I WENT TO TOKYO AND IT WAS THE BEST EVER

Ever since I was 12 years old, I wanted to go to Japan. This is 100% because I was a total little nerd who loved anime and tried to teach herself Japanese and thought everything was kawaii and I was totally awkward and no one told me– but I wanted to go since then.

Overtime, my love for anime and manga became much more low-key (excluding Sailor Moon– I will love Sailor Moon with reckless abandon until the day I die,) and as I learned more about the history of Japan and the eccentricities of Tokyo, my longing to visit only grew.

Visiting Tokyo while on my adventure in S.E. Asia was not anticipated. While I was sitting in a coffee shop in Manila, I decided to book my flight home from Cambodia, which was six-weeks away at that point. The flight home from Siem Reap was crazy long and crazy expensive, so I looked into alternatives, and for shits and giggles I figured I’d see how much it would cost for me to hop over to Tokyo, then hop home.

It was SO much cheaper. Then I figured, hm, well, what if I took a long layover? After doing the math, a two-day layover in Tokyo was STILL CHEAPER than my flying straight home from Cambodia. So, I booked it, and then spent the remaining two months of my trip excited for the end of it so I could go to Tokyo.

And my GOD.

I LOVED EVERY SINGLE SECOND OF IT.

I arrived at Haneda Airport and took the airport bus to Ikebukuro District, where my hostel was– The Sakura Hotel. If you’re a budget traveler like me, I HIGHLY recommend this place! You pay by the bunk, and the bathrooms are so clean and I was very comfortable. The restaurant attached to the hotel is also very good, and I met some amazing people while hanging out there.

But anyway– on to my crazy two-day adventure in Tokyo!

The first day I was there, I ran off to Harajuku, the famous fashion district known for its youthful clothes and trends. There are lolita shops, vintage stores, one-hundred-yen stores, accessory stands… It was delightful and the energy was high and light and I left smiling, because this was all very much my a e s t h e t i c.

I also had lunch at the Monster Cafe, which was super cute. Food was meh, but I went for the atmosphere, so I wasn’t disappointed. However, the Monster Cafe was the most expensive thing I did in my two days there, and it cost me around $40. So, if you’re on a tight budget and not wanting to splurge, maybe dodge the Monster Cafe this trip.

After my adorable lunch, I browsed the thrift stores in the area then headed over to Shibuya crossing. My first stop was to see Hachiko, the Goodest Boy That Ever Was, because if you’re going to go Tokyo, you simply have to go see Hachiko.

I mean, the train station has PAWS THAT LEAD YOU IN THE DIRECTION OF HIS STATUE LIKE COME ON

(I think the reason I may love Tokyo so much is because it is so EXTRA and that’s like, me as a person, so.)

I ended up playing photographer at the statue for a good 15 minutes. So many people wanted their family photo, and I just kept offering, because honestly I was in a good mood and didn’t want to leave Hachiko.

Also, this was probably the cutest I ever looked the entire time I was traveling, because Tokyo had beautiful 80 degree weather and not 100 degree weather like everywhere else I had been, and also, I went to Harajuku that morning and I was NOT about to look like a scrub.

After seeing the best dog ever, I crossed the famous Shibuya Crossing and went to the Starbucks on the corner, which has the best view of the craziness that is crossing the street in the busiest intersection in the country. Apparently, everyone knows this Starbucks is the best spot, because I had to legit elbow my way in to see. But, it was fun, and I was just giggling the entire time because its so ridiculous that it’s fun watching people cross a damn street.

I even left the Starbucks and found a tree to sit under at street-level, so I could keep people-watching until I finished my coffee.

Phew– busy day so far, but I WAS NOT DONE. After people watching, I went to Nanako Broadway. Now, Nanako Broadway wasn’t even on my radar, but my best friend was living vicariously through this trip, and told me I “MUST GO TO NANAKO BROADWAY” because they had vintage anime stuff. So, I did, and it was delightful.

The place was relatively empty, save for a few tourists like me, and I think the best part was when a teenaged-American-boy bumped into me and said “Gomen’nasai!” with the most confident, terrible pronunciation and I was just so delighted because kid, you do you. Follow your otaku-dreams.

I also hit up all the Sailor Moon gachupon machines in the building. No shame.

