Friday, July 23, 2010

Reminiscing about Japan

I have many fantastic memories of my trip through Asia, but I must say that Japan is one of the most interesting and weird places I've ever been. Here are a few videos of random stuff...

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Shinjuku: Love and Peace, Mother F*^%ker

24 March - 8th of April 2010
Keeping in line with my blogging style, I'm a few weeks behind on my stories. In the meantime I've already been back in Amsterdam for over a week now, but, like sushi, the stories of Japan are still very fresh in my mind.

Laen was already waiting for me at the airport, he had arrived just a few hours before from Amsterdam. After being in a heatwave for almost 6 weeks, it took me some time to get used to the cold and rainy Japanese weather, but luckily I still had some garments left from my Transsiberian adventure.

Japan is fantastically, scrumptiously, beautifully delicious and inspiring. The first thing you notice about Japan is how organized and clean everything is, there's not even a rubbish-bin in sight, because they expect you to take your rubbish home with you and recycle.

The first few nights we stayed in Shinjuku, a lovely characteristic little area in Tokyo just on the border of the gay district. There are 3 hightlights of Shinjuku I'd like to mention (I can't mention it all, there's just so much!).

First of all: Isetan departmentstore, basementfloor, fooddepartment: WOW! The escalator rolls you down onto a floor full of food, everything is beautiful: the pastries, the sushi, the roasts, the sweets, the vegetables. But if you look really close, you see that these little pieces of artwork are actually made of plastic! Very hard to tell, except from the fact that it all looks too fresh and delicious to be true. In the fridges under the plastic food, the real food is waiting, looking (almost) just as beautiful as the fake stuff, and of course much tastier! We spent many a rainy afternoon in there choosing our treats of choice to be eaten in our hotelroom...

Number 2: In Shunjuku you can also find the Golden-Gai, this is an area of apx. 300 x 300 m's, consisting of over 250 tiny little bars. Each bar is 10m2, can seat about 5 people and has it's own style, may it be a rock-bar, Spanish tapas bar, Whiskey bar, anime-fanatics-bar, you name it, they have it. And in all the bars: the toilets are immaculate (the amazingly clean toilets in Japan have left an impression with me, I'll probably mention them a few more times). Our favourite bar must be "Love and Peace, Mother fucker". The name says it all, it's a cute, friendly little bar but with a bit of attitude. The first time we were there Yuni, the owner, took us to her brothers gay karaoke bar, just down the road from our hotel. That morning, in the land of the rising sun, we didn't see the sun rise, we were singing along to Madonna drinking Shoushou and greentea cocktails with the locals.

Number 3: the characteristic little Japanese restaurants where not many tourists dare to enter, because they serve food like yakitori of pigs' intestines and the rawest fish and seafood you can imagine. But being with Laen, who is willing to try and actually likes almost everything, we ended up in these places, and I was pleasantly surprised, almost everything was fingerlicking good. When you enter, all the staff shout "WELCOME!" (or whatever it is they shout, but you can't slip inside unnoticed), you stand around the bar, which is actually also the kitchen, steam coming from the hotplates, grilled smells all around you, Japanese bandanas on their heads, sharp knives chopping, men in business suits, warm sake in your hand and tasty food till midnight, it was hard to leave... Sometimes I wish the Vulcano in Iceland errupted sooner, we could have been stuck there for quite a while!

More to follow...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

One day in Kuala Lumpur


23 March 2010

Life is good...

13 February - 21 March 2010
On Koh Lanta I stayed in a little bungalow, shaded by bambooplants and trees, just off the beach, owned by a crazy muslim guy, Mr Hutyee Boat. He wears a cloth as pants which resembles a big diaper, a turband wrapped around his head, he has a longish grey beard, consisting of maybe 20 hairs and long dangly legs. His English is made up out of about 20 words: Have, don't have, you, me, good, eat, cheapcheap, motobike, samesame, yes, no, no problem, book ticket with me, and so on... somehow I still manage to have whole conversations with him.

