seconds, we would search for a flight, the wifi would go out, and when it came back on it would have to re-load the search results again. We actually found a pretty decently priced flight so we went through with booking it. It’s a good thing we did. When we went back up to the ticket counter, she didn’t trust us and asked to see our confirmation with the date and our names on it. Once she saw this, she seemed satisfied and gave us our tickets.

We still weren’t going to Bali that day, though.

We flew to Kuala Lumpur and felt like fugitives as we left the plane and went to Customs. We felt like we were on some kind of list where they were looking out for us (let this be foreshadowing for a future post). We made it through Customs without an issue and made our way to a train that would take us most of the way to our hotel, and a cab would take us the rest of the way. Take that, lady at the counter.

Being that the exchange rate was in our favor, we ended up staying at a nice hotel. It was brand new as of 2017 and we had a couch in our room along with an infinity pool on the top floor. This was perfect since our game plan was to relax and get some planning done for our next few days of the trip.

We went out to grab some dinner and saw that the city wasn’t nearly as nice as the hotel. One of the first things I saw after leaving the hotel was a giant cockroach on the sidewalk. To me, this was a bit of a sign for what the condition of the rest of the city would be like. The area where we were staying was kind of weird. There were a handful of really nice hotels, then some construction sites, then some small, older looking shops and restaurants. Not exactly what we expected.

We only wandered a few minutes from the hotel and found a small place on the side of the street to get seafood. Half the seating was inside a room that had the wall open to the outdoors and the other half of the seating was plastic chairs in a concrete area between the building and the street.

We placed our order and noticed a few things before our food arrived. There were a bunch of stray cats. There was a guy smoking inside the kitchen (that looked more like a food truck). There were a bunch of motorized scooters outside. And almost all the tables were groups of men, somewhere between the ages of 25-40. I wouldn’t say we felt unsafe but something felt off. As we were walking home we realized it wasn’t just that restaurant that made us feel that way. It was the entire area around our hotel. Is all of Kuala Lumpur like this?

Sitting outside at the street-side seafood spot.


The next day was going to be a pool day followed by some trip planning. The pool was first on the list because rain was in the forecast for later in the day. For a few hours, the rain held off and we had a nice day at the infinity pool on the 21st floor, the first time either of us have been in a pool like that. The view was pretty great since we were just outside what appeared to be the main downtown area, so we could see all the skyscrapers, plus we could see some mountains in the distance.


The rain came later that afternoon so we posted up in the room with a few local beers that we got from the convenience store and did some planning. When we saw a gap in the rain, we ran out to get a quick dinner, then made our way back to the hotel. No need to be out there to wander and see more the city. We had seen enough and, aside from the Petronas Towers and Observation Tower being lit up and looking like it should be in a Batman movie, we didn’t care much for it.

Petronas Towers

Peteonas Towers lit up on our foggy walk back to the hotel after dinner

Petronas Tower, Obsetvation Tower, and a full moon

Petronas Towers, Observation Tower, and a full moon

View of the Observation Tower from the 21st floor of our hotel

View of the Observatuon Tower from the 21st floor of our hotel


The next day we were up early to head back to the airport. We caught an Uber to the train station which cost us $1.36 US for the 20 minute ride, which we thought was pretty awesome.

I anticipated having some trouble with our tickets since we “missed” our last flight but there were zero problems and we made it through to our gate pretty easily. Next stop, Bali for 6 days!

Kyoto/Osaka

Oh, Kyoto, how you captured our hearts.

After spending a couple of days exploring Sapporo (namely, the alcohol of Sapporo) we opted to take it down a notch and head more south to the culture-rich Kyoto. Personally, this was the part of Japan I had been looking forward to the most. It’s advertised with pictures of geishas, tea houses, temples and shrines – pretty much exactly what one would envision when thinking of Japan. We wanted to go there so badly because we wanted a true cultural experience in Japan. There are certain cultural things that we experienced throughout our previous 8 days but we wanted to feel surrounded by it, so to Kyoto we went. Boy, we were not disappointed. Walking off the train we were almost instantly greeted with small, winding alleyways, people on bikes and houses that looked exactly as I expected them to. A couple of blocks away from the train everything almost instantly felt calmer… slower… more mellow. We walked for a while until we found our hotel which provided a welcomed kitchen for cooking breakfast and an in-room washer – which was much needed at this point as the laundry detergent sheets we got from Eddie Bauer were an epic fail and we only had dirty clothes despite trying to wash them twice in the sink the day prior. 

We have arrived in Kyoto!

Passing by the Nijo Castle on our way to the hotel

After dropping our backpacks off we ventured out to see Kyoto. We were staying by a nearby temple, Kiyomizu-dera Temple, so we headed off to check it out. Remember that quiet, calm, mellow feeling I was talking about? It was completely replaced with chaos about a half a mile in. Leading up to the temple was one long, steep road filled to the brim with tourists and people dressed up as geishas. The street was lined with shops selling souvenirs (including amazing sake sets that we couldn’t buy due to the inevitable fact that I would break it between now and June), ice cream shops (Lord knows I love a good ice cream cone), restaurants, and stalls selling traditional sweets and food. Of course I made Tim indulge in more food on a stick. You know what you need to not want to eat food on sticks anymore? Disgusting food on a stick. Mine wasn’t half bad – some sweet potato/carrot ball – but Tim? He decided to be adventurous and try something called a “red ginger”. I appreciate his willingness to try to new food but it was awful. Basically it was a ginger flavored stale jello ball, if you can imagine that. Yuck. Alas, we continued our trek up the hill taking in the crowds, among geishas and sights of the beautiful, immense temple at the top of the hill. We reached the top to turn around and find a beautiful view of Kyoto with the mountains behind it. We took awhile to tour around the temple, appreciating its size and grandeur. We walked around and really just took in the sights. We did see a sign that lead to the “easy birthing house” which I’m sure all of my new mom friends would find humorous :). 