I ended my first day in Tokyo in Shinjuku. I waited until after sunset to visit this district, because I knew the lights would look hella cool. Now, when I went to Shinjuku, I got completely lost on purpose. I just picked a direction and started walking, and I came across great scenes. One the staples of Shinjuku was the 18+ clubs/movie theatres.

Because I was just wandering around, I accidentally came across Piss Alley– a charming name, I know, but it’s a small, narrow alley with Japanese street food served at counters, like you see in movies and such. A lot of places had signs that stated NO PHOTOS but I found a place where there wasn’t a sign and quickly took a shot of some businessmen eating their yakitori.

The following day I had another early start, because there was still so much to see in Tokyo! I figured day one was more about contemporary culture, so day two would be more traditional (which ended up having some exceptions, as you’ll see later on.)

The morning began at Ueno Park, where I walked around for hours, sitting every now and then to people-watch and write in my notebook. I found a shrine, and I snapped one of my favorite photos of all time of a man praying. He’s glowing— I didn’t do anything to that photo to make it happen. Maybe it’s the light bouncing off of his shirt, or maybe its something spiritual– who knows, but I love it.

I walked around the pond to get back to the train station, and I cooed at the turtles and the koi fish, because I’m that weirdo. No shame.

My tourist-marathon continued as I visited Asakusa, one of the more traditional districts, to visit the famous Senso-ji temple. What was so awesome about this experience was the market that lead the way up to the temple (where they had everything a tourist could want– I definitely got my mother a neat mask and myself a Sailor Saturn plushie– see above declaration that I will love Sailor Moon until my dying day).

A surprise for me was seeing women dressed in yukatas and kimonos. Some young ladies were even kind enough to let me take a photo of their group!

Now, remember when I said day two was traditional with an exception? That exception is Akihabara, which is the district where anime-loving-nerds pilgrimage to. Since I’m an anime-loving nerd, I went.

It was super fun, even though I don’t recognize any of the now-popular animes (my day was when Fullmetal Alchemist and like Inuyasha and Fruits Basket were the bees knees,) but what I enjoyed the most was the teenagers who were dragging their confused parents around these stores. 10/10.

For my last evening in Tokyo I knew I wanted to see the city from above at sunset. I left Akihabara and went to Minato, to go to the top of the World Trade Center. However, the sun was still relatively high, and I had about 1.5 hours to kill before I wanted to go up, so I did what I always do and just started walking in any old direction. I ended up walking down by the wharf, where I watched ships cruise by and felt the sea breeze.

When I was heading back in the direction of the Trade Center, I ended up in a throng of white-shirt clad business men. The opportunity was too good to pass up with my camera.

Now, I decided to go to the World Trade Center to view the city instead of Tokyo Tower or Tokyo Skytree. The simple reason why was because it was much cheaper, and cost only ¥600, whereas the other places were five times that much. The more complex reason was I wanted the best view possible of Tokyo Tower, because, once again, I am a Sailor Moon weeb.

Plus, it wasn’t crowded at the “Seaside Top” at all. I got there nice and early, walked around (it has a 360 degree viewing platform,) took lots of photos and took a seat by the window and watched the sun-set. I didn’t ever want to leave.

While watching Tokyo fade into purples and blues, I promised myself I would be back.

After my super-long adventure, I went back to the hotel and ended up at a party-table with the owners of the hotel restaurant and a group of tourists from The Netherlands. That’s what happens when you’re a young lady sitting alone– you get adopted and get drinks shoved at you. And then, when they find out you are American, they ask countless questions about Donald Trump.

I responded by chugging an entire beer without breaking eye-contact.

I had a few hours the morning I was to leave, so I got lost in the neighborhood around my hotel. I wanted to keep exploring, but I had a bus to catch, so the last hour I had in Tokyo was spent rushing around like a mad-woman trying to get to my bus stop on time.

The peacefulness of the neighborhood I was staying in was such a great end to an exciting and crazy trip abroad.

When I was researching what to possibly do with only 2 days in Tokyo, I couldn’t find any itineraries I liked, so I made my own. What I liked about mine is everything I did was free, excluding my lunch at the Monster Cafe and the ticket to the top of the World Trade Center. So, if you’re a budget traveler with a short-stay in Tokyo in your future, here is my itinerary, for your consideration!

