The ever-exhuberant gang
Annapurna South in view
Macchupuchre peak at 6.30 am
Weather: Sunny at first, and then it pours like nobody’s business.
In the morning the sky was clear, and from the base camp I was able to see Annapurna 1, Annapurna 2, Annapurna South, Macchupuchre and Himchuli, all the peaks for the main mountains on this side of the Himalayan range. Annapurna is literally translated into ‘the shape of harvest’, which describes the shape of the mountain. Macchupuchre is literally translated to ‘fishtail’, which is what the peak looks like.
But the day quickly turned sour as we made our way back where we came from. It started pouring rain again. Although this is one of the hottest month of the year here, it is also one of the wettest. As we hiked and approached Durali, the large waterfall ahead of us began having an avalanche. I had never seen an avalanche before in real life, and to be honest it was quite terrifying. The otherwise peaceful waterfall turned into a gush of large rocks and sediments, and with it the avalanche destroyed the bridge we were supposed to cross to get back.
I felt a little panicky, and tried to remain calm as my anxiety began. Ok I don’t want to be one of those people in the news who died from a freak of nature.
As a result, we had to put up a night in Deurali until the weather calms down and the villagers were able to rebuild the bridge. My waterproof shoes were soaking wet because the water level of the river we passed has raised, and it came right above my ankles, causing me to have to walk the rest of the way in squishy, soaking wet shoes in the cold and rain. It was awful.
At night, there is never a lot to do at the guest houses. It’s cold so most people hang about in the common area, nursing hot drinks while chatting or playing card games. As for me, I quite enjoy the silent time to write.
I underestimated: The severity of the avalanche
I overestimated: My ability to walk across rivers without getting soaking wet.
Tips: Have things to do at night time. A book, a journal, music, playing cards etc
Rainy weather, sunny spirits
Journalling every night before bed
Around the base camp grounds
At the arrival 'gate' of Annapurna Base Camp - the dog is not as excited as I was
Everyone so relieved to finally make it!
Weather: Freezing cold and wet
Alright. Imagine walking outside in a vast open space with barely any trees, just grassy lands. It’s a steady, cold shower, of about 2 degrees and the grounds are slick, muddy and wet. The wind is strong, and because it’s an open space, there is nowhere to get some shield from, so there you are walking in the middle of nowhere for hours next to a large river of icy waters, with your left eyeball not completely covered so you have to wear foggy reading glasses instead. And now you have to pee.
But on the upside, the view of the grasslands and valleys are magnificent. Honestly, why do I work in an office all day?
Eventually, there it was. We reached the Annapurna Base Camp, the holy pilgrimage destination all of those who hiked there were really coming for. The minute I saw the signboard looming in the distance, “Welcome to Annapurna”, my spirits quickly picked up and I literally ran for it.
I can’t describe the feeling. Exhilaration, gladness and a punch of adrenaline. Two dogs greeted us by the signboard, and I was just as glad to see them as they were glad to see me. It was definitely a moment I won’t forget, just being there, in the middle of nowhere, deep in the Himalayan wilderness, a place so foreign and lonely and distant from everything I have ever known. There are times in your life when the present moment surpasses your ‘real’ life – momentarily you forget about your problems, your obligations, and your past. This was one of them.
I will always love adventures. I hope it will always love me back in return.
I underestimated: The cold. It was numbingly cold.
I overestimated: My susceptibility to cold-weather illness. I feel flu coming.
Tips: Bring wet wipes. You won’t shower for a few days.
Locals going up and down the Base Camp route with their chores
So many flowers and wild berries growing around
A small temple in the middle of nowhere
One of the tea houses along the way
The flags you see everywhere - White (peace), Green (trees), Yellow (earth), Red (fire), Blue (sky)
What a day. It started off pretty rainy, which meant I had to put on my rain proof gear. But the rain around the Himalayas today is kind of like the boy you dated who was the emotional douche bag – one minute it’s rainy and freezing cold, and the next it’s suddenly warm again. Today my thighs hurt a little, but I was still doing pretty well pace-wise.
We hiked from Bamboo all the way to Deurali, past the 2700m elevation mark. Anything above this altitude presents a higher risk of altitude sickness, so I tried to be careful by not climbing up too fast. But somewhere along the way my left eye’s contact lens stuffed up, so I tried fixing it after washing my hand at a nearby guesthouse. Turned out the water wasn’t clean and my left eye got immediately infected, so I hiked for the rest of the day with just one functioning eyeball. I consider this as a new life achievement.