Food on a stick fail (pre taste, hence the smiles )

Geishas galore


 After spending ample time walking around the grounds, we headed back down the hill, weaving in and out of shops and stopping for free samples of Japanese treats. After dipping into yet another delicious ramen restaurant for dinner, we called it a night. Megs’ ramen count: 6 (in almost as many days. I’m addicted). 

More ramen? Why not ?

Day 2 in Kyoto was perfect. Probably my favorite day in Japan and well up there for Tim as well. In my opinion, it was Japan at its finest. 

We woke up to a beautiful, sunny day that started with matcha tea lattes, eggs and toast. Our only missions for the day were the bamboo forest and ice cream cones (spoiler alert – both were accomplished) and we decided we would just see what the rest of the day would bring us.

The start of our Kyoto sight seeing day

We took a train a few stops away from central Kyoto towards the bamboo forest but were quickly distracted by something called “monkey forest”. Tim had originally asked if I was interested but I quickly had said no as I knew we were heading to Bali soon and would probably see more monkeys there than we did sheep in New Zealand (which was a lot of sheep, which was awesome because sheep are the best. But I digress). Back to monkeys. The brochure got me with the pictures. They were so fluffy and cute! All of a sudden I had to see the damn monkeys. There is only one native breed in Japan, the macaque, otherwise know as snow monkeys. We walked through the woods uphill for about 20 min, seeing a couple of the monkeys in the trees and in the path along the way, until we eventually go to the top of monkey park. There were snow monkeys everywhere! They were so fluffy and had bright red faces and were just adorable. The view of the city from up there was pretty incredible, too. Much to our delight, we also saw two baby monkeys. They were literally hanging off the side of a building waiting for people to feed them. I’m now adding snow monkey to the list of pets that I want but Tim will never allow. 

Tim, a monkey and a view of Kyoto from monkey park


After the monkey park we headed to our original destination, the bamboo forest. It was one of the most frequent pictures we had seen of Kyoto so I was really looking forward to it. We walked around the town for about half an hour, along the water and through the trees and parks until we found it. It was worth finding for sure. It was just a forest super dense with bamboo as far as you could see in either direction. We quickly came to what was like a hallway of bamboo to walk through until you got to the other side. It was so pretty and despite the crowd, very calming.

Pathway into the Bamboo Forest

Bamboo for days

Upon exiting the forest we quickly found ice cream cones! Hooray!! Despite our ill-fated attempt of trying new foods the previous day, we both decided to try new flavors. An ice cream cone filled with a combo of green tea and roasted green tea. Teo ice cream cones later, we were both very happy tourists. We headed back to the train and just as I thought things couldn’t get any better, I was wrong. We stumbled upon a bunny. It was someone’s pet bunny that they brought outside for a bit. The great thing was that the bunny was wearing a sweater. Not just any old sweater but a sweater with a bunny on it. A bunny, in a bunny sweater, in the middle of Kyoto. It was perfect. THEN, about 10 minutes later we saw a cat on a leash! Which, of course, I had to sit down and play with until it was no longer interested (which was about 15 seconds. Typical cat.)

Bunny in a bunny sweater!

Cat on a leash!

We took the train back to central Kyoto and headed to the Gion district. We had read this was supposed to be he “geisha district” so we decided to check it out. We walked along water for awhile and much to our delight saw a few cherry blossom trees already beginning to bloom. There were so many empty cherry blossom trees that I can’t even begin to fathom how gorgeous that town would be in a couple of weeks when they are in full bloom. We took no particular route through the Gion district and we were rewarded for it. Everywhere we looked there were parks, streams filled with koi fish, temples and shrines. We found a traditional healing oxen statue along with a massive Buddha and countless girls dressed as geishas. It was so picturesque and exactly what I had been hoping for when we decided to visit Kyoto. We ended our perfect day with some tempura and sake. 

Cherry blossoms beginning to bloom in Kyoto

Viewing the giant Buddha through a key-hole in the fence since the area was closed for the day. To get an idea of how big this is, take notice of the picnic bench.

Tempura date

Our last day in Kyoto was spent on a bit of a wild goose chase. A friend had told us about a pug cafe where you can drink coffee and play with about 11 pugs at once. Knowing my extreme love of pugs, Tim and I decided that this a must do and set out on our trek. We were flying out that day so we had to carry our 18lb packs around with us. We walked for about an hour through side streets and finally found it! Or so we thought. We approached the door only to find a sign that said “pug cafe has relocated to a new address.” Noooooooo. We didn’t have wifi so we jotted down the address and decided to take a break in a Starbucks to get some wifi and a drink. I only justified this American stop because they were serving a mandarin orange tea that they don’t serve in the States. During our break we looked up directions and decided to try to find the cafe again. About another hour of walking later we finally found it! It had ceramic pugs out front so we knew we were in the right spot. The owner answered the door and asked for a reservation. What?? Of course we didn’t have one. He told us there was no space that day and we were turned away. Noooo! Duped again! No pug cafe for us. Hmph. 

The face you make after searching for the pug cafe for an hour with your life on your back

Pug cafe moved. Try again.

The face you make after searching for the pug cafe for 2 hours with your life on your back

Despite the pug cafe fail, we still thought Kyoto was amazing. I hope I can go back some day for longer in the spring or summer and truly enjoy the zen-like atmosphere that Kyoto had to offer.

Strolling through Kyoto at sunset

We left Kyoto to spend our last evening in Japan in the city of Osaka. We had been pretty busy the last 2ish weeks and had an international flight the next day so we decided to just have dinner and hang at the hotel. We walked around with no direction and randomly picked out a restaurant. We were delighted when we walked in to find that we would be sitting on the floor! We had been wanting as many traditional Japanese experiences as we could get so this seemed to be a good way to end our time in Japan. We had a lovely dinner sitting Indian style on cushions. Tim tried sweet potato vodka and we shared a variety of Japanese dishes. It was great.  

