So much to see in Tokyo

A week in Tokyo is going so fast! Over the last couple of days we’ve checked out Ueno Park and surrounds, Shinjuku shopping, and a few of the local craft brew bars.

Ueno Park was in full cherry blossom frenzy, even though there was not much blossom actually out yet. People were picnicking and taking photos and having a good time regardless. A wonderful atmosphere. We detoured to Benten Hall, and on the way there was a kind of flea market and various street food stalls which was interesting viewing. We also stopped in at the Toshogu Shrine and Daibatsu before picking up some street food lunch – on the way to the fabulous Tokyo Museum. So much to see at the park and Museum, but we gave it a good try and enjoyed everything we saw. On the way home, we tried out the Irish Pub ‘World End’ and it’s sister venue, Towa. Towa has Japanese craft beer and soba noodles. I liked both places. World End was a trip back in time – punk music playing and the venue smoky and dark. Towa was much more sophisticated – with the added Tokyo element of trains rumbling over head every 5 minutes or so. We finished off the evening with a walk around some of the Ueno sidestreets. Venturing into some pachinko and slot machine venues was an experience – the volume was incredibly loud with music and machine noise, and the venues were busy, with young/old/male/female playing.

 

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Sweating in Ayutthaya

Our chosen hotel happened to be across the road from Phra Ram Park. Usually a peaceful place, according to the blogosphere, on our arrival it was alive with a large event crew setting up for a big event. Our BnB proprietor told us that a huge muay thai championship was being held on the Friday (we arrived Wednesday night), and was quite relieved when we said we would be checking out by 10.30 am on Friday – as he needed our room for the Mayor, who would be officiating at the ceremony.

As we were within walking distance of a number of historic sites (some of which M and I are lucky enough to have seen about six years ago) we headed off on Thursday morning to check out some places. After lunch we rested in the air conditioning – then did a late afternoon boat tour, ending with dinner at the fabulous night market. We enjoyed our two nights in Ayutthaya, but I have to say for ancient temples, Sukhothai and Si Satchanali were my preferred locations. And on Friday when we left for Bangkok (taxi door to door – 1400 baht) it pelted with rain about 30 minutes into the journey. I hope the mayor didn’t get wet.

 

 

Chiang Mai touring – warm up

After a few days here by ourselves, we met up with family and friends to make a party of 6. Thanks to our dear Thai friends we had two and a bit days of fascinating sightseeing and eating.

Prior to meeting up we headed to the train station to get tickets. We’d had advice that we could buy them in advance – which was true for the first leg of our journey, to Phitsanulok. All the other tickets we will need to buy on the day… Oh, and if you’re buying a ticket, you will need a passport for everyone who is travelling. No passport, no ticket issued.

M is becoming an expert at hailing long taxis – we did fit four of us into a tuktuk, but it was a squeeze. He has discovered the best trick is to know which Wat is near where you want to go – the driver may not recognise the street or the hotel, but he will likely know the Wat. A map sometimes helps too.

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A long taxi – tell the driver your destination and negotiate a fare. Most of the time it has been 20 to 30 THB per ride (around $1 or so)

Our first night all together our friends took us to an amazing temple, unlike anything I’d ever seen before – Wat Muen San. There are a number of temples on the site but the one we looked at most closely was covered in detailed and sometime intricate silver metal work. We then headed to the Sunday walking street and tasted plenty of excellent street food. My favourite new taste sensation was mieng kham (betel leaf wrapped snack).

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Mandalay sights

We took things very easy in Mandalay – sightseeing by bike in the morning and staying out for lunch, then a couple of hours rest in the afternoon – and out again late afternoon.

Inspired by the postcard above, we went along to see the famous Mahamuni Buddha – the paya was packed! Very much a working temple. And this was the only place that M’s long shorts did not cut it – he had to hire a longyi to cover his knees.

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Only men are allowed to apply gold leaf to the image to make merit – shown on video screens as it’s hard to get near the front to see what’s going on
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One of the entrances to Mahamuni Paya
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On our self guided bike tour (with a route suggested by the guide book) we stopped at the Arrawaddy River View Hotel Sky Bar. M was aghast we paid $3 US for an Americano. But it was great coffee and a good view. And a biscuit.
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One of the highlights of our bike tour was the flower market.

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Tour day

The Boat Tour is the thing at Inle Lake – and there are plenty of captains ready to broker a deal. Taking advice we decided on an early start, and an itinerary which began with the market for the day. As the guide books will tell you, Inle Lake has a 5 day market where the location rotates between villages. On the day we went it was Inthein, a longer boat journey of about 45mins to an hour. We left at 7.30am so were amongst the first at the market, after a lovely (and chilly) ride across the lake.

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Motoring through the canal to Inthein
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Five boats deep at the Floating Pagoda jetty
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Restaurant view

By the time we left two hours later, the place was teeming with tourists. The food market was excellent, and much less touristy than any we’ve seen. The adjoining tourist market had some lovely textiles, clothing, jewellery and trinkets, with keen but not aggressive sellers.  We spent an hour at the market and an hour checking out Nyaung Ohak (pagoda ruins) and the Shwe Inn Thein Paya. Both were really picturesque and we could easily have spent longer in Inthein.

The rest of the day included visits to various craft workshops, the floating pagoda, and lunch on the lake. And we saw the foot-rowing fishermen of Inle Lake – real and those from central casting.

Mingalaba

No, not a dusty town in outback NSW – mingalaba is ‘hello’ in Myanmar. I can remember hello but ‘thank you’ is proving trickier – jay zu din ba de. I’ll keep practising. M has it down already. Having been in Yangon a couple of days we’re having a great time getting back into Asian life. Sightseeing yesterday included the Bogyoke Market, where we discovered a great coffee seller and had a good look round. In the afternoon, we visited the Botataung Pagoda, which has an unusual zigzag interior design.

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This coffee seller was a lovely guy – M bought a cup of coffee but we didn’t have a small enough note to pay for it. The seller was unconcerned and encouraged us to sit and enjoy the coffee first. As it was excellent coffee it was easy to buy some beans as well and resolve the ‘no-change’ dilemma. Absolutely recommended if you’re heading to the market.
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Where we’ve been in Yangon so far there are plenty of betel nut users – hence the ‘no spitting’ sign at the market.
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Loved the poster accompanying the ‘Traditional *wears*’ shop – can’t imagine it ever gets cold enough to need a military-style overcoat…
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Gorgeous golden zigzag interior of the main Botataung Pagoda. The ‘sunwise’ swastika is considered an auspicious sign in Buddhism (so google tells me).