Day One:

  • Harajuku Shopping District (bright and early!)
  • Lunch at the Monster Cafe
  • Shibuya Crossing (during rush hour because I’m a sadist)
  • Nanako Broadway
  • Shinjuku (at night because the lights are so cool!)

Day Two:

  • Ueno Park (SUPER bright and early!)
  • Asakusa for the Senso-ji Shrine
  • Akihabara
  • Minato/World Trade Center

And that’s the end of my nearly two-month adventure in Asia. It was wild, fam.

Safe Travels and Happy Shooting!

 

Holiday in Cambodia

My short-stay in Siem Reap, Cambodia, was a dream come true.

To start, my main purpose of going there was to see Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is a place I’ve been longing to visit since I was in high school, reading about the sprawling temple complexes, imagining what it must have looked like when it was first constructed in the 12th century.

After a decade since I first learned about it, I finally made it to Cambodia to explore.

A fun little aside– I wasn’t alone on this adventure. My dear friend, Muhammad, joined me, from Singapore. Well, actually, he’s originally from Singapore, but is studying linguistics in Wales, but was back in Singapore to renew his student visa, so he hopped over to Siem Reap to see me and explore.

Oh, and we hadn’t met in person before this– I’ve known Muhammad for roughly 10 years via the Internet, and we became good friends about 2 years ago. You know me, nothing like making epic trips with people I only know from online to test friendships.

I really enjoyed taking photos of him when he wasn’t aware of it– his jungle-explorer get-up was especially fitting for our temple adventures.

It was seriously one of the best things I have ever done. I think I’ve mentioned a bunch of times in previous drabbles that I wanted to be an archaeologist, but ended up as a photographer (which is also an amazing profession, if I do say so!) Learning about all of the temples in the complex and climbing over rocks and cooing over the little monkeys was about as close as I could get to being an archaeologist, but hey, I’ll take it.

After we visited the main temple complex, we then scooted over to Ta Phrom to see the famous trees overtaking the temple structure. Some of you may recognize it from Lara Croft’s Tomb Raider (the older one with Jolie, not the newest one,) and the fun fact about that photo is we had to wait in line to take it.

Ah, tourism.

From Ta Phrom we dragged ourselves because I was low on caffeine skipped on over to the Angkor Thom complex, to see Bayon Temple. Bayon is famous for it’s carved stone faces, which, if you’re a 90s-kid-in-America like me, you’d recognize the Legends of the Hidden Temple vibes coming from here.

I really enjoyed this temple, almost as much as Angkor Wat herself, because we were able to walk around in the ruins. It felt like an ancient maze, and if I get the opportunity to skip around and pretend like I’m an explorer with my little point-and-shoot camera, well, I’m a happy tourist.

We also got iced coffee from a stand nearby, but the vote is out on whether or not that had anything to do with my excitement.

We ended our adventures at the temple complexes by climbing up to Pre Rup, which was situated at the top of a tall hill. Our guide basically pushed us to go watch the sunset from there, but after walking up the hill and waiting about 45 minutes in line to get to the top, Muhammad and I saw all of the people, realized the sun was setting behind the jungle, and decided to leave and go get dinner instead.

The view was still nice though, so I recommend checking it out, but maybe not for sunset because everyone and their mother will be there.

The city of Siem Reap was a different treat. Muhammad and I ended up walking around all over to find the mosque one evening, and then another evening we walked to go get dinner because it was only 3 kilometers away and why not right?

We totally hailed a ride back.

But during our stay, we walked along the river, stumbled into a fruits and vegetable market, found shopping stalls and out-of-place stores. Just a few of my favorite things.

Admittedly, I was easily exhausted in Cambodia. It was probably a combination of the heat and the fact I’d been adventuring for 1.5 months ahead of this, but Muhammad and I spend about half the time we were in Siem Reap napping and watching movies. It was fun. 10/10, highly recommend having a low-energy friend.

If you’re planning on going to Siem Reap (which you should totally do,) make sure you have your shots and your malaria pills, to stay safe and healthy. I recommend getting them before you leave the country– I made the mistake of not doing that and couldn’t get any in Bangkok, so I walked around covered in insect repellent wearing long sleeves and high socks in 100 degree heat. 0/10 do not recommend do not be a dumb ass like me.