Enjoying some sweet potato vodka while sitting on the floor to eat

After dinner we headed back to our hotel to get ready to leave for Bali the next day. Our hotel had free ramen in the evening so of course, even though we had just eaten dinner, we had to partake. It was ramen, our new favorite food, and it was free. After that Tim decided to try a Japanese onsen. We had heard a lot about onsens (Japanese hot springs) during our trip and had been wanting to try one but hadn’t had a chance. I wasn’t able to go since tattoos were forbidden so Tim was on his own. They were divided by sexes so we wouldn’t have been able to go together anyway.

This next part is written by Tim. It details his experience with a Japanese onsen. Many seek onsens for a spiritual experience and to relax the soul. For him, it was more of a series of awkward and slightly uncomfortable events…

We decided to stay at this hotel partially because it had the onsens (natural hot springs) so I figured I had to check them out. As I looked into the rules more, it turned out it was more than a casual hot tub and sauna room like I’m used to in the States. People with tattoos aren’t allowed in because the onsens are very pure and apparently tattoos aren’t. Sorry, Megs, you’re not invited anymore. That’s ok. She was tired anyway plus there were separate ones for men and women. Why? Because you aren’t allowed to wear clothes in them. I thought for a while about whether or not this would deter me from going in. Then I finished off the rest of the bottle of sake we had, plus a couple beers (we were flying the next day and we don’t check bags when we fly, and you KNOW I’m not going to waste any alcohol), and I threw caution to the wind. I put the robe on, slipped on the slippers that were four sizes too small, and headed for the elevator.

I walked in the door and was met by shelving where you’re supposed to leave your slippers. The “no clothes” thing was already starting and I had barely taken a step in the door. Moving more inside, it looked like a normal locker room. A few people had just left and I could hear a few people in the onsen (through one more set of doors), but there was nobody in the locker room. I didn’t have anyone to follow their lead, so now things would get interesting. Do I take everything off here and leave it in the locker? Do I keep a towel around me as I walk through the doors and into the onsen? How many people are in the onsen now? Are they all going to turn around and look at me when I walk through the door? These are the questions that should have been posted on the walls along with the other rules.

As I was having this internal dilemma, the door opened. I didn’t turn my head to attract any extra attention but I got the answer I needed. The towel stays in the locker room. 

I left the towel in my locker and went for it. I opened the door and walked through. First, I see about 8 shower stalls, each equipped with shower gels, shampoo and conditioner, and a hand held showerhead. The big difference between this and a shower I’m used to is that it was all about a foot and a half off the floor. Also, there was a bucket on the ground to sit on. There was one person cleaning off in a shower stall. Otherwise, it looked like there were only about two others in the onsen. Whew! This might not be as awkward as I anticipated (in writing, this is called foreshadowing).

The onsen was broken up into five parts with a small, central walking area in the  middle to connect each of the areas. Directly in front of me was a pool that was long length-wise but narrow width-wise. It started in front of me and disappeared around the corner to the left. Clockwise from there, there was another small pool surrounded by some rocks, a sauna room directly to my right, the shower stalls to my left, and another small room to the left but I couldn’t tell what was in there. I could hear two guys in the sauna room so rather than peeking my head in and waving hello, I decided to go straight for the pool in front of me.

I walked in, made my way to the left side which was hidden from visibility from anywhere else in the onsen, and sat on the bench that was about a eight inches under water. I made it. But now what? I have this whole 30-foot by 8-foot pool. There’s only a bench on this side. The rest of the pool is about two or two-and-a-half feet deep. Do I wade and swim through the non-bench part? Or just sit here? For the second time in the last few minutes, I almost wished there was someone else there so I could follow their lead. My wish would come quicker than I anticipated when I heard the door swing open and the voice of a dad and two small children filling my ears.

It was like I was the chum and they were the sharks; they sensed my fear and came straight for me. I had been unintentionally been facing straight ahead while sitting in the pool, even though I was alone. I kept that mentality but it really didn’t matter since the kids jumped in and started swimming all over the pool. This included directly in front of me as I sat there with my legs apart. I quickly shifted the way I was sitting and tried to ignore the kids but it didn’t work. Time for me to go elsewhere. The other guys had left the sauna room so I carefully got up, made my way over there, and found another safe corner where I could somewhat hide in that room.

The sauna was really hot with two old-school fireplaces that had scorching rocks inside them producing the steam. I sat there and tried to focus on the zen music that was playing, and on the plants that were scattered about in my view. I was even able to drown out the sound of the kids for a while. It really was peaceful and exactly what I anticipated.

It got too hot and I had to move on again. I moved to the pool to my right, which was much smaller but also didn’t have any children, or people, for that matter, in it. It was a much colder pool. It felt good after being in the sauna but I didn’t feel the need to be there long. From this pool, I caught a glimpse of the one remaining room that I hadn’t been in yet. I decided to venture across the onsen to it to check it out. Once I got through the door, I noticed a few items in the room… two, let’s call them tubs. They each had a small spout spilling water into them and it kind of reminded me of a pond in someone’s yard that has a fountain-feature spilling water from a higher elevation. As I later described it to Megs, though, these weren’t so much tubs. They were more like oversized flower pots. When I got in them, water spilled over the edges and onto the floor. I don’t think they were made for someone who is 6’3″. I shrugged my shoulders and tried to relax as the water from the spout poured over the back of my neck, as I sat with my knees against my chest in this oversized bucket.

I called it quits in the onsen after a few more minutes. I showered, got dressed, and headed back up to the room feeling oddly satisfied and relaxed. I slept well that night.

Next up, Bali! But we’re supposed to land on one of their holy days where the entire island shuts down, including restaurants, taxis, hotels, and everything else. This should be interesting…

Beer and food day in Sapporo

We found our hotel pretty easily after hopping off the bus. We opened the door to our room and we excited with what we saw, especially being that we had sore muscles from snowboarding the last two days. Could it be?! A massage chair!

