Saturday, 2 June 2012

Home (May 26...)

Thank you so much for reading my blog! I knew from the statistics that I had faithful followers and this really encouraged me to continue writing. I hope you were able to participate in my trip with all its ups and downs and that it was entertaining.

A trip of this length is not a normal holiday, that’s for sure. In two or three weeks you will probably not risk being in a bad mood or even getting depressed but if you are travelling for longer, there are good and bad days, like always in life. If you are travelling alone, some days can be really lonely and this shouldn’t be underestimated. Some days you are full of energy and others you’d prefer to stay the whole day in the guest house without doing anything. That’s why having a nice guest house with the possibility to hang out and relax without being disturbed is so important. You need a substitution for the couch you have back home! The best is having a hammock in a nice garden to substitute your couch. The flipside of the coin is that then it’s very difficult to leave (and travelling is actually what you want). The next important factor to reduce the risk of a “bad” day is meeting the “right” people. Normally in a nice guest house, you will automatically meet the right people. Imagine you went to an expensive hotel because you could afford it. You would never be able to meet people in a business hotel without any common hang-out area. Even if there was a common area, there wouldn’t be many people to hang-out! I spent three days in a real hotel and met no one.

I sometimes planned my travel itinerary according to the possibility of meeting people. I did that when I returned to Pai and also when I returned to Melaka for instance. Meeting people and sharing activities can be more important than the visited sights themselves because doing things together is more fun than being alone – that’s not a big surprise. My biggest concern before starting the trip was being alone for very long. Luckily this was not the case. I was alone when I wanted but I also knew where to find companionship.

People now ask me how it was. That’s really a difficult question. Some things were really overwhelming, amazing or stunning but I don’t like these adjectives so much. “Interesting” sounds boring but maybe that’s the word which describes best what I saw and experienced. The Japanese toilets for example are definitely not overwhelming (at least not for me) but they are very interesting. It’s more these little things which make travelling an experience and not so much the world-famous sights. Not because they are not interesting (or overwhelming or amazing or whatever) but rather because you spend comparably little time there. Again, who you meet is very important. I wouldn’t have enjoyed Angkor like I did without the nice companionship and this is true also for many other sights.

Now, the question of all questions: Would I do it again? Are you kidding?

If you want to contact me for whatever question please get in touch with me via Facebook or eMail. It has been a great help for me knowing that there were people supporting me! Thank you very much!

P.S.: Who read my blog in Russia? I would really like to know that J

Friday, 25 May 2012

Sepang KLIA (May 25)

As I decided to go to Japan spontaneously, I had to come back to KL from where my final flight goes home tomorrow. I arrived early this morning at 5:45am and 25 minutes ahead schedule (that was the pilot’s and Air Asia’s pride because they stressed it several times). As you can guess Air Asia’s low cost seats were not really designed to offer a great sleeping experience to the passenger, although I paid extra for the so called hot seats which offer more leg room. In my case taking any other seats would be impossible. I realized that in Air Asia’s Airbus A330 they put 9 seats in a row instead of the normal 8 seats. Thank God I have lost weight on my trip, maybe I wouldn’t have fitted J. For my last day I reserved a hotel at the airport because I didn’t want to go for one day to my “favourite” KL and then stand up at 4am in the morning to take the bus to the airport. At the hotel, they really made me pay 60 RM (15 euro) extra for early check-in (what cheek!) but I paid them back by raiding the breakfast buffet. I changed breakfast from tomorrow to today because tomorrow I wouldn’t have had enough time to fill my stomach with all the wonderful food. They had all the Western breakfast stuff, even including an omelette station. They also had fresh fruit – I don’t know when I had fresh fruit the last time!

Now I’m sitting in my hotel room after a long nap and start to realize that it’s over! I travelled for 132 days – 42 days in Thailand, 2 days in Myanmar, 20 days in Laos, 8 days in Cambodia, 48 days in Malaysia (whereof 30 days in West-Malaysia and 18 days in Borneo) and 12 days in Japan. In the last couple of days people have asked me how I feel with regard to the fact that the trip comes to an end. My sincere answer is that I don’t feel anything. I’m neither happy nor sad. What I know is that it is time to go home. I couldn’t have travelled for another 4 months or so like other travellers because I think that at one point of time I’d not be able to enjoy it any more like I should be enjoying it. That is due to the fact that the longer you travel, the more it becomes routine. I experienced that sometimes that I was not in the mood to travel and I just wanted to stay for a longer time at one point without doing anything. That’s why I stayed in Pai for 10 days after travelling in Laos and Cambodia. I think travelling in these two countries was the most strenuous part of the trip.