The view so far has been nothing short of spectacular. You hike past the Himalayan range, and this means passing through hundreds of waterfalls, all so tall that you can’t even see the top, so they look like water pouring out from the skies or from the clouds. It was all so magnificent. It was like a set of a Jurassic Park movie or something. The valleys are deep and lush, the gorges cut by freezing cold water from the snowy mountains. The scenery was all so beautiful that it often made me forget that I was tired or that I was cold and wet and miserable.
Along the way I also managed to talk to a few different people. One of them was a guy who told me a story of how he once got dumped in Santorini (and you can read about my contradictory pleasant experience of Santorini here). I thought that was a pretty sad story. This hike is also fast becoming an emotional experience too. Turns out a lot of people tell a lot of stories when there is no internet at night.
I underestimated: How crappy being wet and cold feels like
I overestimated: How much carbs I can eat. I have been eating tons of carbs. Puke.
Tips: Make sure you are wearing water proof hiking boots. There is nothing more miserable than climbing around with wet shoes and socks.
At main tea houses there are maps so you can track your whereabouts
Waterfalls number 176 I think haha
The beautiful Himalayan valleys
Yoga mornings at Chomrong
Locals drying corn around the villages
Our superhero porters!
I woke up this morning in Chomrong to clear blue skies. The whole place was surrounded by snowy mountains. It was just a beautiful sight to behold. Reminds you what a gorgeous place the earth is. No wonder the aliens want to occupy us.
The hike today was from Chomrong to Bamboo, passing by the main village of Chomrong, perched around the mountains, connected by thousands of staircases. The village was just breathtaking. Imagine small houses made with slate roofs, vegetable patches, dogs running around, free range chicken, cows and people just going about doing their daily business like farming, schools, or just sitting around saying hi to each passer-by.
Speaking of people and animals, the people in the mountains are strictly vegetarians. They are devout Hindus and Buddhists, and you’ll find that none of the items on the tea house menus serve any type of meat. The foods are simple, and I had my first taste of the famous dhal bhat, which is a rice dish served with a few types of broiled, blanched and stewed vegetable and beans, finished with of course, a bowl of dhal or lentil curry. It’s pretty good after you’ve done all the treacherous hike.
I didn’t carry my own luggage, with the exception of my back pack with the necessities I needed for the day. Our clothes and other stuff were carried by porters. Their names were Suresh, Bhaval and I can’t remember who the other name is, although I’ve asked him about 3 times. They told us that they aspire to eventually become Sherpas for the great Everest expeditions, and I hope they make it! They are such hard working boys, carrying luggages up and down the mountains for a living. One of them even looked like he just stepped out of an Amitabh Bahchan movie where he’s the hero.
Must remember to tip them extra when I'm finished.
There’s also a weird tingly sensation on my face today. What is this? Hopefully it’s nothing serious.
I underestimated: Sunburns. I look like the chicken I left in the oven for an extra hour.
I overestimated: My kneecaps. Apparently they are traumatised by the amount of uphill climb I’m doing today (where is the damn minyak angin cap kelapa when you need it??)
Tips: Wear sunscreen! Not only is sunburn hideous, they hurt. And you’re bound to get bad ones at this altitude.
Retired here for the day. I WANT MY OWN ORGANIC VEG PATCH
A local with her home-grown produce
Gurung bread - a typical Nepali breakfast. Tastes like kuih cakoi.
Friendly village dogs greeting passer by.
I made the long bus ride yesterday from Kathmandu to Pokhara (which is not to be confused with pakhora, the vegetable fritters) that lasted about 6 hours long. The road was a reflection of the country’s state of economy – they were not constructed well, with no real highways, and the pot holes were deep enough to bury a motorcycle, I reckon.
This morning I started off early. The jeep drove from Pokhara to Siwai, which is the point where the hike was expected to start. The first hour was relatively easy and pleasant, but unfortunately I was hit with a terrible headache. I first thought it was the early signs of AMS (Altitude Mountain Sickness), but eventually deduced that it was due to the bumpy ride of the jeep (imagine roads with twists and turns across the forest, with Nepali songs on full-blast the whole way). I took two aspirins and a short nap during lunch break at one of the tea houses along the way, and felt much better afterwards.