In-room massage chair

It was nothing fancy but it was exactly what we needed, an in-room massage chair!

It was about 8pm by the time we dropped off our bags and went out searching for food. We stumbled into a random place that looked a little nicer – maybe we should have changed out of our Under Armour before heading out. The pizza and pasta that we shared didn’t disappoint. It was just the right amount to allow us to get back to the hotel and take care of the necessities for the rest of the night: do laundry in the sink and hang the clothes all over the room to dry (thanks, Megs!), look into things to do the next day, and put the massage chair to good use.

Clothes drying in the hotel room

Doing laundry in the sink means clothes dry everywhere throughout the room.

The only things currently on our To Do List in Sapporo were the Sapporo Museum and Bier Garden and a fish market that Yoko recommended. Many of the other things we were finding on TripAdvisor and similar sites were museums (I should clarify… non-beer museums) and that’s not what we were looking for. I DID find a couple breweries and tap houses known for their wide selection of beers and whiskeys. Looks like tomorrow will be a beer day!

We left for the Nijo Fish Market around 10 or 11, with no real intentions other than to walk through and possibly get some sushi (since we didn’t get real sushi at the Tsujiki Fish Market in Tokyo). It was much less crowded here than the market in Tokyo, which was a pleasant surprise. One place caught our eyes and we went in to get a small lunch. We ordered king crab and tuna as our raw sushi options and had some crab miso soup on the side. After placing our order, I looked up to find the World Baseball Classic on the tv. It was Japan vs. the US. Looks like I’d be watching my boy Cutch with my meal.

Our soup had crab claws in them and we had no idea how to get the crab meat out. This was the first time we felt like foreigners, food-wise. As Megs was trying to jam the end of her chopsticks into the crab to get it out, I found our waitress and asked how we were SUPPOSED to do it. She brought back a different utensil, almost like a small spork where the handle end was jagged to pull out the meat. This was less embarrassing than the stabbing-with-chopsticks made method.

Sushi in Nijo Market

The outside of the place we decided to get sushi in Nijo Market.

Crab miso soup, tuna sushi and king crab sushi

Crab miso soup, tuna sushi and king crab sushi.

Crab miso soup in Nijo Market

Crab miso soup.

Digging for crab meat

Focusing hard on chopsticking and sporking the crab.

Digging out crab meat

Deep in concentration to get the crab meat with the spork thing.

Andrew McCutchen

Cutch!

Live prawn (or crayfish) among other fresh seafood

Live prawn (or crayfish?) among other fresh seafood.

Fresh squid

Disgustingly big squid legs.

Giant tank of live crabs

Giant tank of live crabs.

From there, we walked to the Sapporo Beer Museum and Bier Garden, probably a mile and a half away. If it wasn’t for the cold, it would have been a fine walk. Sapporo was definitely the coldest place we had been and the temperature was in the mid-30s.

The museum was pretty neat. We learned how the first brewer went to Germany for 26 months when he was only 17 to learn how to brew beer, saw the evolution of their labels and their advertising artwork, and some other cool stuff about the facility. Who knew Sapporo is the only brewery in the world to grow, field, and use their own barley and hops?! Not us.

Sapporo Brewery

Sapporo Brewery

Sapporo ads

Ads from the early days.

Sapporo beer ad

I’m not sure I understand this as, but I’m pretty sure it’s saying drink beer and leave your baby unattended

The evolution of Sapporo's bottle labels

The evolution of Sapporo’s bottle labels.

The evolution of Sapporo's bottle labels

The evolution of Sapporo’s bottle labels.

The evolution of Sapporo's bottle labels

The evolution of Sapporo’s bottle labels.

The evolution of Sapporo's bottle labels

The evolution of Sapporo’s bottle labels.

Mini representation of the Sapporo Brewery

Mini representation of the Sapporo Brewery.

Time lapse of Sapporo

This digital map of Sapporo showed how the landscape changed over the years as more things got built up, as far as both the brewery and the city go.

Sapporo print ads

A wall showing some of Sapporo’s print advertisements from the past.

Sapporo print ads

More of Sapporo’s print ads. I don’t understand the guy with a beer rocket-pack. Also, the guy at the bottom right looks super jolly.

Sapporo Taproom

The Sapporo Taproom at the end of the self-guided tour.

Black Label, Classic and Kaitakushi

The sampler: Black Label, Classic and Kaitakushi


After the Beer Museum, we walked over to the Bier Garden, a much larger space where you can get drinks or food (including a few buffet options like seafood, meats, or vegetarian). We opted just for a few drinks. Megs placed her order and the waiter said “That’s fine but I’ll let you know that the Classic is only available here on the island of Hokkaido and the Limited Edition is only available here at the Bier Garden.” We adjusted our orders based on this newfound information.

Outside of the Sapporo Bier Garten

Outside of he Sapporo Bier Garten.

Fireplace in the entryway of the Sapporo Bier Garten

Fireplace in the entryway of the Sapporo Bier Garten.

Sapporo Classic and Sapporo Limited Edition

Megs with her Sapporo Classic and me with my Sapporo Limited Edition.

Next up, a brewery called Beer Bar North Island. There were a few breweries in the general Sapporo area but this was really the only one that was within walking distance. We got there at 5 only to find out it didn’t open until 6. Time for some more food to hold us over until then.

Most places we passed were some sort of noodles. Although the noodle dishes we had had up to this point were delicious, we didn’t want to burn ourselves out on them. We found a place that offered a number of different skewers. The guy grilling the food in the front window must have made it look pretty appealing, and we went in.

The menu had a variety of different options. Some looked good and we orders them, like bacon and cheese. Others sounded disgusting, like turkey giblets. We didn’t order those.

Skewers in the front window

Grilling skewers in the front window reeled us in.

