A Travellerspoint blog

A Long Hue To Go

This heading will only make sense once you've read the entry. Sorry.

So, after a week or so of being a couple of beach bums, we are now back on the road being good tourists doing touristy things. We’ve been exploring cities in central Vietnam, starting with the ancient city of Hue (pronounced ‘way’. That heading makes a tad more sense now, eh?). In contrast to many of the places we’ve seen up north, Hue is very Western-orientated, and there are many more European faces. It’s a nice change from Sam Son where we felt very conspicuous!

It is worth mentioning at this point that our major mode of transportation over long distances has been the train. The trains offer a variety of services of varying standards, and the quality of the service is determined by the prefix before the train number. Roughly speaking, trains starting with ‘TN’ are cheaper, but do not necessarily have comfortable seats or air conditioning; we use the ‘SN’ trains which are more expensive, but you get an allocated seat in an air-conditioned carriage. For more details, check out the website below, including information on overnight sleeper carriages:

http://www.seat61.com/Vietnam.htm

Note to the wary: Many hotels and travel agents will offer to buy train tickets on your behalf, but it is worth noting that some of them charge a ridiculous amount to do so. You know you are being ripped off when your tickets are handed to you with a piece of cardboard carefully stapled over the price! We removed them, of course, to discover we had paid double the actual value of the tickets. In this case we didn’t mind too much – we figured it was worth the extra for the convenience – but we will keep this in mind for the future and buy them ourselves when possible.

The trains aren’t particularly clean, but then Vietnam is an untidy place. There are no waste bins, so people just leave their rubbish wherever. The train staff do sweep the carriages at regular intervals, however, so the mess never becomes a health hazard. The worst thing by far about Vietnamese trains, though, is a method of torture cunningly disguised as entertainment; it goes by the name of RailTV. Each carriage has a couple of televisions attached to the ceiling, and these play a series of non-stop programmes very, very loudly. Some of the shows are okay – dramas, cartoons, kids’ shows – but the overwhelming majority of the time is taken up with annoying ads and equally annoying music videos. Having spent a fair amount of time in the presence of these things, I came to the conclusion that they were showing a medley of Southeast Asia’s rejected Eurovision Song Contest entries. What’s that you say? Southeast Asia doesn’t enter the ESC? Thank heaven for small mercies!

On one particularly memorable 6-hour journey, I spotted a guy in our carriage who was wearing an identity tag proclaiming him to be a RailTV employee. It was very brave of him, I must say. I’m amazed that the rest of the passengers didn’t get together and beat him to death with their hand luggage. I’m sure I’m not the only one thinking this way. The one time the TVs went on the blink the whole carriage gave an audible sigh of relief.

Anyway, the moral of the story is this: take an MP3 player with you, and make sure it is fully charged. Time flies much more quickly when you don’t have to listen to an Elvis looky-likey belting out the Asian equivalent of boy-band songs. Trust me.

Other notes about trains, before I get back onto my fantasies of strangling the sadistic inventor of RailTV:

1) They have toilets – some Asian-style, some Western – but they are generally not very pleasant. Take your own loo roll as there’s no guarantee any will be provided.

2) They (often) provide free bottles of water, and have a food service. They sell a variety of snack foods: corn on the cob, chicken wings, popcorn, etc. but if you order a main meal you don’t get a choice. From what I saw on one train, you get a lot of rice, some veg and a couple of meatball thingies. Large serving sizes, though, and it seemed popular with the locals.

In conclusion: the trains aren’t particularly fast, but they are pretty reliable and get you where you’re going without all the swerving, honking and near-death experiences associated with driving in Vietnam.

And in such a fashion, we arrived in Hue.

I liked it immediately. The place had a really friendly, laid-back atmosphere, plus dozens and dozens of restaurants and bars, most of which offered Western food. Having just over-indulged in all things yummy at the Sun Spa resort, I was keen for more of the same, and we soon made ourselves regulars at an Italian restaurant and drank way too much imported - and therefore horribly expensive - wine. (They actually list the price of wine in US dollars, ‘cos the good stuff costs over one million Vietnamese dong. They’d need to supersize their menus to print the prices!)

Anyway, when we weren’t eating and drinking, we went exploring. Hue has a lot of tourist attractions in easy travelling distance… and this is how we met Long, Vietnam’s only serenading cyclo driver.

Long, to put it mildly, is quite a character. He has a way of ‘wooing’ customers, making a point to shout a cheerful hello at any passing tourists and initiating a conversation when possible. He carries a little book of testimonials written by satisfied customers, and he is quick to show you all the nice things people have written about him. He has a cheeky grin, a wicked sense of humour, and is impossible not to like.