The rest of the hike today was just stunning. My guide, Ishur, took us past small villages and tea houses, all surrounded by mountain ranges, tall waterfalls and gushing rivers. This part of the hike was relatively low altitude – we walked past dense, thick Nepali forests swarmed with leeches. If you stop for more than 30 seconds be prepared to have at least 2 or 3 leeches climbing all over you. God bless my skin tight jeggings, I had no bloody attacks the whole day.
We reached our stop for the day, Chomrong, well into sunset. I had been hiking for more than 7 hours, and to be honest my legs were a bit shocked by the abuse. We were greeted at the top of the hills by 2 friendly pups who lead us all the way to the guest house. The guest house itself was pretty basic – a room with beds, blankets, no heaters, and no fancy towels. You brush your teeth outside in the cold before bed. There was also just one mirror to be shared by everyone at the guest house, and the girl inside me cringes.
Also, I had my first taste of Dhal Bhat! I local delicacy, it's basically white rice served with simple vegetarian dishes, and a bowl of dhal. It's quite nice actually.
I underestimated: The darn leeches. The climb up everywhere, even up to people’s necks!
I overestimated: The temperatures. It wasn’t as freezing as I thought it would be.
Tips: Bring some ointment for cuts, insect bites and leech bites. Itchiness is a liability when you’re hiking.
Every couple of hours you'll find small guest houses or villages
Small temples in the hills
One of the local porters
If you’ve heard of Pompeii, chances are your mind is quickly associating it to the infamous volcanic eruption that destroyed the Pompeii city. And rightfully so, as this is pretty much the reason why so many people would flock to this Italian region. And with all its tragic backstory, it’s not a wonder that my Mom wasn’t so keen about me going, as she probably pictured a horrendous image of a sudden eruption and I might be caught in the middle of it all.
And to be honest, my naturally wild imagination also had a little anxiety somewhere in the back of my mind as I arrived at the Pompeii train station of a similar possibility. “Don’t worry, the last eruption happened during World War 2,” said a local, in an attempt to make me feel better. You mean it wasn’t thousands of years ago?? I thought frantically.
I arrived in Pompeii via train, and suffice to say that the train system is nowhere as fancy as others you’d find around Europe. The stations looked kind of old, and the spray-paint vandalism on the train coaches and station walls didn’t exactly help either. But what it lacks in glamour it makes up with it’s very relaxed attitude – I found that the locals were a lot more chill, and walking around the city was a relaxing affair.
In any case, if Pompeii is one of your to-do list (and seriously, it should be), here are some of the top things one should look forward to when visiting.
Hiking path up to the peak
At the crater of Mount Vesuvius
1. Hike Mount Vesuvius
Yes, it’s an amazing experience. No, it’s not spewing with lava. Mount Vesuvius is the volcano, you know, the volcano that buried Pompeii 30 meters deep with its ash. There are a lot of tours offering this hiking package, but whatever your choice is, it shouldn’t cost more than 10 euros. It’s an easy to moderate hike, depending on the weather. If it’s particularly cold, wear appropriate thermal wear and please, please, please bring gloves. It was so cold and windy on my way up that my hands felt numb and I wondered if they might just fall off like a chuck of frozen meat. Bring water, camera and some money – chances are you’d want hot tea after you’re done climbing.
The view is worth all the trouble, though. You get a bird’s eye view of the whole city, and one could only imagine how far the eruption must’ve been to be able to diminish the whole city to the extent of the coastline.
Clockwise from top left: Street food at bargain prices, tiramisu, fresh mozzarella,
gnocchi pomodoro (potato dumplings in tomato sauce)
2. Eat, eat, and then eat again
Hey, it’s Italy. What do you expect? The good news is food here is a lot cheaper compared to other European cities. If you’re on a budget, street food is abundant, from slices of warm pizza to fried risotto balls to comforting potato croches. Otherwise, there are restaurants everywhere offering reasonable dinner sets of the usual delicious suspects – pasta, pizza, risotto, seafood, and a myriad of local desserts.