Bar area with sumo wrestling on tv

The bar seating area with sumo wrestling on the tv.

Our first order of skewers

Our first of two orders of skewers.


It was past 6pm so we headed back to Beer Bar North Island. Getting in reminded me of Zoetrope because we turned off the street and into a small hallway of a building, went up a narrow staircase, and found a door at the end of the hallway. We opened the doors and saw a small room with about eight beers on tap, about six seats at the bar, and maybe six seats facing the wall on the opposite side of the room from the bar.

We posted up at the bar and ordered a couple beers, a brown ale for Megs and a pale ale spiced weizen for me. About 15 minutes later, a guy sat down next to me. He ordered his beer, leaned over to us and cheers’ed us, then did the same for the person to his right.

He started chatting us up at some point shortly thereafter. His name was Hiroki but he went by Hiro. He looked to be just a few years younger than us and told us how he had been living in Australia playing his dijirido (that long instrument that you heard a lot about during the World Cup in South Africa) on the streets. He moved back to Japan with his wife recently and was running a guest house, where he still plays his dijirido. Before he left, he grabbed his satchel, opened it up, and pulled out a can of beer. He offered it to me since we had been talking about different beers and America through our conversation. Oddly enough, it was an IPA from Caldera Brewing, a brewery in Ashland, Oregon. I thanked him and he left to bike the hour back to his guest house, which was in the mountains just outside Sapporo, so he could give the rest of the beers to the people staying there.

Caldera Brewing IPA

My new pal, Hiro, and the Caldera IPA he gave me.


After we both enjoyed a Black Coriander beer, we also left. It was time to feed the beasts again. Hiro gave us a suggestion that we searched for but without GPS, we weren’t able to find it. We found a nice little ramen place (we didn’t hold out that long from ramen, after all) and ordered that. They had an option with a creamier broth with corn in it, something I hadn’t seen as an option yet, so I went with that. Megs ordered an option with garlic. Both were delicious. We’ve gone back and forth on whether the secret place in Ginza or this one was better. It was that good.

While we were eating, we realized a few things pertaining to ramen-eating. First, we eat it incredibly slow compared to the locals. I realized this when there was not one, but two people who sat down after us and left before us. And I’m not talking two as in a couple. I mean one sat down alone, ate, paid, left, another person flying solo sat down, ordered, ate, paid, and left. The second thing (which likely is a causation of the first) is that people make a lovely slurping noise while they’re eating the noodles. It’s a far cry from how Europeans eat their pasta. The Japanese pick up a pile of noodles, throw them in their mouth, and slurp as hard as they can to get the rest in. Sometimes, it’s two or three good slurps before the noodles are secured in their mouths. It almost reminded me of the way my dad slurps his soup… but multiplied by a power of ten.

It was getting late and we wanted to catch up on the normal things (sending texts, researching things to do in the next destination, etc) so we went back to our massage chair and called it a night.

The next day, we would be flying south to Osaka and Kyoto!

Snowboarding in Rusutsu

We landed in Sapporo before noon and had a few hours to kill before taking a bus to Rusutsu, one of the “nearby” mountains, which would take about an hour and a half. After getting some food and losing to Megs at a card game and being a sore loser about it, I angrily suggested that it was time to make our way to the bus pickup area.

There wasn’t anything too crazy about the bus: it was your typical two-seats-on-either-side-of-the-aisle bus and about two-thirds full. After about an hour, we started getting some great views of the mountains, most notably of Mt. Yotei, “the Mt. Fuji of Japan’s north island.”

Mt. Yotei from our bus ride

Mt. Yotei off in the distance during our bus ride to Rusutsu


Apparently Rusutsu is pretty small as there were only two possible dropoff locations: the Westin at the foot of the mountain or Rusutsu Resort on the other side of the main road that runs through town. Based on where we were staying, we exited at Rusutsu Resort. Saying we were surprised when we walked into the hotel would be an understatement. In front of us was an indoor merry-go-round (equipped with multiple levels), a talking tree (almost Chuck E. Cheese style), and a bunch of other weird amusement park things. It was so weird that it almost made me wish we were staying there.

Double-decker merry-go-round at Rusutsu Resort

The double-decker merry-go-round at Rusutsu Resort.

Daniel and the Dixie Diggers at Rusutsu Resort

Don’t be fooled. This is NOT Chuck E. Cheese and the gang.

Bourbon candy shop

Maybe it’s just me, but calling a candy shop “Bourbon” seems a little misleading.


We got our packs in order and started walking towards the house we were staying in, approximately 0.6 miles from Rusutsu Resort. When we got to the location, there was nothing there. We circled the area and saw nothing that looked like any of the pictures we saw online. There were a few local cafes/restaurants nearby so we went into one and asked for directions. They didn’t speak any English but they were able to show me a map that had the house pinned on it (I guess people often had trouble finding the house). It was a little farther up the road but after about 15 more minutes of walking, we made it.

Looking back towards Pirateman

Looking behind us at Pirateman, a bar we would later go to for dinner.

More walking in Rusutsu

More walking but Megs is still jolly.

Looking ahead towards The Ohisama House

Looking ahead and up the hill towards The Ohisama House.

Snow drifts in Rusutsu

Snow as deep as Megs is tall.


We were staying at The Ohisama House. The online description had it classified as a two-bedroom house so we knew there could be other people there too. When we got there, it looked more like a regular house than a bed-and-breakfast type accommodation. There was a small sign in the front yard with the name but when I opened the front door, there was no reception desk or anyone in eyeshot. Just a bunch of shoes and ski gear. I turned to Megs with a confused, and somewhat concerned, look on my face.

From around the corner and in the distance we heard “Hello? Come in!” A small woman turned the corner with a big smile on her face. She welcomed us and invited us into the main area (after removing our shoes, of course). It was a large house with lots of wood features, just like any great mountain house should be. A small desk in the middle of the room said “reception”, which seemed out of place since A) it should be by the front door, in my opinion (I never would have continued that far into the house if she didn’t say “hello”, and B) it looked silly being in the middle of the main living space. There was also a curtain between the living space and the kitchen with a sign that said “staff only”.

