Wednesday, 15 April 2009


We had known that Japan would be very expensive so we planned to spend only 2 weeks there. After all of our cheap travelling in the developing world the prices came as a bit of a shock! But Japan was a cool place to see and very safe and easy to travel in.

When we arrived in Tokyo we were outraged at having to spend over 7 pounds each to get a train from the airport to the city centre close to the hostel we had booked. The same amount would have got both of us a night train sleeper ticket in India covering hundreds of miles! And the hostel was also expensive, but very well equipped and we were able to cook dinner there so this saved us some money! Tokyo was a cool city. All the houses were very nice and the streets were all quite quiet even though they were busy. The weather in Japan was pretty cold and often rainy.

We spent a few days exploring Tokyo. One morning we got up early for the fish market which was pretty fun to walk around, although we couldn't afford any of the very fresh sushi! We also visited some big shopping districts, some temples, the red light district and the Sony building where all the latest sony technology is displayed. From Tokyo we got a night bus to Kyoto. As the travel is expensive in Japan we had decided not to try and travel too far, and this was our longest journey costing us nearly 60 pounds each! The bus was pretty luxurious though with airline style seats but lots more leg room than an aeroplane and with complimentary slippers! It was a very smooth journey and we didn't sleep too badly.

Our hostel in Kyoto was not as good as the one in Tokyo, it had a very friendly owner but he had a very loud voice and there was not much in the way of kitchen and bathroom facilities. Eddie had a 'clever' plan for cooking us some noodles on the first night with some hot water and a microwave. Needless to say it didn't taste very good (it was barely edible), but it didn't make us ill! Kyoto was a nice city with a lot of temples. They were very nice but there were so many of them! We were in Japan at the blossom time of year which is very popular with the Japanese and you rarely see a tree in blossom without a Japanese person (or several) posing for a photo in front of it! It was very beautiful though. We had a good day trip out to a village in the mountains just outside of Kyoto which was very pretty. We also visited an onsen, the Japanese baths. There are lots of hot springs in Japan and therefore lots of onsen. We went to an indoor onsen as it was cheaper than an outdoor one which would probably have been very beautiful! Men and womens baths are separate and everyone has to go naked. There were several different baths, including an indoor one, an outdoor one, a cold one, a herbal one and a sauna. It was relaxing but very hot!

After Kyoto we took a short train to Nara. Our day in Nara was our only sunny day in Japan, but it was the perfect day for sunshine as we were wandering around a big park with many temples and also many deer! We had a good picnic Sushi lunch as well. From Nara we headed to Osaka (where we were flying out of). Osaka was quite different to the other places we had seen, a big working city with not so much in the way of temples which was quite refreshing. We stayed in a cheap hotel (by Japanese standards) in a fairly seedy area opposite a homeless shelter. Our room consisted of a big tatami mat and two flat mattresses and bedding. There weren't showers but a men's bath and a women's bath which were very similar to the onsen, and were only open for 5 hours a day in the evening. There was no option for cooking here so we finally did some eating out. The first night we went to a sushi place, one where the fish comes round on a conveyor belt in front of you. We managed to eat quite a lot of raw fish (some of it nice, some not!) for not too much money. Osaka had some exciting areas to explore at night with lots of shops and restaurants and very busy with people.

On our last day we got a rail pass for the day and went to Himeji, a town with a famous castle and some nice gardens surrounding it. From here we took a train to Kobe, a seaside city. It was very different to English seaside, with lots of big skyscrapers next to the sea, but it was nice to see the sea. We got a train back to Osaka and then another to the airport. Our flight wasn't until the following morning but as accommodation was so expensive and our flight would have meant an early start anyway, we thought we would save some money by sleeping in the airport! It was a fairly comfortable nights sleep, not quite as nice as Hong Kong airport though and we were disturbed by the police asking to check our passports! The next morning we flew to Shanghai.