Speaking of which, don’t forget to indulge in their local dessert, the global-famous tiramisu or some cannoli! Back in the day, tiramisu was considered peasant food, as the locals didn’t want to waste stale bread. In any case, how awesome is it to be able to eat it at its real place of origin?
Actual figures of the eruption victims, reconstructed with plaster
Streets of ancient Pompeii at sunset
Preserved painting at one of the mansions in the ruins area
3. Visit the Pompeii ruins
What’s the point of going to Pompeii if you’re not visiting the Pompeii ruins? I’m here to tell you straight up that checking them out is definitely one for the books. Imagine a large city, once the pride of a Roman empire, buried in an instant by volcanic eruption. What happens then is that everything is preserved exactly the way it is, including the buildings, the coliseum, the people, and the monuments. You buy a whole-day pass and don’t worry, it’s really worth the money. Better yet, get yourself one of those audio guides that will explain to you everything you’re seeing. You’ll be walking in the ancient city of Pompeii, past the streets of houses, prostitute centres, markets, laundry houses, and preserved figures of the victims of the eruption.
It’s eerie yet amazing at the same time, walking around the ‘dead’ city while trying to picture what life must be like back then, and how terrifying the eruption would have been.
Local church, central Pompeii
4. Go to church
Pompeiians love their faith, and the predominantly Christian community exhibits wonderful displays of local churches around the city. Don’t be shy and step into one of them, sit at the back and enjoy the beautiful architecture. There was a mass christening in particular when I visited, and it was quite awesome to be watching the whole procession and enjoy the hymns echoing against the beautiful painted glass and historical interior.
As usual, when visiting spiritual centres, don’t be a nuisance, don’t be too loud and always be respectful of others, regardless of what your own personal views are.
Laid-back street of modern day Pompeii
5. Learn its history
There is so much more to Pompeii than just a story of a volcanic eruption. For instance, did you know that it also houses another ancient city called Herculaneum? It is currently under reconstruction and excavation, but soon it would be open for visits.
Other than that, Pompeii is a pleasant Italian city perfect if you’re looking for an excuse to bask in some history while eating a plate of pasta or two (alright, alright, I meant five). Unlike other more progressive cities in Europe, Pompeii is comparatively modest. It’s a perfect place to stop by if you’re traveling around this region, particularly if you’re looking to escape the busier Amalfi coast or the louder Napoli city.
I have a thing about places that are over-touristed (is that even a real word?). They look great in Instagram, they give you over-the-top hospitality and luxury, and it feels like an escape into a world where things are simple and nothing really matters. I enjoy these things too, once in a while. But for the perks that they give, they also take away the thing I like most about travel – to assimilate into a different culture, a different life, and watch the world through a stranger’s eyes, from some other parts of the world you don’t belong in.
In other words, I wasn’t crazy keen on Santorini before I got there. In pictures it looks perfect, and if there is one thing I know about picture-perfect things is that it will not be the case in reality. My flight to Santorini Island was delayed for 4 hours, and as I sat there in the Athens Airport, grumpy and unshowered, I thought to myself, Santorini better be really good.
And it turns out Santorini delivered. When you land at the airport of the small island, you can take either a personal chauffeur or the local bus to your hotel, at a flat price rate (the bus is staggeringly cheaper). Santorini is mainly divided into two parts; the East side of the island is where the local lives, with more beaches and less people, and the West side which is the main star, the mecca of tourism of the island.
I settled into one of the rooms overlooking the coast, and immediately was glad I only carried a light backpack. Santorini is not for the unfit nor the knee-deformed humans. Oia, which is a small section North of the island, consists of hundreds of small rooms and villas, each interconnected by narrow roads, steep stairs and confusing routes to go around. To add to the confusion, everything is white. There is not one single man-made wall, bridge, roof, and fence that is not in the default whitest-of-white paint. Everything is so white, your teeth feels yellow. Everything is so white, you’ll need sunglasses or risk very bad glare.
Remember how beautiful Santorini looks in Google? I thought I’d let you know it looks even better in real life. There is something breathtaking in the offset of colours here – everything white, with dots of church domes painted sapphire blue. The cliffs are wrapped by the small white squares, and against it, the dark, misty Aegean sea. The narrow streets are adorned with small restaurants, gift shops, book shops (note: one MUST visit the Atlantis Bookstore, dubbed as one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world) and mysterious wooden doors.