As always, Safe Travels and Happy Shooting!

 

Adventures in Thailand: In the Jungle

What do you think of when you hear the word, “jungle”?

I think of a couple of different things. I think about The Jungle Book, with tigers and bears and Mowgli. I think about Tarzan and apes and wildcats. I think about density, heat, unknowns, and stars beyond the canopy.

After visiting Ao Luek Tai in Krabi, I think about huts, cats, mountains, mosquito netting, and adventure.

We stayed at this amazing AirBnB in Krabi, and I cannot recommend this place enough. Our host picked us up from the docks and drove us the 45 minutes to the place, which is a compound of huts. You sleep on the top level, and the bottom level just kinda has a changing room. Toilets are in a separate hut, and showers and sinks in another. And it’s in the jungle, which was super cool in its own way.

Minus the GIANT blue and pink centipede. Nope nope nope.

They had cats and kittens legit everywhere, and I love kitties, so that was awesome. One of the kittens went after the centipede, but then freaked out when it realized how big it was, and then ran away. Smart kitten.

The main spectacular thing was the view I woke up to the mornings I was there:

One afternoon, we went kayaking through a mangrove forest, and it was AWESOME. I wanted to take so many pictures, my cousin got on my case about not helping with the rowing, and we got stuck in the roots a couple of times because of it… Sorry Ashley, I love you!

The nature was stunning, and I could have spent more time in the area, making pictures and enjoying the peace and quiet. We also explored a cave, which is apparently famous in the area for some prehistoric cave drawings. It was super neat-o.

We also spent some time at a construction site– sounds not-fun, but stay with me. Our host has a friend who is building a new Buddhist temple, and they let us explore. I felt like a kid in a candy shop. I mean, it’s not very everyday you visit an under-construction-holy-site. We oftentimes don’t even think of holy places as things that had to be built, even though they obviously had to have been, and there is this tension when walking around the space. I loved every second of it, but my favorite was the Buddhas wrapped up in cloth, waiting to be prayed to.

On our last morning, we visited a jungle pool… a natural, fresh-water pool in the jungle. No other way to describe it besides tell it like it is. There was a natural rock slide, and the water was refreshing and cool. It was a minor thing, but it was a lot of fun regardless. It kinda felt like I was in The Jungle Book, kinda felt like some terrifying snake would come slithering out of someplace and eat me, but y’know. Fun regardless.

If you’re going to southern Thailand and hitting up Ko Phi Phi and Phuket and the area, I recommend making time to go hang-out in the jungle. Just be sure to avoid the centipedes.

Safe Travels and Happy Shooting!

Adventures in Thailand: Down South

The southern tip of Thailand is a beautiful place.

Our adventures began in Phuket, at Parong Beach. We stayed at a small hotel-like place, and I say like-place because it was only 3 rooms, and you had to walk through a Subway to get to it. And I mean Subway as in the sandwich shop, not trains, though that would be a different kind of strange.

Aside: someone actually left a bad review for this hotel BECAUSE you had to walk through a Subway. Like, person, seriously? That just adds stars to my review, because easy access to sandwiches is ALWAYS worth extra stars in my book.

We were right across the street from the beach, which was GORGEOUS. There were definitely a lot of people, so if that’s not your thing, uhm, don’t go to Phuket?

What made it so incredible to me was how my cousin and I sat on our towels for a couple hours, listening to music, reading, and drawing. I watched tourists para-sail while a storm slowly rolled in from the distance. Not to sound too ridiculously hipster or whatever, but I’m totally going to sound too ridiculously hipster or whatever: it was sublime.

After we got rained-out, we went for drinks and went to bed. That’s about it– that’s what you do in Phuket. You go to the beach, maybe para-sail, and you drink. There are elephant shows and shopping, but elephants aren’t meant for shows (so don’t go see them, and if you do after my telling you this, you suck,) and the shopping is the usual cheap touristy stuff (but I DID get an amazing little elephant made out of seashells, so if you’re into tacky, I recommend one of those!)

In a weird way, Parong Beach is delightful because it just feels like a giant tourist trap. If you’re entertained by that like I am, then you’ll probably like Parong. If it infuriates you, go somewhere else– and I don’t mean that in a mean way, I just genuinely want you to enjoy your vacation.