We made our way upstairs to our room and the owner, Yoko, left us to get settled. We closed the door and looked at each other. “It’s weird that she lives here and will be around… since it definitely seems like this is her actual house. This is a little uncomfortable.” Megs had a point. It felt a little uncomfortable, which is why we quickly showered (finally, hot water!), put our stuff down in the room and immediately left to try to stay out of the house for a few hours until it was time for bed.

View of East Mountain from our room

The view from our room, looking out at East Mountain.

View of the mountains from the second floor of Ohisama House

The upstairs area and door to our room, with a view of the mountains.

View of the fireplace from the upper level of Ohisama House

Looking down at the fireplace from the upper level.

Main room in The Ohisama House

View of the main room from up above.

Private room on the second floor

I have no idea what this “room” is for, but it’s supposed to be private and it doesn’t even have a top.

Kitchen area in The Ohisama House

Dinner table with the reception desk on the left and the curtain blocking off part of the kitchen on the back left.

Reception desk at The Ohisama House

Reception desk.


We walked towards “the town”, if you want to call it that. There were about 4 restaurants/bars, a couple convenience stores, and a ski rental shop. We snagged a few things from the convenience store (some bananas, popcorn, and a few beers) and were making our way to the restaurants when a sign in one of the windows of the rental shop caught our eye. One window said “rentals”. Another said “bar”. A third said “cafe”. The windows on the second floor said “karaoke” and “party”. We decided we should check it out.

It was a small wooden building that had rentals to the right and a few tables and high-tops to the left. A stand alone wooden dry bar was back towards the corner with a chalkboard food menu on the wall behind it. Better than being at the house, we agreed. There was only one other small group of people there and they left after about 10 minutes of us being there. A couple sakes later, we moved on for dinner.

Sake at Amuse in Rusutsu

Sake at the cafe/bar/rental shop

 

We stopped at a place called Pirateman, which seemed fitting because I was wearing my Pirates hat. This place had a few more people in there and they all appeared to be locals. The table next to us was three Japanese people. One of the guys struck up a conversation with us. It was a slow conversation since they knew a little English but communication took some effort. A guy on the other side of our table overheard us talking and chimed in a few times. I felt bad turning to talk to him but the conversation was easier with his fluid English (he was Canadian-born but living in Bali and vacationing at his second home in Rusutsu). Eventually they all left, Megs and I ordered our food, I was given a proper pirate hat to wear, we ate, and we headed back to the house.

Pirateman in Rusutsu

When you’re offered a pirate hat, you always accept it. Eating dinner at Pirateman.


When we walked back into the house, there was a different guy (not the owner) sitting in the main room. He saw us and his face lit up. “You! Staying here?!” It was one of the three Japanese people we briefly talked to at Pirateman. He looked like he couldn’t be happier that we were staying there. Yoko seemed confused as to what was going on and he explained that he saw us down the road a bit earlier. We smiled and told them we went to the rental shop/cafe/whatever else it is before Pirateman to get a few drinks and he nodded his head laughing and saying “Ahh, drinks! Drinks! Yes!” After a minute or two, we said we were tired and went up to our room for the night.

Beers chilling outside the bedroom window

I wasn’t sure if we were allowed to use the fridge, and I had already bought these beers. It was in the 20s or 30s at night so this seemed like the most logical move.


All the traveling had us pretty beat so I was in bed and sleeping by about 8:30. Early in my sleeping, I heard some loud noises but didn’t think much of it until Megs said “do you hear that? What is that?” I rolled over and opened my eyes and was surprised at what we saw. Through the giant bay window of our room, there were fireworks going off at the foot of the mountain. We got a full fireworks display from the comfort of our beds (yes, plural – two twin beds is what our room had). The show lasted for at least 10-15 minutes. Maybe this place wouldn’t be so bad after all.

Rusutsu base area lit up for night skiing

The base area and one of the night skiing runs, as seen from our bedroom window.

We were woken up by the sun since the window didn’t have any blinds or curtains and started getting ready for our first day of boarding. We initially planned to do Kiroro, a nearby mountain, for the first day and Rusutsu the second day, but after talking to the Canadian/Balinesen, he said there were next to no good transportation options to get there and that the options that were available were very expensive. Rather than spending more money to move around, we decided to stay put and do two days at Rusutsu. It wasn’t a huge mountain compared to what we’re used to in Colorado but it covered three separate mountains and should be plenty good enough for us for a couple days.

We were heading downstairs to brush our teeth and the guy who we met the night prior (we never did find out for sure if he was a part owner with Yoko or what), was sitting at the kitchen table and greeted us with a big smile. “Coffee?” If there’s one thing I know about Megs, it’s that that girl loves herself a cup of coffee in the morning. I smiled and said sure, and he fixed two cups for us. We sat there for a good 15 or 20 minutes talking to him: about snowboarding (he both skis and snowboards), where we’re from and what the mountains are like there, his kids (he has 4 with the oldest being 32 and the youngest 27), how his one boy plays professional ice hockey in the Asian league and they won a playoff game the night before), the rest of our trip, etc. We also got his name, Kazia. We liked Kazia.
Before we were done talking, he asked where we were getting our rentals and recommended a friend’s rental shop. It happened to be the same place we went for sake the day before. He said he could call the rental shop and get us 30% off. This was a real solid discount since we were not only renting boards and boots but also snow pants, jackets, helmets and goggles.

We left the house, got our gear that we would be using for the next two days, and headed for the mountain. The mountain offered night skiing but we figured the 6-hour ticket would be plenty. There hadn’t been any new snow for almost two weeks so there was no need to push it for a long day with conditions that would likely get pretty icy when the sun went down.

