First day in Southeast Asia

I decided that I’ll try to write short updates about my trip. Today I arrived to Hanoi. I was so nervous and sure that things won’t go smoothly with the immigration inspection and with the way from the airport to my hostel. In the end the immigration officers didn’t really even care that I don’t have a visa or a flight ticket out of Vietnam, and the way from the airport to my hostel was a “taste” of real Vietnam. The bus that I wanted to take was already moving but the nice guys outside the bus ran after the bus and stopped it for me. Then me and the backpack size of me went to sit in the front. I mean really in the front and next to the driver :-D I saw the whole way from the airport to the center. I knew the traffic would be crazy but that view made me almost pee in my pants, hehe. I also got a ride from the center to my hostel with a motorcycle. Yep, me and my backpack and a driver (who made me pay a bit more that was agreed, argh) on a motorcycle. That was crazy!

Today I just decided to go to the center and walk around. I also met a nice girl from Germany who is also travelling alone. We went to see Water Puppet show which was quite interesting. Never seen anything like that.. Basically there were water and the puppets were playing in that. There was also a band that sounded very nice but the people looked bored to death. I guess the same people make the same show every day (multiple times).

First impression from Hanoi is that the traffic is crazy (people just drive everywhere, really close to you and they use a horn A LOT), it is loud and there are many people who want something from you (but they leave you alone when you show no interest), there is lots of tasty looking street food and one should be careful of robbers (I bought a money pouch right away). Taking photos with a phone is apparently risky so I guess I’ll be very picky about what I will photograph. And I think I will only load them to instagram (see on the right side of the blog).

The currency is also crazy. I am like a millioner! One euro is around 24 200 Vietnamise dongs.

If you feel stupid then you should read this

Because then you will realize that there is someone who is even more stupid than you.. me :-D

I had this mad plan that I wanted to cycle from Seta (where I am living) to Kyoto and now I had a chance to make it happen. I wanted to sell my bike to another student who is studying in another campus, Fukakusa campus. So I had this romantic idea of riding my bicycle to Fukakusa.. my goal was to get an exercise, enjoy Kyoto / Japan differently and sell the bike. The distance was supposed to be around 19km.

To make you feel better already I can tell you that one of those things above didn’t happen! I am sure we all know what that is :-D yep, selling the bike. I didn’t mention that I didn’t have internet (because I was sure I could make it without it) and I didn’t have a proper map or directions. I had just taken few screenshots from google maps.. this is making me laugh so much now that I think about it afterwards.

Luckily I achieved at least two of the goals. Yep, I got a gooood exercise and I saw Kyoto differently. Weather forecast promised sun. I got sun, and also a bit of snow and snow grains. I thought that the mountain would be my biggest obstacle but no – it was Kyoto!! After I found my way to the other side of the mountain, everything became a bit more exciting. Too exciting. I wanted to take the straightest way to Fukakusa but I found myself from Yamashina… pretty far from Fukakusa. After that it was just impossible to find Fukakusa even though it seemed that I was all the time quite near. Every time I asked for an advice to Fukakusa, the answer was “around 30 minutes that way”. Well my 30 minutes changed into almost two hours and I was still just near Fukakusa :-D haha. So the last person who I asked help took me to a station and I decided to give up. I couldn’t find Fukakusa. And I couldn’t sell the bike to the person I intended because I couldn’t take the bike to the train. So I had two options…..

.. to either cowardlessly abandon it or give it to someone. So I decided to give my bike for free to the lady that walked with me to the train station that took me to Kyoto (of course passing the station near Fukakusa, “only” 2 stops away). She and her friends put lots of effort on understanding my very poor Japanese and walked me to the station so it was an easy decision. And she looked so happy and perplexed when I asked whether she would like to have my bike.

Even though the main point of the trip didn’t happen, I am still happy that I cycled to Kyoto. I spoke with many Japanese and they were all so nice to me and helpful. Also I rode the bike in places where I assume the people haven’t seen many foreigners in those areas by the way they looked at me. Today I got a reminder that what is best in Kyoto / Japan – the street scene, mountains and helpful and friendly people.