If you travel on foot from Imerovigli to Fira, you’re in for a treat. It’s probably one of the most beautiful walks you’ll ever have on an island. Take your time when you do it. Stop by for drinks. Explore the hidden picturesque spots along the road. Pause to enjoy the view once in a while. I did the walk during sunset, and I recommend you do the same.
If you’re looking for something a little more quiet, take a bus and stop by Pyros. Pyros is the ‘orginial’ Santorini, which basically lets you see how the island looked like before all the tourism came into the picture. Pyros is quiet and lonely, with a Byzantine castle on top of the hill that you can reach by walked up the narrow streets of the neighbourhood. Get up there and see the whole of Santorini from a bird’s eye point of view, because this location is right at the centre of the curve of the island. There is a small café at the foot of the castle called Penelope, and you can sit back and enjoy some sun and breeze with a tall glass of frappe (did you know frappe originates from Greece? So you know you gotta have some) and a plate of tomato fritters (found everywhere in Greece, but originates from Santorini).
And while you’re enjoying the epitome of hyperpolic tourism, why not feast, island style? It’s an island, so expect its forte to be all the produce of the sea. People seem to really enjoy smoked octopus here, and it seems that they have perfected the art of prepping the tentacles so that they are never rubbery. Seafood pasta, grilled swordfish, and if you miss home than head down to Fira and there is a square with ethnic food options – I had a bowl of tomyam. Whoops. #asianproblems
And then, by the end of it, you haven’t been to Santorini if you haven’t seen a sunset in Santorini. Unfortunately the crowd gets crazy at the good viewing spots, but that’s okay. Happiness is best when shared with a crowd of sweaty, loud strangers, right? Oia is known to have the best spots for sunsets, especially if you go up to the old castle ruins. Watch the sun go down beyond the horizon, turning everything that is white into yellow, and everything that is blue into a dark mystery. The windmill at the edge of the island looks faraway and mythical, and despite your fear of heights (read: me), climb up the walls of the castle and stay there until the sun is long gone and the cliffs lghts up with thousands of sparkling dotted yellow lights and you’re once again, looking at Santorini in a brand-new way.
As you sit there, you’ll think to yourself how the heck it is that you got so lucky to see these beautiful places with your very own eyes. And you should think so. Santorini demands that you do.
What was the first word that crossed my mind when I landed in Saudi Arabia?
Everything is beige. The desert that seems to extend for eternity, miles and miles of complete nothingness except for brown sand, brown sand, and even more brown sand. It reminds you of the Star Wars movies, the scenes of alien planets that are just hot and barren with absolutely no living thing. The camels are brown. The buildings are tall and brown.
But then you realize that the thing about this place is that you need time to observe it properly to realize that there is more to it than just bland-colored buildings, men in white robes and women covered from head to toe in black. And if you ever visit Ta’if, the city on the slopes of al-Hada Valley, this is when you begin to see that there might just be more than meets the eye about Saudi.
The first rule of a traveler is you need to be objective. This means stepping out of your predetermined impression of what a place is like. And I’ll be honest – like the most of us, of course I had an impression of what Saudi might be like. When it was described to me that the al-Hada valley is a haven, I was perplexed. A haven? How is a haven possible in the middle of a scorching hot desert?
But as I strolled down the many stalls selling local fruits, all bursting with beautiful colors and juicy natural sweetness, I was amazed with the amount of produce the valley is able to yield. The place was so much more pleasant than I expected; a more temperate weather due to its elevated location, amazing historical monuments, and gorgeous ripe grapes I nibbled on as I explored the Ta’if city.
Slightly outside the city, you get to see ancient history. Small mosques, centuries old, just as small as the modern-day huts made of clay so that they block the cold in the winters, and yet stay cool in the summers. You can roam around mindlessly and check out the old manuscripts and books kept in the corners of these small buildings. It makes you wonder what life must be like back then, when these buildings were all there were. Did people in these times went through the same things we went through? Definitely a much simpler life, I concluded.
I stopped by a streetside tea ‘station’, which is basically an outdoor stove with large iron kettles brewing scalding hot, overly sweet mint tea. In the evenings when the temperature drops, this is the best choice of beverage, whereas in the hotter middays one must give the pomegranate juice a shot – the pomegranates are locally grown and naturally ripened, which make for divine juices.