On day 1 in Hue, Long convinced us to hire a couple of cyclos for a trip to the citadel. I was slightly apprehensive due to the crazy traffic, but Pete seemed relaxed enough about the idea, so I just shrugged and trusted myself to Fate and the innate unwillingness of the Vietnamese to run over tourists ‘cos it’s bad for business.

As drivers went, Long wasn’t bad. He even stopped at red lights sometimes. And, because he didn’t have a horn or bell on his vehicle, he’d pedal along shouting, “Beep beep!” at anything that got in his way.

The thing that I will remember forever about that day, though, is being driven over a bridge in a drizzling rain listening to Long belting out a selection of Beatles’ songs (in pretty good English, it must be said). It was quite surreal, very amusing and altogether unexpected. I am hoping for a serenaded nighttime gondola ride when we return to Venice later in the trip, but I’m sure now it’ll just remind of Long and his slightly off-key rendition of ‘Hey, Jude’. Who needs opera, anyway, eh?

Some 'serious' piccys from Hue citadel (click on 'em to enlarge 'em):

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The citadel was built in the early 1800s. The complex is huge, containing an imperial palace, temples, gardens and tombs, but much of it has been destroyed by wars and fire. Restoration projects are currently underway, but we enjoyed the parts we could see. The architecture is amazing in places - so much colour and fine detail!

And a not-so-serious piccy from Hue citadel:

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Pete playing silly buggers. Honestly, I can’t take him anywhere!

On the way back, we got a free peek at the tanks outside the American Museum. This is the one that I want:

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Dear Santa, please can I have one of these for Christmas? I promise to be really, really good. (Yeah, right!) One of these days I am going to go on one of those tank adventure days where you get to crush a car. I’m not sure where I get my destructive streak, but this idea definitely appeals to me!

Ooh, look, I’m waffling again. I think I’ll split it into two, like I did with the Japanese entries. More tomorrow…

Posted by Julie1972 05:59 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

No, We’re Not Paranoid…

They really are out to get us!

I have mentioned before that Vietnam is very much an in-your-face kind of country. Tourists attract a lot of attention, and we sometimes feel like we are on display when we’re out in public. I am thinking of changing my name to ‘Hey’, ‘cos a hundred times a day that’s what people shout at us before trying to sell us some product or service. I think ‘tourist’ is synonymous with ‘walking ATM’ in Vietnam. They are insistent salesmen, too; one guy jumped onto a moving bus simply to push a business card into my hand, and we’ve had the same guy offering us the use of his taxi three times in ten minutes. The epitome of optimism, though, had to be the bloke in Hanoi who tried to sell me a baseball cap… while I was already wearing one! It gets a bit wearing saying, “No, thank you” all the time, though. Perhaps I should get it tattooed on my head. Or sewn onto the front of my cap. Maybe the vendors will notice it then.

Anyway, the point is, we are a bit of a novelty in this part of the world. While we were on our day trip to the Thai Vi temple in Ninh Binh a couple of weeks ago, two Vietnamese people approached us and asked if they could have their picture taken with us. We were a bit confused as to their reasons, but agreed, seeing no harm in it. The girl immediately grabbed hold of my arm and grinned like a Cheshire cat, while the fella she was with snapped off a photo. I can only imagine what it’ll be like when she gets home and shows the pictures to her family and friends:

“This is me outside the temple… and this is me next to Buddha’s shrine… oh, and this is me with a couple of European hippies we found wondering around looking a bit lost. Aren’t they simply the funniest thing you’ve ever seen?”

The mind boggles! Oh well, at least they didn’t try and charge us for the pleasure.

The other way in which you can start to feel like a target here is simply walking down the street. The traffic is crazy – like nothing I have ever seen. If they have a road code, nobody pays the slightest bit of attention to it. It is impossible to walk on the pavements because the Vietnamese treat them as car parks, and it’s scary walking in the road because of the sheer amount of unpredictable traffic. And the noise! Everybody honks their horns all of the time, which can be rather deafening.