So here is the final moment of laugh – I cycled for four hours :-D So I really got the workout that I wanted.

Now I am getting ready for a “all you can drink and eat” party.. I need a drink!

One journey ends, another begins

I am leaving Japan soon and going towards my next great adventure. I am excited and horrified at the same time because I’ll be travelling alone in Southeast Asia. I will go to Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, and I will spend around two weeks in each country. Yikes!

The most nervous I am about Vietnam because I’ve read that especially in Vietnam the locals want to just exploit you.. this is what someone wrote about his negative experiences in Vietnam:

“To give you an idea, while in Vietnam for one month I was targeted by scammers falsely posing as representatives of the Red Cross, got in an aggressive confrontation with a cab driver who tried to charge me the equivalent of $80 USD for a 5 minute ride, got hit by a menu switching scam in a restaurant, and was unfairly overcharged numerous times. Also, at one point a wild monkey ran off with my beer, though I’ll try not to blame that on Vietnam.” (source: www.indietraveller.co/destinations/travel-guide/vietnam)

I guess Cambodia and Thailand shouldn’t be that “bad” places but yeah I am terrified a bit. All the countries have of course many pros but few things worry me. E.g. I don’t like to bargain.. At the moment my plan is to visit Hanoi, Sapa, Halong Bay, Ho Chi Minh and Can Tho in Vietnam; Phnom Penh, Kampot, Sihankoukville (maybe Koh Rong) and Siem Reap in Cambodia; and Bangkok and a few islands in Thailand. In Thailand I will meet up with a friend and we will travel in Thailand together!

I am sure I will have an amazing time and this will be one of the most special trips I will ever make. I am also sure that everything will not go smoothly. But that’s life! If someone has any tips about what to pack in my backpack or any other advice, I would be happy to hear them. :-)

I hope something like this is waiting for me in Thailand..

Let’s talk about my favourite topic: FOOD!

I love food! I love talking about, I love eating it and I love watching cooking shows (especially MasterChef hehe). I don’t love to cook myself but it’s fun too, sometimes. As some of you know, I don’t eat red or white meat, which means e.g. beef, pork, chicken and turkey. I do eat seafood and I love especially fish.

Before coming to Japan I heard that I might have hard time in finding vegetarian food and it has been partly true. Although I thought it would be even harder than it has been. In Finland I am quite used to find at least one option from the menu that doesn’t include meat, here it has been harder to find restaurants that would have that kind of an option. There are restaurants that are clearly meat-oriented but luckily there are also restaurants that have atleast a seafood option. I have to say that the vegetarian dishes that I have eaten here have been some of the best vegetarian meals I have ever eaten! Sometimes it has been really hard to find something I can eat (and enjoy at the same time) and I can tell you, don’t let me get too hungry.. :-D that is not a pretty view to look at!

The first times I went to the supermarket, I just wanted to run away and start eating fast food. The supermarkets can be overwhelming. All the sounds, packages with cryptic language and the unidentified food can make you want to crawl back to your home depressed. Somehow I got over this and was able to find some recognizable ingredients and cook at home. I’ve made so many shopping failures and thrown money straight to garbage that I’ve lost my interest to buy anything new lately. But this is how my healthy food basket looks like:

Food basket

Basically I’ve tried to keep my diet versitile but it hasn’t been easy. I’ve eaten lots of eggs, tofu (there are many kinds of tofu), salmon and shrimps in order to get some protein, and vegetables, potato and rice to get healthy carbs. For snacks I’ve been eating lots of nuts, “bulgarian yogurt” (I have actully no idea what it is but the taste is similar) and some bread and “cheese”. I reaaallly miss the Finnish bread because the variety is so much bigger. Here one can find only white bread, and the cheese for bread is like processed cheese slices (yuck). Luckily we have a small grill which makes the sandwich eatable. It was also hard to find what to eat in the mornings but I found a killer brekkie: cereal (unsweetened), milk and a banana. It was also surprisingly hard to find cereal that is unsweetened.. and just couple of weeks ago I realized that the milk that I have been drinking here (the cheapest hehe) is as “fatty” as the fattiest milk sold in Finland. And I really like it! Maybe I have to believe my grandmother and continue drinking the fatty milk. :-)

I’ve noticed that the Japanese eat lots of tempura fried food, and also usually there are some nice looking fishes that one can buy from the supermarkets. Also very specific to all kinds of stores that sell groceries is that there are lots of different kinds of snacks. I mean like quite a few shelves of only sweet and salty (and some undefined tastes) snacks!