Some people also asked me which country I liked most. It’s an extremely difficult question because I think it’s impossible to compare a country like Cambodia with Japan, just to make an example. It’s easier to compare rather places than countries (because every country has good and bad places). The big highlights for me were: Umphang in Thailand (because the place was unspoiled and the people amazing), Pai in Thailand (the best place to hang out, meet people and party), Luang Nam Tha in Laos (because of the trekking), 4.000 islands in Laos (the place was so beautiful that even the unfriendliness of the people couldn’t destroy the good impression), Angkor in Cambodia (self-explaining), Melaka in Malaysia (because of the guest house, the people, the food and the interesting mix of cultures), Perhentian Islands in Malaysia (because of the paradise beaches and the diving), Bako National Park in Malaysian Borneo (because of the stunning jungle), Kyoto in Japan (because of the temples and the “photo shootings”) and Fujiyoshida in Japan (self-explaining when you see pictures). If you forced me to select only one single place from the list above, I would probably say that Mount Fuji was my favourite place. I was really freaking out when I saw that mountain! Although there are two places in Laos on the list, maybe Laos was the country I was most disappointed about. I think partly this is due to the fact that my expectations were huge (the famous expectation-reality ratio!) but namely because the nature was not as unspoiled as I expected (not mentioning the littering) and because the people were strange. I don’t say they were unfriendly because this would probably be unfair but their indifference and general attitude was really bothering me. If you want to refresh, you can read my entry on 4.000 islands.

Next week I will reincorporate into normal life (whatever that is). It definitely involves working so job offers are very welcome! What I am really looking forward to is seeing family and friends, the German summer, the barbecues, the good beer and of course the upcoming European Championships. What a surprise – you can have this all together: Watching football while having barbecue and beer with family and friends in summer! Voilà!

I will close this blog with a final entry from home, so please don’t “disconnect” yet, only one more thing!

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Tokyo (May 20-24)

Tokyo holds two superlatives: It’s the world’s biggest and also the world’s most expensive city. With regard to the latter, I don’t see a big difference to other places in Japan. I think food for instance is even a bit cheaper. With regard to the size, I can definitely confirm that Tokyo is very big. A subway ride within central Tokyo can easily take 40 minutes from one point to another, and this is just the centre. I guess that people working in Tokyo and living in the suburbs have to calculate up to 2 hours one-way every day. The good thing about Tokyo is that it is very organized (like Japan in general) and the public transport is very efficient. In fact, if you want to party, then you have a problem. The subway stops between around midnight and 5am. There are no night buses or any other substitution for the subway (like we know it from cities in Europe), meaning that you are forced to take a taxi. I heard that some Internet cafés have private rooms you can rent on an hourly basis to bridge the time until the subway runs. This is obviously way cheaper than taking a taxi.

I arrived in Tokyo on Sunday afternoon, spending the rest of the day hanging out in the guest house. On Monday I did a large tour through different quarters of Tokyo, starting in Shinjuku, the neighbourhood with the largest train station. I wanted to see how people are being pushed into the overcrowded subway coaches but at 10:30am I was too late because rush hour was already over. Then I went to Shibuya with its world famous pedestrian crossing. Back in the guest house I had an afternoon nap before heading to the Tokyo Tower (it looks similar to the Eiffel Tower) from where I watched a spectacular sunset over Tokyo. I waited until it got completely dark to see the city’s skyline illuminated and took some great pictures.

Tuesday was a horrible cold and rainy day and I did nothing except from having dinner with my room mate Jason from the US. We went to an Indian restaurant close to our guest house, which was amazingly good. On Wednesday the weather was good again and I went to some other neighbourhoods I hadn’t seen before. In the guide books they say that the quarters have different styles and characters but to be honest, for me Tokyo looks pretty similar everywhere. To see something really different, I went back to Shinjuku in the evening. It is also the city’s amusement centre and all buildings have illuminated advertisements. That looks pretty cool. I also walked through the red light district and found out that most of the amusement places advertise their “services” by showing girls in school uniform on big signboards. Obviously this must be the local taste... It’s also strange that I didn’t see any female prostitutes. Instead I saw several dozens of very young dressed-up men waiting for... for what? I don’t know how Tokyo has organized this business (I am sure it is well organized like everything in Japan!) but maybe females are working inside and males outside. Maybe they want to protect females from the weather, really thoughtful! After rejecting several very clear offers from street touts, I went to a sushi bar to have dinner. I looked quite normal from outside and the prices seemed reasonable. When they gave me the menu, I realized that the prices were for one piece of sushi and not two (like normal), so the whole dinner turned out to be very pricy. At least it was very good and I had some nice interaction with my neighbours. Their English knowledge was close to non-existent but using hands and feet we were able to communicate a little bit. I think what they understood was that I am from Germany and that I like Japan and Sushi. The latter could have been guessed inside a Sushi bar!