It was a beautiful, sunny day. We had heard from Kazia, Yoko, and the guy at the rental shop that Mt. Isola was the favorite spot on the mountain for all of them so we made that our destination. It was the farthest mountain from the gondola so it allowed us to take a few not-too-challenging runs to get there to get used to our boards and to feel comfortable. We both had some minor issues with our boots and bindings but managed to cope with them by the time we got to Isola.

The views from the top were incredible. Since it was such a clear and sunny day, we could see not only Mt. Yotei across the main road but we had views of a nearby lake, Lake Toya, and even views of the Pacific Ocean! While we were taking pictures and enjoying the view from the top, it happened again. A random guy approached us, held up his camera at us and said “picture?” with a big grin on his face. We obliged. At the moment, I didn’t think to take one with my camera, too, so I creepily took one from a distance after we had parted ways.

At the top of Mt. Isola with Lake Toya and the Pacific Ocean in the background

At the top of Mt. Isola with Lake Toya and the Pacific Ocean in the background.

In front of Mt. Yotei

Megs and I in front of Mt. Yotei.

This is the point where two mountains, the “husband and wife” mountains, meet. Energy is said to run throughout the ridge. Say a prayer to meet someone wonderful, and ring the bell.

No need for us to ring the bell

No need for us to ring the bell.

Us in front of Lake Toya

This one would have been a great picture if the photog didn’t get her glove in it.

The guy in blue was all about the beard in red

The guy in blue was all about the beard in red.


Being that it had been so long since the last snow storm, we didn’t get to experience the legendary Japow that we’ve heard so much about, but we did found some varying terrain to navigate. Apparently a lot of mountains in Japan don’t allow off-piste skiing (going off the marked trails) but Rusutsu was ok with it. Since the trails themselves, called courses in Japan, weren’t too steep or challenging, we ended up spending most of the day in the trees.

The sun was starting to set and we were nearing the end of our six hours so we decided to make our way back. The last runs of the day ended up being some of our best photo ops.

Megs riding with Mt. Yotei and West Mountain in the background

Megs riding the day away with the mountains in the background, Mt. Yotei on the left and West Mountain (part of Rusutsu) on the right.


We grabbed apres drinks at the rental shop again since we we dropping off our boards there for the night anyway. We tried out a different restaurant for dinner, Rodeo Drive. There was a group of six Europeans, probably in their 50s, who we overheard telling stories about their time in Japan and how “this culture doesn’t like when you’re as loud as us but we didn’t care and we were laughing and having a good old time…” I found some weird comfort in hearing there was someone being rude, inconsiderate, and frowned at by the locals and not having it be an American who was the guilty party.

Yoko was around in the main area of the house the next morning. She offered us some coffee and we sat with her for a few minutes while we drank that. She asked how we were getting back to Sapporo and I told her the name of the bus. “There is a free bus from Rusutsu Resort. Do you want me to cancel your bus so you can take the free one?” I thought that bus was only for guests staying at the resort but she said otherwise. As for our booking, even if there was a 50% penalty for cancelling the day of, we would still save that other 50%. We said sure and she proceeded to call the bus line and the third-party company we booked through to try to cancel our bus for us. She was probably on the phone for 10-15 minutes before she hung up and said “there would be no refund if you cancel today.” Bummer. It didn’t work out for getting our money back but we still thought it was really nice of her to make the calls for us.

Us with Yoko from The Ohisama House in Rusutsu

Us with Yoko, one of the people in charge of The Ohisama House where we stayed in Rusutsu.


Once back on the slopes, we set out to explore the mountain on the close side of the main road. I heard they had a side-country terrain park with “natural wood features, like fallen trees, built into the hillside” and I wanted to try my luck with them. Normally I’m slightly intimidated by the terrain parks because I have very little experience with them and I’m not super comfortable with that stuff, but because the mountain was so deserted there weren’t any of the park rats running around the judge me. We found the side-country features and they looked crazy but the lack of snow made the conditions pretty sketchy. I decided to be happy just seeing them built into the mountain and to not hurt myself so I didn’t attempt any of them.

One of the wooden-plank features in the side country terrain park.

One of the big, wooden-plank rainbow features. This one was probably about 15 feet from the group at its highest point.

Another wooden-plank park feature

Another wooden-plank feature in the side country. This one was probably about 6-8 feet off the ground.

Fallen down tree in the side country

Not a feature. Just Megs under a giant, fallen down tree.


We did more trail runs the second day and found a few little trees to dip into but our muscles were tired from the day before so we didn’t push it too much. We spent the day trying out a few new trails and seeing that the mountain was actually a little bigger than we anticipated. It was a gloomy, colder day so we called it quits early to make sure we wouldn’t miss our bus back to Sapporo.


​​ 
*Update: I became Facebook friends with the Canadian/Balinese guy from the restaurant the first night. Two days after we left, he posted saying it dumped 40cm of snow in the mountains. We almost had it…

First stop, Tokyo (part 2)

Day 2 in Tokyo

We started the next day by torturing ourselves with ice cold showers to prove we’re still badasses. It only kind of worked. The water was still REALLY cold.

We left the apartment en route for the Tsukiji Fish Market. These are the docks that are right up against the Tokyo Bay where people can wander in to get fresh fish at one of the many shops, or, real early in the morning, people can buy large quantities of the fish (likely to sell as the “fresh catch” at their restaurants).

My first impression was that something like this would never work in America. Workers are driving around heavy machinery right next to where all the customers are walking, half of it doesn’t have a sidewalk or designated walking area, and the people and machinery are zipping by each other like balls in a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos.

Entrance to the fish market

One of the entrances on the sketchy entrance-side (we didn’t find the un-sketchy entrance until later).

One of her alleyways with a small sushi restaurant on the left

One of the alleyways with a small sushi restaurant on the left.

A crowded alleyway with food stands on the side

A crowded alleyway with some food stands on the side.