He lives with his wife in the middle of all the bungalows in a little bamboo hut without walls. His grandkids run all over the place and laugh and shout and cry and jump on their granddad. "SAP! How your day?" He shouts when I walk past. "COME DRINK COFFEE!" or "HAVE DINNER WITH US!" It's great, very welcoming, and that all for a great price (only 8 euros a night)

My hut is behind another resort and there are more poor travelbums like me who are here for a few weeks (or months or years), not able to leave because it's just so damn relaxing and cheap and chilled out and gezellig. We all hang out at the bar, the small group (apx. 10 of us) consisting of many nationalities, ages (15 months to 60 years old) and genders (males, females and babies).

In the morning the sea is still pretty high, but at around lunch time it recedes about 10-15 meters, revealing many big rocks (great snorkeling in the morning!) and leaving behind shells and pieces of coral. Around this time I usually go up to the bamboo-hut-restaurant and order my spicy green mango, cashewnut and shrimp salad and a Thai Ice tea. After lunch, back into the sea for a dip (not really refreshing, but luke warm), and lie under my parasol to read another few chapters of my book, or another chapter of: "French in 40 lessons!" At around 17.00 I stroll back to my bamboohut for a shower (lukewarm, heated by the sun) and maybe a drink and a chat with Mr. Hutyee.

The sun sets at around 18.30 with a stunning reflection over the sea and rocks, that's when everybody gets together after doing their things all day (snorkeling, swimming, sunbathing, getting a massage, scootering around the island), we listen to "what a wonderful world" by Louis and drink a Chang beer or ask Mark, the Dutch bartender, to try out a new cocktail on us.

Afterwards we have dinner in the neighbourhood or at the bamboo-hut-restaurant on the beach (with a group, or sometimes just by yourself, no problem). Delicious food, but the kitchen is tiny, so it takes forever, but hey, who's in a rush? At around 22.00 everyone starts getting tired and heads off to bed, to get some rest for the next day of doing all I just mentioned above... At night the wind picks up like crazy and blows leaves in through my open (but attatched) bathroom at the back, making the musquito-net wave in the wind. I was getting used to it in the end, so it was actually pretty relaxing.

Sometimes there are parties on the beach. I went to a Reggae party on the beach next door (Klong Kohn Beach), I found out that Thais are great at Reggae! And they look the part too: big afros and dreads, holding a banana-leaf cigarette in their hand which looks very much like a joint. I had no idea that the Thais are so cool. It was a good night, listening to a live reggaeband with sand between my toes, a beer in 1 hand and a cigarette in the other..."We're jammin',we're jammin', jammin' all through the night"

Ankie came to Koh Lanta aswell for 3,5 weeks, that was great! Some of the friends I had made were already leaving soon, so the company was welcome. We had a great time, discovering "Relaxbay", it was a really relaxed bay, rented scooters, chilled out, had good dinners, read many books, went to a muslim wedding, played yahtzee, got massages, went on a snorkel trip, celebrated my 31st birthday, and went on a few days trip down south to HatYai and another island called Koh Lipe.

Koh Lipe was beautiful, a proper bounty island with white sand and turquoise water and fantastic snorkeling. We were astonished by how much sealife we could see around all the coral, fields and gardens of beautiful coral. Looking at all the fish go by, I now understand where they get the designs for all the new Nike Air Max, all the vibrant colours designs and shapes, I wish we could have taken pictures! Our last night on Koh Lipe we sat on the beach with a beer in our hand, feet in the sand and listening to a live Thai Ska Bigband playing reggae and ska, another one of those happy moments...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Racing through Thailand

8 - 13 February 2010
I've been in Thailand now already for a few weeks, to save money I haven't been up to much, which suits me fine, but nevertheless, here's a little summary of what I've been upto...

Chiang Mai
I met up with Phil, Ian and Jim in the minivan from the bordercrossing from Laos. This was the cleanest mini-van I've been in for months. I felt kind of bad that I was wearing my dirtiest clothes to travel, which I always did while traveling through the rest of SE Asia. In Chiang Mai we stayed a Julies Guesthouse for next to nothing (1,50 euro).