I am now sitting in the lobby of my guest house and have to bridge the time until my flight departs late in the evening. I will fly back to Kuala Lumpur and from there to back home on Saturday. It’s unbelievable but my time is almost over! More about that tomorrow...

With regard to Japan, I can say that it was definitely worth it coming here. It’s an amazing country with a very rich culture. The best are its people. I think I have never been to a country with a better service than Japan. All the locals I have met were amazingly friendly and tried to help me with everything. They have so good manners and are so polite, it’s really unbelievable! Details are very important for Japanese people and I think that this attitude is the reason for the country’s wealth and success. They always try to make things a little bit better and never lose their patience – admirable!

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Fujiyoshida (May 18-19)

The Shinkansen ride from Kyoto to Mishima was really great. If travelling could always be that comfortable! There is a flipside of the coin and you probably guess what. In Japan you should not think too much about your daily expenses because it probably prevents you from enjoying this fantastic country. Anyway it’s not the Japanese’s fault but rather the European’s that the Euro is almost on an all-time low to the Yen.

But let’s come back to the train ride. At the end of the trip the tourists of my coach suddenly stood up and pressed their noses to the windows on the left side. I first didn’t realize what was going on but then I saw it and it gave me the creeps! Mount Fuji appeared, one of the most amazing mountains I have ever seen! Then at the latest I knew that going to Japan was definitely the right thing! I got off the train at Mishima station from where I took a local bus to Fujiyoshida on the northern side of the mountain. The views were absolutely stunning! In Fujiyoshida I went to my guest house where I was supposed to sleep in a 10-bed dorm room. To my big surprise I was the only guest, meaning that I had the whole room for my own (that implies great sleep!). Today the situation hasn’t changed although it is weekend.

I got up at 7 this morning and left the guest house at 7:20 without having breakfast. The weather was fantastic and views were amazing. I wanted to arrive at the viewpoint as soon as possible in case the weather changes. Fortunately that was not the case. I had the whole pagoda-mountain viewpoint for myself and was able to take amazing pictures. Later in the morning I took the bus to the 5th station up the mountain (at 2.300m). Who would have thought that I had to use my hard shell jacket and fleece another time? At least this gives me the good feeling of not carrying this stuff for nothing! The landscape views from up there were nice but not breathtaking. You could see the snow covered cap but I would say that the mountain looks a lot more spectacular from the distance.

Back to town I had late lunch in a sushi bar and then took a long nap. My timing was perfect as it began to get cloudier in the late afternoon. This was by far the best day I had in Japan so far. It was a lonely day but having the mountain, I don’t need anybody else!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Kyoto (May 16-17)

The sight-seeing tour in Kyoto was exhausting but worth the effort. My first impression from this city was a little bit disappointing. I thought it was smaller (now I know it has 1.5 million inhabitants) and with less concrete. Nevertheless Kyoto is one of the most interesting cities in Japan from a cultural point of view with countless temples, castles and gardens. Especially the gardens are beautiful (I guess even more in spring) and they make the temples look very picturesque. Yesterday I did a walking tour in the afternoon, visiting the temples which are more or less close to the guest house and today I purchased a day-pass for the bus to see the monuments which are farer away. The sight-seeing is a bit annoying as distances between one place and another are substantial. The weather these days was fantastic with warm but not hot temperatures and sun all day (and with a nice smell of spring in the air). I really enjoy this climate without having to sweat all day long (as happened before in the tropical countries).

Yesterday the photo-shootings with kids continued (4 shoots in total). It’s cool to get some group photos with Japanese kids for my own photo album but it became a bit annoying to attract their attention wherever I go. It was like running the gauntlet for me! Like in Nara, the temples here are crowded with school classes from every corner in Japan and sometimes it can be difficult even to find a place from where you can take a picture.

The guest house is very comfortable (even sleeping in a dorm room) but not as family-run as the guest houses I stayed in before. It’s more like a perfectly organized hostel machine. There are people here of all ages and nationalities but it is harder to hook up with people.

