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!

 

Adventures in Thailand: Taking Tours Solo Pt. 2 (Ayutthaya)

My second adventure as a solo-traveler-gone-rogue was a bike tour through Ayutthaya, the old capitol of Thailand when it used to be the Kingdom of Siam. It’s a gorgeous ancient city, and my older cousin (the awesome one who lives in the Philippines,) insisted I check it out. Ancient history and adventure? Don’t have to tell me twice.

He recommended that I go there and rent a bike and explore the city. However, after looking into taking the train, looking at maps, and just psyching myself out, I decided going by myself maybe wasn’t the best idea. So, I signed up for a guided bike tour. It wasn’t as smooth-sailing as the Damnoen Saduak tour, because apparently no one wanted to go on a bike-tour during some of the hottest months of the year, so my tour was almost cancelled. But, at the last minute, a group decided they wanted to go, so I was added.

This time I was adopted by three lovely people from Brazil, who were in Bangkok on a business trip, and had a free day. So, I met them, and instantly became a part of their group photos and they bought me a beer. It was awesome.

 

The bike tour was almost all-day, from bright and early until the sun went down. We took a van to the heart of the City, and started our ride from there. We visited

 

My favs from this part of our day was the Doraemon hanging out with the icons, and the school group that was on a field trip to the complex. I was also completely FLOORED when I saw the Buddha head in the bayan roots– it was something that I only ever saw pictures of, and I actually got to see it in real life. It was surreal and amazing.

One of the things I noticed when exploring the ancient wats was how most of the Buddha heads were… non-existent. They were just gone. When I asked, our tour guide explained that when Ayutthaya was ransacked by the Burmese, they would remove the heads of the Buddhas to see if they were gold inside, and therefore valuable. In other instances, people looted the temples and sold the heads to westerners. Yeah, it’s pretty fucked.

We had a brief lunch of fruit, chips, and protein bars (soda was also available– but that was a HARD pass, considering I was sweating buckets,) and carried on into the rural countryside. It was very pretty and picturesque, and we came across a couple of fun things– like a group of kids on bicycles who wanted their picture with us, but then got too shy so just settled for staring and giggling at us, and a village partying-hard and celebrating a man who was to become a monk.The celebrators offered us beer and wanted to dance with us– I opted for the dancing but not the beer, because again, it was like 110 degrees Fahrenheit outside and I was riding a bike and that just sounded like a bad combo.

 

It was totally gorgeous and an amazing time. I was really lucky to be put with such a friendly group of people who wanted to include me, and at the end of our bike ride we enjoyed Thai food and the beer my new friends generously provided me with.

We were done with the bike rides, but we had another stop before heading home: the Bang Pa-In Royal Palace. It used to be a popular summer-residence for the kings of Thailand, but in recent years it is mostly a tourist site with a very strict dress code. Visiting temples usually requires modest dress and covering your shoulders, but here, men had to wear pants and women had to have their shoulders and legs covered.

I got an amazing photo of my get-up with one of my new friends:

By the way, we had to rent those adorable clothes– not buy. There was a stand outside of the palace for this specific purpose!

We wandered around the palace grounds, and of course I took a lot of pictures. We learned a little bit about the place, like how former King Bhumibol Adulyadej loved the summer palace and tried to spend as much time there as he could, and how the Chinese gifted an entire pavilion to the royal family.

 

After visiting the palace and eating some ice cream, we headed back to Bangkok and I slept for 16 hours. Bike riding during monsoon season is no joke.

Safe Travels and Happy Shooting!

Traveling Solo with an Anxiety Disorder

There are two important things about me, the first being something many people already know: I love to travel.

My life is spent planning for the next big adventure, tolerating the moments between when I return from a trip and head off on the next one. I love going to new places, learning about different cultures, trying out new languages and meeting kindred spirits around the globe.

The second important thing about me if I have an anxiety disorder. I’ve lived with PTSD for years, and even with it in remission I still have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder. It makes going out of my “comfort zone” extremely daunting.

Currently, I am traveling solo in SE Asia. I’ve spent the past week in Thailand by myself, but (thankfully) my cousin is meeting up with me tonight. I admittedly need the reprieve from my solo-ness.

The thing about traveling solo is it is extremely empowering. There are moments where I am so overwhelmed with my perceived bad-assery that a smile breaks across my face and I laugh. It’s amazing that I am able to do this, that I was able to get on a plane and go across the globe to a country where I can’t speak the language to live alone and be a tourist all by myself. It’s awesome!

To prepare, I read a lot of testimonies about traveling alone. It’s about reaching out to others, not being afraid to meet new people and just kinda sorta “going for it.” I felt like I could do it. I still believe I can do it.

But traveling solo with anxiety makes it really, really hard to be that person who can go out and be unafraid. Every morning I wake up I have to spend about 2-3 hours psyching myself up to go outside. There is a cycle of guilt: I am in a foreign country, something many people don’t have the luxury to even dream about, and I’m sitting in my apartment talking myself out of doing anything that may make me look like an idiot in a new place.

Sometimes I’m able to trample down the anxiety and leave. Other times I can’t, and I spend the day inside.

This is OKAY.

It is okay for me to spend hours memorizing the train route, learning how to pronounce the names of places I want to go and practicing what to tell a cab driver. It is okay for me to accept that today just isn’t the day to go out and be adventurous, that my brain is wired a little differently and sometimes I need time to get used to a new place. It is okay to tell the guilt to leave me alone, that I know myself and I know my body.

It is okay to travel solo with anxiety. You do not need to push yourself. This is not a blog post about being like “JUST STOMP DOWN YOUR INHIBITIONS AND GO!” Anxiety disorders are not mere inhibitions, but a condition where, no matter how hard you try, sometimes you just can’t. And this is okay.

So, if you have anxiety and you want to travel solo, go for it. I believe in you. But if you do and you feel overwhelmed, try not to feel guilty. That energy is better spent loving yourself and reminding yourself that hey, you’re a bad-ass for doing it in the first place. You will go out and explore the world in your own time.