When I was in sixth form college back in the UK, I had a friend called Nettie. The college was next to a busy main road, but the pedestrian crossings were inconveniently located away from the college gates, which lead to a lot of jay-walking. Nettie had an extremely idiosyncratic approach to crossing the road: she would dash across as quickly as possible, screaming all the way. I once asked her why she did this, and she replied, matter-of-factly, “Oh, it’s in case the drivers are blind. At least this way they’ll be able to hear me.” At the time I thought this was just another example of Nettie’s hilarious quirkiness; now I am convinced that she lived in Vietnam in a previous life. All the guide books will tell you to simply walk at a steady pace when crossing the road here, and let the drivers swerve around you, but Nettie’s dash-and-scream approach seems a lot more realistic. It’s certainly what I want to do every time I set foot outside the door!

Anyway, after more than two weeks of observing traffic here, I think I have worked out the road rules. Below is my take on the Vietnamese Highway Code, should such a thing exist (which I seriously doubt).

THE ROAD CODE, VIETNAM-STYLE:

Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre

MSM is for sissies. Just rev your engine and pull out without looking. Nobody will mind if you cut them up, honestly. Some of them will even make an effort to avoid you.

Road signs and road markings

Purely for decoration; ignore them.

Traffic lights

Pretty, aren’t they? Don’t worry what colour they are; red, amber and green all mean ‘go’.

Overtaking

Is some inconsiderate person in your way? No problem! Lean on the horn until (s)he moves. If the aforementioned inconsiderate person refuses to move, simply pull into oncoming traffic and honk at them instead. Someone will give way… usually.

Cyclist and motorcyclists

Are you in a big car, bus or truck and want to overtake a cyclist? Easy! Simply sit on their tail and blare your horn at them until they take the hint and get out of the way. Alternatively pull along side them and nudge them off the road into the nearest ditch or paddy field.

Pedestrians

If you see a pedestrian walking along the side of the road, honk your horn at them. If you see a Western tourist, laugh, speed up and aim at them. Honk only if you feel like giving them a sporting chance. Remember: if they’re not pale and terrified, you’re doing something wrong.

Pedestrians II

If you see a pedestrian trying to cross the road, park immediately in front of them. They won’t mind walking 500 meters down the road to the next available gap, even if they are carrying heavy backpacks.

Night Driving

Are you the only driver on the road at 3.30 in the morning, feeling lonely? Don’t worry; honk your horn to cheer yourself up. People don’t mind being woken for no reason and they won’t curse at you... much.

Alright, this is just a bit of silliness I dreamt up during my first few traumatic days in the country, but I'm not kidding about how manic the traffic is here. Check out the blog below for some photos that beautifully illustrate my point:

http://www.travelblog.org/Asia/Vietnam/blog-377029.html

But, intimidating as this all seems at first, you really do get used to it. We no longer care that we are walking targets, and the honking is just another part of the background noise. Actually we have pretty much reached the conclusion that the locals are reluctant to run over us – after all, they can’t take our money if we’re squished all over the road! (Cynical, me? Surely not.)

And, despite my saying that pigs would fly before I trusted myself in any vehicle other than a taxi, I have actually travelled in a cyclo and on the back of a motorbike. That, however, is another story, so look our for my next update very soon.

Bye for now!

Posted by Julie1972 22:15 Archived in Vietnam Comments (2)

Sun, Sea, Sand… and Storms

Life’s a beach in Vietnam

We have just spent an interesting week by the seaside, and had two very different experiences.

After leaving Ninh Binh, we decided to brave the buses again and headed for a resort town called Sam Son.

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The view from our hotel balcony in Sam Son. The weather has been unseasonably rainy lately - just in time for a Vietnamese 2-day public holiday!

We’d heard this was a popular tourist spot, which is true; what we hadn’t heard was that Sam Son is a popular tourist spot for Vietnamese people, and it’s not really set up to deal with foreigners. Also it was low season, so we were pretty much the only Europeans in the place.

This was problematic in two ways:

1) Very few people speak English there, and all of the menus in cafes and restaurants are solely in Vietnamese. As I mentioned in my previous entry, this lead to us playing Guess the Menu Item every time we went out to eat.

2) We were instant targets for every taxi driver, cyclo (*) driver, restaurant owner and street vendor in the area, plus gaggles of small children who followed us around shouting, “Hello!” non-stop. (That wouldn’t have been so bad, but they didn’t know any more English, so we couldn’t have a conversation with them. We just had to wait for them to get bored and go away again.) Walking the streets in Sam Son is a noisy business!

At first we were a bit dismayed to have our expectations dashed like that (we were hoping for more of a Western presence so we could at least buy ice cream!), but somehow it all worked out and we had a better time than we thought we’d have. Sure, some people tried to rip us off – that’s just how it is in Vietnam – but others were really lovely. We found one particular café where the beer was super-cheap and super-cold (not guaranteed in all establishments), and one of the waitresses there was very keen to improve her English. We had a tit-for-tat relationship with her: she’d tell us how to pronounce stuff in Vietnamese, and we’d tell her English words that she didn't already know.