Tongue at the fish market

Whatever kind of tongues these were, we weren’t buying it.

Another one of the many streetside stands

Another one of the many streetside stands.


Megs was excited to eat some fresh sushi and sit down at one of the many restaurants to get it. As we were looking for an ATM (many smaller places in Japan are cash-only, including most of the places in the fish market).  We stumbled into a three-story building that we thought might have an ATM, some bathrooms, and other random stuff like that. Instead, we found an indoor portion of the fish market. The hallways were lined with all kinds of different things, half of which we had no idea what they were.

Giant fish heads at the fish market

We knew exactly what these were… a couple giant fish heads.


We ended up on the third floor where an organization was sponsoring and offering free fish to anyone. Megs kept asking if I was nervous to try “real sushi” because what we had back in the States isn’t real sushi. I really didn’t expect any difference from what I was used to, sans rice and whatever other toppings would be on our rolls. We got to try two different fish and there was definitely a difference. I’m not sure if it was because I let Megs get into my head or because the slice of fish was about two or three sizes bigger than what a normal piece in a roll would be, but regardless, it was a bit much for me. I finished it but I wouldn’t say I loved it.
After wandering the madhouse that is the fish market for what seemed like over an hour, I think Megs could tell I had hit my wall with the crowds, the fish smell, and not eating anything substantial. We decided to make a move away from the fish market. She made a few subtle comments about how she didn’t get to try as much fish as she would have liked but walked with me away from the market. Before we left, she caught a glimpse of something that she couldn’t resist – fish on a stick.  That’s all it took for her to perk up, feel good about eating some fish, and be content moving on to the next part of the day.

View of the fish market crowd from above

View from the third-story walkway that crossed over the road with the fish market crowd below and the Tokyo Tower in the background (painted orange and white).

Entrance to the fish market

The other entrance, appropriately marked with giant fish for everyone to see.

Fish-on-a-stick

Fish-on-a-stick! Minced fish wrapped in cheese and bacon.

Fish-on-a-stick

Fish-on-a-stick. Just what the dietitian ordered.


A short walk from the fish market are the Hamarikyu Gardens. It’s a big green space located with one side up against the Tokyo Bay and another along the Sumida River. Inside the Gardens, there were a number of flowers like the yellow rapeseed blossoms, a 300-year-old pine, and a traditional tea house in the middle of one of the ponds.

Blossom field in Hamarikyu Gardens

Crossing a bridge to get to the blossom field.

Stopping to smell the flowers

Stopping to smell the flowers.

Rapeseed blossoms with skyscrapers in the background

Rapeseed blossoms with skyscrapers in the background.


Of course we had to stop and get some tea at the tea house. Before entering, we were asked to remove our shoes. We found some space on the floor and sat there while we waited for our tea and sweets to be brought to us. In keeping with tradition, we also spoke very quietly which was kind of a nice change of pace from most public places were used to. There were at least 20 others in the tea house and a majority were speaking in a whisper. The tea house itself had exterior walls made of glass which made for a very scenic experience.

Teahouse in the middle of the pond

Teahouse in the middle of the pond.

Just outside the teahouse

Just outside the teahouse.

View of the scenery from in the teahouse

The view of the scenery behind us from where we were sitting.

Tea and sweets in the teahouse

Our tea and sweets.

Sitting on the floor in the teahouse

Enjoying her tea and sweets in traditional Japanese style: sitting on the floor.

Our next destination was based on a recommendation from the owner/bartender at Zoetrope the night prior, a place called Popeye’s. Popeye’s is a craft beer bar that boasts 70+ beers on tap.

We took a roundabout way to walk there. Rather than a 2-mile direct route we took a 3-ish-mile path that would go by the Imperial Palace. We were underwhelmed, mainly because we thought we would be able to see more than we actually did, and were at Popeye’s around 5pm.

We checked the operating hours before we left to make sure it would be open (since so many places seem to shut down for a few hours in the late afternoon), so when we got there a few minutes after 5 when we thought it opened at 5, and it was already packed, we were a little confused. The hostess said they could seat us at the only open table until 6 when a reservation was coming in. We figured a little time is better than no time so we took it. At some point near 6, a table opened up outside so we were moved out there. As Megs was saying how cold and uncomfortable she was going to be sitting out there, the hostess brought over a blanket for her to use. Between the blanket and her barleywine, Megs was a happy lady.



Iwatekura Beer Oyster Stout

My Iwatekura Beer Oyster Stout and their free side of ham, a potato salad, and lettuce

Love Potion #9 Barleywine

Megs and her Love Potion #9 Barleywine




We headed back to Shinjuku to walk the town one last time before we left the next morning. Apparently on a Saturday night, that town becomes another beast. It was nothing like the quiet streets we had seen every other time we passed through. This time, all the buildings were lit up, there were crowds of people everywhere, it was loud… THIS is what we expected in Tokyo. We walked around looking for a place to eat, being somewhat selective, as usual. After about 20 minutes, one of us started to get hangry. We stopped at one of the next places we saw, despite there not being any English on the menu. We managed to get by pretty well and we enjoyed our meals. On our walk home, the food started to settle in… but not in a good way. The night ended with us both racing for the bathroom.

We still didn’t have hot water on our last morning in the apartment, not that we had time to shower anyway – it was 3:30am and we had to be out the door by 4am to catch our flight. As we were leaving the apartment and heading towards the Shinjuku Station, we were surprised that there were a few others walking the streets, too. It was 4:15am at this point. Were they heading home after partying all night or heading to work (what day is it, again?)?  When we got to the downtown Shinjuku area, the neighborhood was completely lit up and there were people everywhere. Promoters were on street corners pushing After Hours spots. This town was a lot more bumpin than why we saw when we first arrived. Despite the urge to go and grab a late night/early morning drink, we made our way to the station and eventually the airport.

Next stops, Sapporo and snowboarding in Rusutsu!