If there is one other thing this region is famous for, it’s the roses. You might think that it’s just some little old local rose farming, but al-Hada produces some of the best out there, with the flowers being used by notable perfume houses, like Chanel and Guerlain. Drop by a rose farm and you get to sample the products infused by these intoxicating floral fragrances. For me, the highlight is the farm itself. It’s the strange paradox; the background is of rocky, sandy hills, but the roses seem to thrive here, all lush and green and intertwined by rosemary and sage plants. It’s quiet, cool, and smells like you’re in a luxurious perfume bottle.
So I suppose there really is more to Saudi than meets the eye. I’ve only been to al-Hada Valley, but if that was any indication, I suspect that there are so many other hidden gems, just waiting to pleasantly surprise us with the fascinating secrets they have to offer.
Furore is part of the greater Amalfi coast, yes, but it is not exactly Amalfi as what you would see in the postcards. It’s actually about 30 minutes away from Amalfi town, so really, Furore is a small, quiet, coastal village a bit off from touristy Amalfi. And rightfully so, as it has its own charm and personality.
I arrive in Naples and after a healthy dose of Neapolitan pizza (of which I finished a whole pie by myself #FATamal), I am greeted by my host, Raniero. We then proceed to drive to Furore in his white Fiat Panda, past fields, villages, coastlines through narrow, curvy roads that would pass for a Formula 1 track. Before I manage to get really sick we arrive, down a small narrow road that leads to a small cottage, right on the coast facing the wide, blue Mediterranean sea.
The secluded little cottage
Raniero's family's little vineyard, in winter
I am gobsmacked. It is just too beautiful for words. The square, white cottage is surrounded by olive trees at the front, grape vines at the balcony and on the right side, large lemon trees next to a barbecue pit, with beautiful, yellow, juicy lemons. Beyond these trees is a vast view of the sea, dark blue, showing signs of a menacing winter rainstorm.
The cottage itself feels like some kind of Diva Channel Telemovie scene brought to life (no cute rugged Italian farmer though, unfortunately) – it is cosy, detailed to perfection. There is a large fireplace in the living room with a couch and guitars, and above the mantle are picture frames and trinkets with Italian words engraved. The kitchen has a small wooden table at the centre, and you can imagine Raniero’s mom moving about; the counter with drinks and cups, a pantry with at least 10 different types of dried pasta (I counted), a stove with an array of local olive oil of all types to try.
The narrow staircase leads to the bedrooms and bathroom. The bathroom is cute, with a small bath tub that has a window overlooking the sea. But the bedroom is a world in its own. There are floor-to-ceiling book racks filled with editions of many languages, vinyl records, board games, and mementos from the owner’s travels. But of course, the best thing has to be the writing desk. It is a large wooden one, and it faces the Mediterranean sea, the breeze coming in through the balcony doors past the blue and white curtains. One could easily imagine sitting there for hours, writing, reading or just plain daydreaming.
Window to the Mediterranean
To be clear, I wouldn't be caught dead in those crocs. They were already there at the house.
There is a small coffee shop where the locals would drop buy for a cup of coffee or a slice of local desserts made that day. Furore has a few restaurants, but most would close down during the low season. There are also local grocery stores, and upon Raniero’s advice, I go into one down the street, manned by a cheerful nonna, and ask for the local specialty – fior di latte cheese, sandwiched between some pane (bread) with a good drizzle of local, extra virgin olive oil. The result? Delizioso! Fior di latte is a relative to mozzarella – think of a softer, creamier version of it. It was so good I ate it again for breakfast the next day, by making a caprese salad with juicy, ripe local tomatoes and some of the olive oil at the cottage. By this time I had given up on the idea that I was going to try and go slow on the cheese at the mercy of my waistline.
One could pop in the coffee chop for a cup of Napoli's best!
Caprese's salad at the front porch, using fior di latte local cheese
Missing pups :(
Sunrise is what the cottage is all about. It faces the sun at this time of the day, and as the rays of sunshine emerges from behind the tall cliffs, I find myself just standing in the chilly morning outside, taking it all in. The local farmers start early here, so as soon as the sun rises you can hear and see them going about their business. Some are trimming olive trees, some gathering the lemons and oranges they grow, some revving their truck engines, and some taking their dogs out. I sit outside watching the morning go by with my plate of cheese and a cup of hot lemon tea made from the lemons outside the house.