And despite the fact that we were relying on luck and guesswork, the food was another nice surprise. Although pretty basic, we had some of the freshest, tastiest fish we had ever eaten. Serving sizes were a bit weird though. Wherever we went in the area, people would bring us more than we asked for. If we asked for two beers, they’d bring three; if we asked for rice, they’d bring out large Tupperware bowls containing enough to generously feed a family of four. Very strange, and not something we’ve experienced anywhere else. Still cheap though, so it wasn’t anything to worry about.

A couple of days later, we were still on the prowl for a place that really catered to Westerners. I turned 37 last month (37??? How did that happen? Mentally I’m still 18, I swear!), and Pete had promised me a couple of days in a posh hotel as a present. I happily agreed to this; if I must get old and creaky, I might as well do it in pleasant surroundings, right? So Pete spends a while Googling, and eventually finds a little bit of paradise in central Vietnam:

http://www.sunsparesortvietnam.com

This place was fabulous! Large, well-equipped rooms, a private beach, swimming pool, health club and, best of all, room service.

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The view from our room.

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Our (mainly empty) private beach.

I was in heaven! For three whole days I indulged every food craving I had, plus several I didn’t have as well. I’m glad I don’t have access to bathroom scales at the moment, ‘cos I don’t wanna know what all this extravagance has done to my waistline. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss, eh?

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Obligatory cocktail photos. That tiny little drink in front of me really is a cocktail. It's a B-52: layers of Kahlúa, Baileys Irish Cream and Grand Marnier. We drank these things then decided to play a game of pool. We really should have done things the other way round, 'cos neither of us could pot a ball to save our lives! Of course, we blame the fact that the pool table was tilted and the cues were covered in a horrible, sticky varnish that made proper aiming impossible. That's our story and we're sticking to it!

It really didn’t matter that the weather wasn’t great – rain and storms, on and off – it was still a lot of fun. We are now both feeling totally relaxed and spoilt, and ready to move on and do some more sightseeing.

Brilliant birthday pressie, Pete. Thank you!

(*) Cyclos are Vietnamese rickshaws.

Posted by Julie1972 22:30 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

Shock! Horror!

Culture shock and cultural highlights in North Vietnam

Just before we left New Zealand, Pete’s mum and dad bought us this fabulous book:

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First-Time Around the World: we highly recommended this book if you are considering a trip of your own.

We love it! It’s full of great advice and has been invaluable on more than one occasion, so thank you, Pat and Joe. I knew I was going to enjoy reading it immediately, ‘cos the first thing I found when I was skimming through was this:

A friend of mine would never leave a place until he’d had a good time there. Another friend would not leave a destination until he had learnt something encouraging about the people and their culture. Both are currently stuck in Brisbane.

Cruel, but funny.

Anyway, I mention this book for a reason, bear with me…

First Time Around the World has this to say about Asia:

To some travellers, Asia is the home of the most exhilarating natural landscapes on the planet. To others, it’s a collection of frenzied cities and remote cultures connected by rough local transport through countless terraced rice paddies.

I have to confess that when I first arrived in Vietnam I was very definitely of the latter opinion. In fact, for the first couple of days I positively hated it! It was just so different from anything I’d experienced before, and I really wasn't prepared. From the moment we passed through customs and into the main lobby of the airport, everything was an all-out assault on the senses. We were followed by crowds of pushy locals trying to get us to buy stuff or hire their services, the traffic is just insane (and warrants a blog entry all of its own), and the cities are noisy, crowded and dusty. Two days in and I was already planning my escape.

Pete, quite rightly, was having none of it. For a start, we’d just paid $300 (US) for two expedited visas, and he also wanted to see the country before we went elsewhere. But he is a sympathetic fella, my Pete, and, seeing how stressed I was, he suggested we leave Hanoi a.s.a.p. and head for somewhere quieter.

He didn't have to ask me twice!

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Pete at the one tourist destination we visited in Hanoi: a shrine in the middle of a lake.

