Back in Japan

I am in Japan for a visit. It is 4 years, almost to the day, since I left after living here for 3 years. I covered a number of my very important to do’s:
– Sushi at Gonpachi
– Ramen
Onsen (spa baths)
Took a visit to Koyasan (Mount Koya), famous for its temples and shrines. We stayed in a temple with monks, called Fukuchi in, tatami floors, no furniture except for a low table with a heater underneath, and one of those massage chairs. Vegetarian meals or “shojin ryori” were served in the room and included about 20 different dishes (who knew fiddlehead fern could be prepared in so many ways), many the consistency of raw egg white, others cubes of aspic shaped like lego, but most of which delicious. Breakfast was pretty much the same as dinner.

Photos from Tibet


Tibet, “Rooftop of the World”, and perhaps one of the most difficult trips I’ve taken. I was overwhelmed, especially by the noises and the smells. In the end, no regrets as the scenery, monasteries, and people were beyond lovely.

All photos taken with a Nikon D80 that my wonderful parents gave me for my birthday.

Don’t go all crazy clicking around, if you start with the first photo, and go in order, it tells the story.


Trip to Tibet

Tomorrow I am leaving for Tibet for 2 weeks. In planning the trip I found these beautiful pictures of Tibet on Flickr and reached out to the photographer. He was kind enough to send me a long email worth of tips and suggestions. My gawd, I love the internet sometimes!

In the last email from my tour operator they imparted this advice, “Keep the happy mood and take it easy, the Acute Mountain illness would be happen more or less. It is very common! So you do not worry more about it!”

Thankfully my bohemian aunt suggested I get a prescription for Diamox for altitude sickness.

10 Places to See Before You Die

The new year is a time for lists. Forget the 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, here is my list of 10 places you must go to.

1. Luang Prabang, Laos, a World Heritage site, is simply the loveliest place on earth. Trust me. Stay at the Villa Santi Hotel (not the resort), rent bikes for $1 outside the hotel, and get up early one morning to stroll amongst a sea of saffron robed monks.

2. Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Stay at the Grand Hotel d’Angkor. Get a guide and driver, you’ll need an air conditioned car to escape to from the heat and the hawkers. Buy something from one of the kids, but don’t haggle if you don’t plan to buy it. Furthermore, ask your conscience do you really want to haggle for 25 cents?

3. Hoi An, Vietnam, another World Heritage site. Make sure you eat some pho and beware of young girls approaching you with, “my auntie has a dress shop, wanna come see?

4. The Forbidden City and the Great Wall, Beijing, China. Nuff said.

5. The terra-cotta warriors, Xi-an, China. If possible don’t overnight in Xi’an.

6. Harajuku girls, Tokyo, Japan. Even long past Gwen Stephani making them famous, they are still sight to see. I never tire of them. They come out on Sunday’s at Harajuku station at about 11am.

7. Omotesando Dori, Tokyo, Japan. Start at Harajuku station and walk the length of Omotesando to the Nezu museum. Along the way on the right is Louis Vuitton where the Japanese stand in line to buy bags. Past Omotesando crossing/Aoyama Dori, stop at Prada, a must see for the Herzog and de Meuron architecture. Bape Exclusive is behind Prada to the right. Also take a look at the Nezu gardens, but not the museum itself. I lived across from the Nezu when I lived in Japan.

8. The Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey. Huge and illuminated in blue light, simply the most impressive space I have ever seen. My only non-Asian pick.

9. The Four Seasons Chiang Mai, Thailand, the best hotel experience I’ve ever had. Visit the hill tribes while your at it. I purchased a headdress from an Akha hill tribeswoman, something no one should be without.

10. OPTIONAL: The long necked Karen near Mae Hong Son, Thailand. The women of the Karen hill tribe wear brass rings to elongate their necks. Some say exploitive, others a tourist trap. I found them beautiful and gentle. Use you own moral compass.

10 days in Vietnam…

…by the numbers:
motorcycle rides offered: 583
motorcycle rides taken: 0
cyclo rides offered: 58
cyclo rides taken: 1
fender-benders observed: 6
fender-benders observed leading to a fist fight: 1
taxis taken only simply to avoid the hazard of crossing the street: 15
hawkers selling books: 23
books bought: 0
maximum % discount haggled for on souvenirs: 40%
rolls of film taken: 3
children begging for food whilst munching on pickles: 1
begging children munching on pickles given money: 0
handicap/mine victims begging: 4
handicap/mine victims given money: 4
meals eaten in restaurants that can only be referred to “cockroach cafes”: 2
meals eaten in restaurants where the bill amounted to more than the average Vietnamese earns in a month: 3
bowls of pho eaten: 12
cheapest bowl of pho eaten: 12,000 dong (~$.75)
most expensive bowl of pho eaten: 18,000 dong (~$1.15)