Furore feels like one of those magical, hidden Italian villages you would come to when you need a break from life. It’s quiet, beautiful and lonely, like an imaginary pause button when you desperately need one. With delicious local produce and a picturesque coastline to match, it’s all you would ever need for an epic escapade.
NOTE: You can check out my short Vlog of Furore at my Instagram page!
Olive trees set on the coast, right in front of the house
I’ll be honest – I’ve never really thought about going to Japan anytime soon. I’m not really sure why. Perhaps it’s because although I enjoy Japanese food, it’s not really my favourite, and I seem to always attach travel to some kind of gastronomic indulgence so I tend to want to go to places where I can eat things I like. I saw Japan from the eyes of the TV, and it always looked so regal and clean and flowery and cultural. So I suppose I’ve always felt that it was a rather interesting place, but the urge to actually go never really manifested itself.
But one day, an opportunity came and I just couldn’t pass up the chance to go see Japan for myself! I spent about a week exploring the city and its outskirts, and here I list my Top 10 things I think you should not miss out on if you ever land your butt in Tokyo.
1. See A Glimpse Of Mount Fuji In Hakone
Okay, this isn’t exactly in Tokyo city. In fact, you’ll have to take a 2-hour train to Hakone, a highland village surrounded by gorgeous rivers, lake, and greens with a supreme view of the majestic Mount Fuji. Take the Hakone Free Pass, which means you pay around RM200 for full access to all its public transportations (cable car, train, bus, ferry, 2-coach tram) for 2 days, including the train from Tokyo to Hakone.
When you’re here, try your best to get on all types of transportations, as each of them offers stunning views of different things – the ferry goes around the beautiful Lake Ashi, the buses give you access to peaceful shrines, and the cable car takes you for breathtaking views of Mount Fuji. Food is a little more expensive than Tokyo, and I bought decent meals from 7-eleven or Lawson and would eat by the river while enjoying some sun and watching Japanese teenagers take pictures like they’re in America’s Next Top Model.
2. Be A Child In Disneyland
I know it sounds kind of lame. Disneyland? What are you, twelve? (I wish. I had lots more collagen back then) But there is a reason why this is the happiest place on earth. When you’re in Disneyland, be a kid. Really. That’s the best way to enjoy it. Dance, sing along to childhood Disney tunes, eat junk food, go for rides, climb here and there, laugh a lot, and watch the parades. Disneyland is enchanting and picture-perfect and beaming with unadulterated joy that you’ll no sooner forget about your work or your ex or your mundane Netflix life. At least for a while anyway.
By the way, did you know that Mickey and Minnie live in separate houses? Kind of sends the wrong message to the kids about marriage, if you ask me.
3. Eat At A Tiny Neighbourhood Restaurant
Prior to my trip I did a lot of research that alluded to eating out in Tokyo as ridiculously expensive. Which is true, up to a point. It was hard to find a proper meal that costs less than RM20, for instance. And I suppose you should expect that from a city that boasts more Michelin Star restaurants than any other place in the world.
But that being said, I also discovered that the best way to enjoy local Japanese food without selling your kidney is to try the smaller, neighbourhood restaurants. Get off the main tourist areas and into the quieter districts of Tokyo, and you’ll find plenty of small eateries (with only a few tables or less, or even just bar seating) with delicious house specialties. And for the love of God, try not to McDonald’s your way out of mealtimes.
4. Join The Crowd At Shibuya Crossing
Only tourists will ever find joy in joining a crowd of hundred trying to cross the street. But then again, for all you aspiring Insta-Famous celebs out there, what is a trip to Tokyo without a snap of the organised chaos of humans at this popular junction crossing? The appeal to me is the herds of humans in this big, big city, and you’re just another one of those hundreds in that junction point at that particular time. It makes you feel small, in a way.
My tip would be to go there around sunset, as the lighting gives off a better picture, and you’ll be in time to see the billboard lights pop against the darkening sky. There’s also a statue of Hachiko (if you don’t know what this is, suffice to say that you should watch the movie and bring a lot of tissues), and once you’re all done with people-watching, why not pop over at the Lindt Chocolatier Café nearby? Try a cup of its dark hot chocolate. Then thank me later.