We had an interesting time leaving the city. Vietnam runs a series of ‘open buses’ which are aimed at tourists. They are relatively cheap, so we thought that this would be a good way to get to our next destination, Ninh Binh, some hour and a half away. Of course, it wasn’t that simple. The open bus that collected us was taking other passengers on a day trip. Once the guide realized we just wanted a one-way lift to town, he took us off the open bus, hailed a local Hanoi bus and told us we were going the rest of the way on that. This was kind of annoying: the local bus was crowded, so we couldn’t get proper seats, and there was absolutely nowhere to store our enormous backpacks which got in everyone’s way. Plus, we’d already paid the more expensive fare for the open bus. It wasn’t so bad in that we got there in one piece, but I still have bruises from that trip. It’s not really an experience I want to repeat.

Things improved considerably once we reached Ninh Binh. It is a smaller town, so there was less noise and fewer people, and we also got lucky with our hotel. We hadn’t pre-booked, just chose the first decent-looking place we came across. It turned out to be a really nice establishment. They also ran a series of day trips, complete with English-speaking guides, which were excellent value for money.

We took two tours:

The first was a river boat ride through three famous grottoes (Tam Coc), followed by a couple of temples, and a look round Hoa Lu, Vietnam’s ancient capital. The following day we visited a rescue centre for endangered primates, explored a really stunning cavern in the mountains, and had a motor boat trip to see traditional Vietnamese life in Kenh Ga floating village. (Kenh Ga = chicken canal, so called 'cos there used to be a lot of wild chooks in the area.)

Our guide was wonderful. As well as the history of each place we visited, she told us local myths and legends, so we came out of it with a mixture of names and dates, plus stories about dragons, kings with 1000 wives, treacherous priests, star-crossed lovers and Buddha, who reaching enlightenment sitting under a tree. She was also a great entertainer - like Robbie Williams, eh, Joe? (*) - instigating games when she thought we were getting tired and singing songs. At one point she taught us a children’s song in Vietnamese, the only word of which I can remember is “quack” ‘cos it’s the same in English.

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Me with our fabulous tour guide. I can't remember how to spell her name exactly, but it's roughly pronounced 'thou', as in the word 'thousand'. That's what we called her, anyway. If we got it wrong, she didn't seem to mind.

Once we actually started going out and doing things, my attitude began to change. Vietnam is actually an exceedingly beautiful country, and I have finally started to appreciate just how different it is from anything I have seen before. There are still aspects of the Western culture that I miss, but I’m learning to think less about that and concentrate on the good and positive stuff here. There are things that you just don’t get to see in the West. Yesterday evening we were enjoying a beer at a café when we saw half a dozen cows wandering down the middle of the road. The locals didn’t bat an eyelid, just swerved round them and carried on their way. The amount of stuff that people manage to pile onto their motorbikes is also amazing. Bags, boxes, whole families, you name it; they all somehow manage to balance it all and still drive. (The dodgiest thing I’ve seen is two guys balancing several large panes of glass between them. You’ve just gotta hope that they didn’t get into an accident!)

So, the upshot is, the worst of the culture shock has passed and I no longer want to go home. I am missing Western food terribly (heaven help the person in Europe who tries to get between me and a granary loaf!), but I am also enjoying the novelty of Asian culture. You might remember that in Japan Pete and I started playing the Mystery Food Product game, buying random, unidentifiable items from stores. Well this has been taken to the next level here in Vietnam, where we are now playing Mystery Menu Items. We recently left a beach resort called Sam Son (more on this later). It was a nice enough place, but unfortunately it is where the Vietnamese go for their holidays so it’s not really set up for Westerners at all. Very few people spoke English, and none of the menus were in English either, so we simply had to make educated guesses and select things that would hopefully turn out to be edible.

In the end we got smart. We booked an hour at an Internet cafe and made a list of all the common foods and their Vietnamese translations. Now we are able to at least identify the main ingredient in each dish (and avoid the less appealing ones like frog, dog and snake!) We've added a dozen other useful words and phrases, too, and I reckon that this page is going to be one of the most read pages in my notebook. I wish we'd thought of it sooner.

(*) Pete's dad has never forgiven Robbie for butchering the song 'White Christmas'.

Posted by Julie1972 20:24 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Thoughts on Japan – Part II

Out and about in the city

Getting around

We saw a large chunk of Tokyo while we were there, and did a lot of walking (sometimes 6 hours at a stretch), but we found that the best way to get around was to use the underground system. Tubes and trains are excellent in Japan: clean, cheap, and devastatingly efficient. They always turn up, and they leave on the dot. The station signs are in both Japanese and English, so finding your desired stop is easy.

Outside of the stations, however, things were a bit different. The problem, in a word, was bicycles. They are everywhere… and by ‘everywhere’ I mean ‘in the blooming way’. See, cyclists in Japan aren’t daft – they know they’d be crazy to ride on the road with all the cars, so they ride on the pavement.