Phil and Ian had met Rob and Linda in Vang Vieng (TUUUUBING!!!) a few weeks ago, and planned to do a one night trek in Chiang Mai. Me being a pro after so many treks, and liking the company of my new found friends, I decided to join in.

The trek brought us to a Burmese minority village where the women where rings around their necks, they're called longnecks. We also did an elephant-trek, a walk through the jungle and stayed at a Thai village where the kids danced and sung for us around the fire at night. The best thing was sleeping next to the fireplace under the stars and watching the satellites, shooting stars and the milkyway slide by until the sun came up. It was an ok trek, but compared to Laos and Cambodia, pretty touristy. The Burmese minority village was one big souvenirshop, and the village where we slept wasn't as remote as the steep and challenging hike made it out to be, we found out the next day that there was a road just on the otherside.

Bangkok
From Chiang Mai, for old times sake, I took the train down to Bangkok. I wasn't really prepared for the heat in such a big city, so although there was loads I wanted to see, I didn't get around to doing much of it. Tip: all the shopping malls in Bangkok (of which there are many, and they are HUGE) have airconditioned cinema's on the top floor! I-max, 3-D, pop-corn, you name it, they have it... That's where I spent my 2 days in Bangkok I'm afraid, I'll have to go back sometime and do some more proper sightseeing.

Ko Phi Phi
From Bangkok I took the bus to Krabi, where I would take the boat to Ko Phi Phi. But getting to the harbour, all the 18-year-old-boozing-it-up-at-10-am-party-kids, were the last thing I was looking for, and all the places to stay turned out to be pretty expensive. So on the spot I changed my ticket to go to Ko Lanta, a much quieter island I had heard. That's where I spent the last 5 weeks...

Friday, March 19, 2010

Some more pics

Still working on the tekst, but in the meantime, see on the right of this page for some more pics!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

ZZZZZZZZZZZZIP! WHOOP WHOOP WHOOP!

5 - 7 February 2010
My last Laos adventure takes place high up in the canopies and between the valleys of Bokeo Nature Reserve. This is not only called The Gibbon Experience because you zipline like monkeys between the trees, but because, if you're lucky, you also get to see and hear real gibbons living in the forests, and we were lucky!

There are 7 treehouses to choose from spread out over the nature reserve. It's about an hour hike up to the first zipline, which takes you to treehouse number one. After a brief explanation about your harnass you're free to go. The first time is pretty scary, the treehouse is only about 30 m's away, but you're also about 40 m's up in the air, what an exhilirating moment!

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZIP! And you're across. It took me a few times to get used to and finally look at my surroundings, how surreal! Being so high (sometimes over 100 m's over the valley!), ziplining like a cable-car, except the cable-car is you! No electricity helping you out, just gravity and making your body as aero-dynamic as possible (it happened a few times that I didn't make it all the way across, so I had to pull myself along with my hands. Not recommended if you're scared of heights, but great for your upper-arms and abs!)

Our treehut is the third one we go to, we have the best view of all the treehuts (if I say so myself), 45 m's high, sleeps 5, a little kitchen and a bathroom with shower and toilet on the side. Sitting on the toilet you can see for miles over the valleys, toilet with a view! It's a squatty and you can see "your business" dropping through the hole all the way down to the ground. Luckily no paths cross underneath...

We stayed here for 2 nights. The views, sunsets and sunrises from the huts were amazing! In the mornings we were woken up by the WHOOP WHOOP WHOOPING of the Gibbons. What a sound they make! There are about 7 groups of gibbons in the park (each consisting of about 7-10 monkies), every morning they sing to each other to check where their boundaries are for the day. The first day, right in front of us we could see them climbing the trees. The second day they were even closer and 2 of the girls from our treehouse got to see them. WHOOP WHOOP WHOOP! Apart from the monkies, the walks and the views, the zipling was the other highlight, wow, what a feeling! Definitly recommended for everyone who visits Laos!

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