5. Find Hidden Treasures at Jimbocho Secondhand Book District
Jimbocho District is the second largest secondhand bookstore area in the world. It comprises of a few streets with a lot of secondhand bookshops, and in the ultimate Japanese manner, categorized neatly according to book genres. If you’re a book lover you would probably hyperventilate (at one point, a Japanese bookstore owner had to try and calm me down when I found a 1970 copy of the ORIGINAL WINNIE THE POOH book. I bought it, by the way).
If you’re not a book lover, you’ll still appreciate the sentiment of the area. The stacks and rows of old books are absolutely picture-worthy, and you’ll enjoy going through some of the old editions – it’s strange to think that some of the scribbles in the books are from people who lived in a different lifetime than us and are long gone.
This is a great place to get art pieces and/or some original souvenirs. Think old sent-out postcards, vintage Doraemon comics and leather bound children’s books.
6. Sample Sashimi At Tsujki Fish Market
And if you have the balls, why not show up at the market at 3 am in the morning to witness the world-famous tuna auction?
If that doesn’t float your boat, I bet eating does. So head over to the streets along the market to sample some Japanese breakfast. Sashimi at 5 am? Because why not? Unlike some dodgy sushi outlets back home, here you’ll find that the seafood is fresh (well, you’re at the fish market after all), and there are so many options to choose from.
7. Shrine Hopping At Old Tokyo
If you’ve seen one shrine, you’ve seen it all.
That’s probably what my Dad would say. But my Dad probably has not walked around Old Tokyo to check out its many shrines and cemeteries. Old Tokyo, or Yanaka, is an area in the suburbs, much quieter and dotted with many small, unique shrines. The cemetery is especially famous during the Sakura season, as the streets are lined with these beautiful tress with cherry blossoms that turn the whole place vibrantly pink.
Speaking of Old Tokyo, you can also check out other smaller areas that exhibit Tokyo’s past. There is Golden Gai, which are narrow streets with small, quaint bars that can only host a few people at a time. Piss Alley (unfortunately I didn’t see a single person peeing in public) is also pretty especially at night time with the Japanese lanterns and dim romantic lights along the tiny alleys. Take note that these places will always amp up its food and drinks prices.
8. Try Streetfood And The Vending Machines
There are vending machines everywhere! Literally, everywhere! Check these out, and if you don’t enjoy sugary drinks like me you can always take nice pictures with them anyway.
On another note, streetfood is a great way to try cheap local food. Of course Takoyaki will always be the crowd’s favourite, warm balls with octopus in the center and a crispy outside. There are grilled meats, crepes, baked sweet potatoes, deep fried favourites and fresh rice crackers, amongst other popular choices. If you’re having trouble choosing which stall to visit, just remember a tip someone gave me; go to the ones where the locals line up.
9. Go Fortune Telling at Senso-Ji Temple
And before you go all netizen and wonder why the heck should one believe in fortune telling, I should say that whether you believe it or not, it’s always a fun little activity! Senso-Ji Temple is the oldest temple in Tokyo, and in adapting to the more international crowd coming its way these days, the fortunes are also written in English.
They are mostly generic predictions (“You have Good Fortune”, “The one you wait for will come soon” “Better get some cats soon” -__-), so relax and don’t take it too personally.
Otherwise, you can always hang around the pretty gardens, visit the shop stalls or watch a religious procession happening in that area.
10. Check Out Cheap Electronics At Akihabara
In case you want to spend time choosing new earphones from a choice of 500 earphones on sale, you should really come here to Akihabara. It’s an area with so many electronics shops it will make your head spin, and if you’re one of those crazy gadget-guys, you’ll probably have a seizure.
The electronics are in general a lot cheaper than back in Malaysia, and aside from these things, there are also anime shops aplenty (psstt there are also shops selling weird porn anime stuff, in case you’re asking for a ‘friend’). Akihabara is an interesting place to observe the common popular notion of the modern Japanese culture of video games, comic books and technology.
So there you go! I’m sure there are so many more interesting things to check out in Tokyo if one has more time, but so far, these are the things that stand out to me the most. Who knows, maybe one of these days I’ll pay Japan a visit again. I certainly am glad to have had the chance to see it for the first time with FlyScoot Dreamliner!