If you’ve ever been to Orlando, Florida, you’ll know about the strange tourist stores on the side of the road that have a bunch of knock-off Disney products. That’s what Parong Beach feels like. It’s this strange space that feels like Vegas but isn’t Vegas at all but has that grime-feel that Vegas has but it’s in Thailand.

Okay, I’m probably being a little unfair– you do other things in Phuket besides lounge on the beach and drink. You can also go snorkeling for an afternoon, which we definitely took advantage of. I’ve never been snorkeling, but I had dreams as a kid of being a marine biologist/scuba diver/lover of fishies, so I was totally into this and loved every second.

I brought my Polaroid Cube with me with the water-proof casing, which was actually terrifying because the thing is so tiny I was afraid I was going to drop it and lose it to the sea urchins, but hey, nothing happened, and I got a couple nice shots.

Oh, and the sunsets at Parong Beach? Hella.

From our short-stay at Parong Beach, we took the ferry to Ko Phi Phi. One of the many mistakes people make is refer to this place as “Ko Phi Phi Island” but “Ko” actually means “island” in Thai, so you’re really saying “Island Phi Phi Island.” THE MORE YOU KNOW!

Ko Phi Phi is one of those places that you see pictures of all over the internet. It’s the place that most people associate with Thailand, other than the temples, because of its gorgeous beaches, clear water, and lovely little boats.

Because the island is rather small, we did a LOT of walking around and exploring. Honestly, I think after lounging around at Parong Beach, we just wanted to feel adventurous again. Apparently, Ko Phi Phi has a gorgeous view point, where you can see the entire island. Also, apparently, my cousin and I are idiots because we just kinda looked at a map and started walking in the general direction of said view point, and wound-up taking the long way round.

In hindsight it wasn’t so bad, because I got some great shots from that walk.

We were SO tired and SO thirsty though, but thankfully at the viewpoint there was a little shop that sold water and ice cream. I unashamedly LOVE ice cream, so I totally got one and enjoyed the hell out of it while also taking in the gorgeous view.

Something about Ko Phi Phi a lot of people talk about is the monkey population. There were monkeys ALL over the view point, hanging out and stealing people’s water bottles. One monkey legit chased me for my ice cream. The little jerk screamed at me in monkey-speak for it, but like I mentioned, I love ice cream and I wasn’t playin’.

Also that monkey looked like a mean af thug.

Mean af thug monkey, pissed I wouldn’t give up my precious ice cream.

We were only at Ko Phi Phi for a little over 24 hours, but it was amazing. I loved walking around the island, checking out the stalls and the food and taking in the atmosphere. I’m really glad we weren’t there for the full-moon party, as that’s not my scene, and it seemed that we were on the quiet side of the island. Great for an old lady of 24 like me.

We got to spend some time on the beach, of course, where I got to do some watercolor painting (I’m garbage at it but it’s fun,) and I got a spectacular sun burn.

Oh, and have I mentioned the colors there are spectacular?

So, Southern Thailand is a gorgeous place, as evidenced in the pictures. Parong Beach has a tourist-trap kind of charm (yes, it is a kind of charm,) that also feels spring-break-like, which is a valid type of vacation, and if you want to go party in Phuket, please, at the very least, pick up your trash. Ko Phi Phi is a little more chill, depending on what side of the island you are on, and I loved it so much I rather miss it.

Safe Travels and Happy Shooting!

 

 

Adventures in Thailand: ElepHANTS OMG

There are a lot of elephants around Chiang Mai. Not in the wild– there are hardly any left in the wild– but they can be found at elephant sanctuaries.

Did you know that riding on an elephants back hurts them? Most elephants at elephant sanctuaries are rescued from riding camps, logging farms, and circus-type venues. My cousin and I really wanted to see some elephants, but we were NOT down with animal abuse. That’s where the sanctuaries come in. There are quite a few around Chiang Mai, but we settled on the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. Instead of taking a ride on the backs of one of these gentle creatures, we spent the day feeding them, playing in the mud with them, and messing around in a river. WAY BETTER THAN RIDING.

AND ELEPHANTS ARE THE GREATEST CREATURES. They were kind, gentle, and really funny. One elephant, his name was Peter, was 4 years old and a total trouble maker. He ate all of my bananas before I could give them to any other elephants, and this little fella (who was the side of a car,) would just charge through wherever he wanted. So lovely.