Tomorrow I will have my first long train ride to Mishima, from where I will take a bus to Mount Fuji. I am really looking forward to taking the Shinkansen train and seeing this famous volcano!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Nara (May 14-15)

On Monday I arrived in Nara on a beautiful spring day. Taking the regional train from Osaka was very easy. Yes, I can confirm that it’s true – trains arrive exactly to-the-minute, I proved it personally! After leaving my bags at the guest house I started my walk through the huge park with all its temples and gardens. For me the most interesting part was observing hundreds or even thousands of school kids in their uniforms. Someone told me they come from everywhere in Japan to visit the temples. Obviously these kids have the task to talk to tourists and deploy their English knowledge with the help of a small booklet. In fact, the most important part of the interview is not the questions but rather the photo shooting at the end. I seem to be an interesting target for the kids because of my outward appearance. I didn’t see any other tourists being interviewed.

In Nara I had amazing lunch (Udon noodles in Japanese style curry) and in the evening I went to my first Japanese Sushi bar. I was surprised that it it almost identical to the Sushi bars we have in Europe. At least they don’t cheat on us and sell food which is not authentic like it happens with the Chinese restaurants.

Yesterday the weather was very bad. In the morning I continued the sightseeing tour but I had to stop in the early afternoon as it began to rain heavily. I spent the rest of the day sleeping. In the nights I don’t get a very good sleep because of the dorm rooms, the only affordable option in Japan.

The evening turned out to be very nice. I met Tommy from the US who has been working for four years in a Japanese company in Tokyo. He told me very interesting stuff about the working culture and living in Japan in general. We went to a Sushi bar in the evening (the same that I had been to before) and this time they had a special promotion offer for draft beer. Actually I wouldn’t have noticed because of the language barrier but thanks to him we found out. The beer was amazingly cheap (105 Yen, normally it’s three to four times more), so we took advantage. We continued drinking in the guest house where we also met a French couple, a guy from the Czech Republic and other Japanese people. It was a nice group and we could have continued until late. Unfortunately in Japan the rules are strict so we had to stop the “conversation” at 23:30.

What really impresses me in Japan is that everything has a sense, even if this sense is not visible for us as Europeans at first sight. One example: In the Sushi bar there were plastic baskets on the floor. I asked Tommy what they are for and he told me that they are for putting your bag inside, so it won’t get dirty on the floor. Amazing! Someone is thinking for you, similar to staying with mum.

This morning I continued to Kyoto with hangover. Just this: The photo shootings with me continued!

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Osaka (May 12-13)

The difference between Japan and all the other countries I have been to in Asia so far is that Japanese are able to invent a toilet with integrated water tap. It’s not a revolutionary invention but at least someone invested some brain power. In other countries some guest house rooms didn’t even have a hook at the wall to hang up a towel. This is definitely equal to zero brain power.

Yesterday I was lucky to catch one of the last trains from Kansai airport to the city because the flight was one hour delayed. I left the plane running to be in a front position of the immigration queue. It was a good decision to push to the front because the queue turned out to be huge. If I hadn’t been able to catch the train, I would have had to pay a real fortune for a taxi. Someone told me that in the vicinity of more than 100 euro! Unfortunately when I arrived in the city, the subway was already suspended, so I had to pay 20 euro for a taxi to my guest house. Thank you Air Asia! No wonder that the taxis are so expensive, the drivers are wearing suit and tie and the cars are real limousines. I felt ashamed to put my dirty backpack on top of the white seat cover. Ok you get a bit more for your money but do I really need a TV (in Japanese) in the taxi? I think only millionaires would be able to afford watching a whole movie inside the taxi.

The guest house is really nice. The rooms are Japanese style with bamboo floor and there is a common area with free Wi-Fi, bar, etc. The showers and toilets are immaculate! Yesterday night I met a German guy and he seemed to be overwhelmingly happy to meet another compatriot. He told me that he hadn’t met any German since he started travelling two weeks ago. That is really impressive because in other Asian countries you meet Germans every day. In fact, the traveller scene here is very different. There are only few real backpackers and the proportion of Westerners is way smaller than in other countries. It’s not surprising because the money you spend here in week or little more would be enough to travel a whole month in Thailand or Cambodia.

Osaka itself is a big and modern city. There are only few real sights such as the castle but for me the travel experience is simply walking around, trying the amazing food and observing the people. There is so much to discover! Today, in one of the pedestrian streets I was interviewed by a Japanese TV channel. They were asking the typical questions such as how long I have been in Japan, if I like it, etc. I think they wanted me because I look so strange to them J. Today the streets were quite empty because it’s Sunday. I had the impression that half of the city is gambling. They have gambling halls with slot machines everywhere and this seems to be one of the favourite weekend activities.

The weather today was very good but it’s quite cool – day temperatures of around 20°C and 12°C at night. Compared to the places I have been to before, this is very, very cold!

First day conclusion: I like it! Tomorrow I will head to Nara, only 40 km east of Osaka. It’s a world heritage site with a lot of gardens and temples.