Sichuan, China

We spent 3 days in Chengdu, where we had flown into before heading to Emei Shan. This is a Buddhist mountain about a 2 hour bus ride away. We left most of our stuff at the hostel in Chengdu so that we could trek up the mountain without too much baggage. We arrived at the bottom of the mountain at lunchtime and grabbed a bowl of cheap noodles and headed up the mountain. It was pretty different to the trekking in Nepal - it was a very popular tourist attraction and well-walked, you could even get buses or the cable car up and down. This meant that the route was very well looked after, and there were even steps (which were swept daily) the whole way up. This also made the walking quite monotonous!

On the first afternoon we set off at 2pm. On the way we met a Chinese guy, Hu, who was trekking with 5 of his mates from uni. We ended up staying in the same hotel as them which was very helpful as they were able to bargain the room price for us. As it was out of season, we were able to get a room for much less than half price. That night we paid 4.50 pounds each for a room much more lavish than any other place we have stayed in while travelling. It had a big tv and bathroom, two big beds, armchairs and our own slippers! It was in a beautiful little place called Qingyan which surrounds a lake. It was good to finally experience some Chinese countryside. We ate a big meal, ordered by the students, which was really good as normally we can't understand enough of the menu to order anything interesting. They ordered 9 different dishes for the 8 of us, so it was nice to eat Chinese food with the Chinese.

The next morning we set off at about 8am. We had a lot of kilometres of steps (apparently 30km) to cover if we were going to make it to the top before dark. We left our Chinese friends in the monkey feeding area (we aren't too keen on monkeys!) and walked up and up, past several temples. By 3pm we were only 2-3 hours from the top. At this point, above 2500m, it got snowy and icy which made the steps very slippy. We made it up by about 5pm though but found we were in clouds and couldn't see a thing of the Golden Temple and giant statue at the top even when we were stood right in front of them! We had hoped to be able to stay in the monastery at the top, but it was not open out of season so we had to find a hotel. Luckily we were able to bargain (via calculator) with the Chinese owners to get a cheap room.

The sunrise at the summit is supposed to be very beautiful and many travel a long way to see it. Unfortunately when we woke up in the morning, the top of the mountain was still covered by cloud and we could barely see a few feet in front of us. We had a quick noodle soup and some steamed buns and started down as we hoped to get down in 1 day. It was even more slippery on the way down so Alice put Ed's socks (learned from Bear Grylls!) over her walking boots to keep from sliding around too much. Despite the weather there were still many Chinese tourists trying to make it up the mountain. We walked without stopping even for lunch and made it back down by about 5pm.

The next day we got a bus with some other travellers to Leshan where the world's biggest Buddha statue is. It was fairly impressive, but the entrance fee was quite high. We spent a few hours wandering around it before getting another bus back to Chengdu. We were pretty tired after the trek and spent a day chilling out and planning where to head next. With only a few days left before our flight to Tokyo we decided to go to Chongqing , where our flight left from. This meant Eddie had to make a late night trip to the train station to buy our tickets for the next morning.

Hu, the Chinese student we had met on Emei Shan happened to be in the same carriage as us on the train which made the journey pass more quickly! Chongqing is a massive city which has had a lot of money pumped into it recently in order to develop it. This meant that there were loads of big new skyscrapers next to old and dilapidated flats, which was an interesting contrast. We found the city fascinating, there was a lot more going on than in Chengdu. It is built at the meeting of 3 rivers and our hostel looked out over the river which made for a good view at night when the skyscrapers and boats on the river were all lit up. There was plenty in Chongqing to keep us busy for a few days, exploring all the modern areas and also the older ones, we did a lot of walking! Hotpot is a local speciality in Sichuan, and Hu had told us that the hotpot in Chongqing was even hotter than in Chengdu and was so hot that he himself, a local and a big fan of hot food, could hardly bear it! We weren't too enthused by this but we thought we should try it one night and found a cheap looking place. We chose our raw meat and veg plates and then we put the raw food into a big heated chilli oil pot in the middle of our table. It was so hot we had to drink a lot of beer with it to cool our mouths down, and even an ice cream after didn't help much. It was nice, but we didn't try it again!

We flew out of Chongqing to Hong Kong where we stayed overnight (again!) before flying to Tokyo the next morning.