I have no ideas what these fishes are but they look delicious. Nice colours!

I have no idea what these fishes are but they look delicious. Nice colours!

Lots of tempura fried delicacies!

Lots of tempura fried delicacies!

Here are some pics of foods that I’ve been enjoying (sorry they might already exist in some posts):

Some things that I really miss are proper bread, real cheese, quark, oatmeal, Finnish Karelian pie and dry apple cider. I haven’t had a real oven here so I also miss food that is cooked in the oven. But soonish I’ll be able to eat all these delicacies! I also miss making smoothies!

I also bought my personal chopsticks. Cool, ne? I engraved one of my life philosophies to the chopsticks: “Hyvä ruoka, parempi mieli” which means basically “Good food, better mood”. They didn’t have the Finnish ä letter so I had to make a small change to the phrase and put oishii in stead of hyvä. Oishii means delicious or tasty in Japanese.

My personal hashi (chopsticks)

My time as a tourist

My friends left yesterday back to Finland, which means that also my holiday and fun days are over for two weeks. Next 2 weeks will be all about finishing the semester and trying to survive from the assignment work load. I am slightly stressed but I refuse to be a nervous wreck.. I still have classes and I think the final assignments will take all my freetime. :-( Hopefully during my last week in Japan I can just enjoy the last days here.

So my friends were here for two weeks.. what did we do? Time flew fast but it feels that we did a lot. Some of my friends went also to Tokyo. In general we did sightseeing in Kyoto, and we also went to Kobe, Nara and Osaka. In Kobe and Nara we just strolled around and enjoyed the atmosphere of the cities. In Osaka we visited Japan Universal Studios, and that was one of the best things I have experienced in Japan. I felt like a kid again! I can’t believe how happy the park and the rides made me! We went to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Back to the Future ride, Jurassic Park ride, Spider Man ride, Terminator 2 show and to Space Fantasy ride. So in total we managed to visit six different places in seven hours. We queued a lot during the day but somehow the queuing was planned so that it wasn’t extremely painful. In the evening the waiting times for the rides were shorter than during the day.

My favourite rides were definitely the Spider Man and the Harry Potter ride. I believe both use 4K and 3D/4D technology. I was so amazed! Both were so amazing rides and I couldn’t tell when I was seeing “real” characters and when only images. I still get goose bumps when I think about the rides! Some rides were maybe a bit old and weren’t using the latest technology but they were “entertaining” hehe. Very cool place! You can see the whole area from here.

Here are some pictures from Japan Universal studios:

Here are some random pictures from Kobe and Kyoto.

We celebrated the New Year’s Eve in Kyoto, and I had a hard time to think how could we celebrate changing of the year.. I was sad that I wasn’t able to see fireworks that I usually see in Finland but at least we made Finnish potato salad (which was super yummy). The Japanese eat traditionally on New Year’s Eve a special kind of soba. We also ate matcha (Japanese green tea) flavoured soba and had matcha sake.

I thought that we should go and try to experience the ringing of the bell but as often here it didn’t go like planned. I thought that I found a reliable source that pointed out that in Nanzenji one could be able to ring the bell on New Year’s Eve night but for some reason it didn’t happen (at least not for us). The temple was closed when we went there.. Either it really wasn’t happening this year or we were there either too late or too early. After that we decided to head to Yasaka Shrine which was packed with people.. Next year I’ll buy lots of fireworks to compensate this New Year’s Eve’s weak celebration :-D

The annual Japanese Zodiac sign for the year 2015 is a sheep, and because of that there are many New Year things, like calendars, that have a sheep theme on them.

I hope my friends enjoyed their holiday. I was happy to have them here :-)