I didn’t have my typical stash of cameras on me, because I knew I’d be working in the mud for the day, so I only brought my phone and Polaroid Cube along. Granted, not the best tools, but I did get a couple decent shots of my new fav animals.

Seriously, elephants are the best.

Here, have some totally self-indulgent photos of me, courtesy of my cousin, Ashley.

 

This was seriously one of the best days of my life. If you are ever in Thailand, I highly recommend the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, or one of the other sanctuaries. And remember: IF THEY OFFER RIDING THEY ARE NOT A TRUE SANCTUARY AND YOU SHOULD NOT SUPPORT THEM. If we want to save these beautiful creatures, we have to break down the riding industry.

Safe travels and happy shooting!

 

Adventures in Thailand: Bangkok Pt. 1

I’ve been in Thailand for nearly a month now, and it’s been amazing. Thailand is such a beautiful country (if scorching hot in the month of June,) and there is no shortage of sights in the capital, Bangkok.

Currently, I’m staying at an apartment I rented out for the month through AirBnB. I’m location east of the center of the city in the Phra Khanong district (are they called districts here? neighborhoods? uhm?) which is a little ways away from the Imperial Palace and the famous Reclining Buddha. However, the BTS SkyTrain is located just down the street from me, so I just hop on that to get wherever I wanna go.

My first week here was spent exploring the area where I live and the Siam area. Siam has a HUGE shopping center and the Bangkok Art and Culture Center, lots of people, and lots of interesting spaces to photograph. I especially adored the BACC, which had floors of contemporary art (my fav.)

I also went to the famous Chatchuak Weekend Market, on the city’s north side. I totally got lost… Very, very lost. It took me two hours to find my way back out, probably because I wasn’t trying too hard. The market was awesome, with all the tacky souvenirs a person could possibly want. I took lots of pictures, haggled, and just got caught up in the sights and sounds.

Bangkok is a huge place and I’ve barely scratched the surface of it. I’ll be checking out the Palace and the more famous temples later this week, so keep an eye out!

Safe travels and happy shooting!

 

It’s More Fun in the Philippines: Manila

When I told people I was traveling to the Philippines, the biggest piece of advice was this: Get out of Manila.

The advice was well intended, as the Philippines is a GORGEOUS country, and it would have been a waste if I spent all two-weeks in the sweltering heat and traffic of Manila. However, Manila wasn’t that bad.

Granted, I was staying in Metro Manila in a nice apartment in BGC, so do what you will with that information. I still had a lovely time though with my cousin and his partner, Valerie. After I went to San Pablo and Banaue/Batad, I shadowed my cousin at his job as a teacher at the International School Manila, which definitely fed my longing to be a teacher, and we also went on a guided tour of Intramuros, Manila’s old walled city.

If you are ever in Manila, I highly recommend going on the Walk This Way tour, led by Carlos Celdran. It’s performance-art-meets-guided-tour, and Carlos was not only a riot, but the tour was super educational, emotional, and just amazing over-all.

I also walked myself over to Market! Market! and took some photos in that crazy shopping center.

Another thing my cousin and lovely Valerie took me to was the Pinto Art Museum in Antipolo, which is just outside of Metro Manila. It was definitely one of the highlights of my trip, as art museums make me so inspired and awestruck and this museum was just filled with excellent contemporary Filipino art that made my heart ache and my hands itch to create.

My trip to the Philippines was amazing, even Manila. However, I am not completely naive: I know I was in a nicer part of the city, and that I saw the bits that tourists were meant to see. I did, however, drive by the not-so-touristy-and-heart-breakingly-impoverished parts, and I forced myself to be conscious. There were beautiful colors, people, and juxtapositions, but I always asked myself “Do I think this is beautiful because it is exotic to me? Am I beautifying poverty in my mind, because I have no idea what the realities of it are?” It was difficult at times because I would see the beauty in these places but have to remind myself that what I was seeing was just the surface. Manila is a complex, beautiful, and heart-breaking place, and I actually look forward to returning to get to know it better.

Shout-out to Steve and Val for being the world’s best host and hostess– love you guys and give the kitties pets for me!

To my readers: seriously– go visit the Philippines already.

Happy shooting and safe travels!