As well as a nation of cyclists, the Japanese are also a nation of smokers (which came as a surprise to us), and they have cigarette vending machines on every other street corner. Just to shake things up a bit, the councils or whoever paint big Do Not Smoke and Walk signs all over the streets. Being good, obedient citizens, the Japanese have found another solution to this light-up ban: they smoke and cycle instead!

All this makes the simple act of nipping to the corner shop quite an adventure, I can tell you. If you make it back to your hotel without being run down or burned, you are doing very well indeed!

Tokyo city

The city itself is a bizarre mish-mash of old and new. Much of it is very urban – crowded streets, lots of tall buildings, nothing remarkable:

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Tokyo street scene.

But occasionally you’d peer down a side street and see something like this:

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An unexpected shrine.

One area that particularly stood out was Akihabara, which is a major shopping area for electronic, computer and anime products. Compared to the rest of Tokyo, this place was overwhelming: bright colours and lights, and so, so noisy. Apparently it is the 30th anniversary of Space Invaders this year, a factoid which made us feel our ages as we both remember when the game first appeared in amusement arcades. Time for us to start reminiscing about The Good Old Days, I guess… Anybody got a spare Zimmer frame?

There are many museums in Tokyo – too many to see in only 11 days – so we got recommendations from other travellers we met in our hotel. We were particularly impressed by the Edo-Tokyo Museum, which explains the history of the city. The place is a huge, barn-like structure, and inside they have constructed life-sized replicas of buildings (I remember a traditional Japanese house and a theatre). They also had the most intricate model villages I have ever seen – so much detail in such tiny figures. The thing I shall remember most about the place, though, was the escalators you had to use to access the upper floors. They were practically vertical! If you don’t like heights, I recommend you just grab the handrail tightly and try not to look down!

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Pete in a palanquin at the Edo-Tokyo Museum. We’d been walking all day, and he decided he wanted to be carried. Unfortunately he’d forgotten to bring his half-dozen servants with us to lift the thing, so he had to get out and hoof it along with the rest of us commoners!

Oh, yes, I nearly forgot:

The one reason I really wanted to visit Japan was the cherry blossoms. The Japanese are exceedingly fond of cherry blossom. It turns up in pictorial form everywhere (including manhole covers), and they hang fake blossoms from street lamps. Pete can’t understand what all the fuss is about. “They’re cherry trees,” he says. “Blossoming is what they do!” (The old misery!) Me, I like trees, so I was absolutely delighted to discover that we were visiting at the start of the official Cherry Blossom Season. Even better, our hotel was just a few tube stops away from Ueno Park which has long avenues of cherry trees. One night we decided to go to the park to see the trees lit up by Japanese lanterns – very pretty. This was about 8.30 in the evening, so we expected things to be fairly quiet. Not so! The place was heaving. Groups of people sat on tarpaulins beneath the trees, having picnics and getting drunk. Some of them had obviously been there all day, and we saw more than one neatly dressed businessman staggering down the road with his briefcase. It was quite strange to see.

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Just me and my cherry blossoms… and twenty gaziilion other tree-huggers!

And speaking of drunkards, we also discovered that talking to Aussies and New Zealanders in pubs leads to humungous drinking sessions and equally humongous hangovers. I was introduced to a pleasant enough tasting liquor called ‘Soju’. It went down easily enough, but its after-effects were so disturbing that I had to conclude that it was some local variation on metholated spirits. I later Googled it and found this description:

Soju - a South Korean drink made from rice, yams or tapioca, described by the Lonely Planet Guide to Korea as being as "potent as toilet bowl cleanser.”

Needless to say, I won’t be drinking it again!

In conclusion:

We both enjoyed our stay in Japan very much. It is a safe, clean country with a low crime rate, so we felt that it was a good place in which to experience our first foreign culture. We now know that we can generally make ourselves understood even if we can’t speak the language, and we learned enough of the local customs to keep ourselves out of trouble.

The downside, I feel, was the cost. Things were very expensive – we couldn't check our bank balance without wincing! It was worth it though. It is a fascinating country and we would like to return later in our tour to see the rest of the country (even if it means robbing a bank or two first!) Happily our next few destinations are in Southeast Asia which is notoriously cheap, so we should be able to recoup our losses a bit.

More very soon, 'cos I now have a proper Internet connection in my room - yay!

Posted by Julie1972 23:24 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

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