Harajuku!

Harajuku!

Since being up so late, I slept in this morning which was nice. I walked around my neighborhood until I found a little cafe and I sat and wrote for a bit. In the afternoon I decided I wanted to check out Harajuku so I headed there via train. I got off at Shibuya and walked from there to Harajuku which was less than a mile. I’m glad I did because it was the coolest little neighborhood. I ended up popping into an “anime” café, where food and drinks were anime themed. It was one of the most relaxing cafes I’ve been to. Probably because it was super small and cozy and they were playing anime cartoons (only set to music) on a television. There were two boys doing their homework next to me and I could only think that I’d choose this over the library as well.

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Amezakui, Robots and Karaoke.

Amezakui, Robots and Karaoke.

As a kid I was always obsessed with the art of glass blowing. I wanted to be a glass blower as a profession, but clearly that didn’t take off. When I saw a picture of Amezakui, which is like glass blowing for sugar candy, I knew I had to try it. I found the place that sells them, and then found their head office. Luckily, the office does offer workshops, albeit all in Japanese. They have an instruction sheet in English, so that was good enough for me, I signed up.

I walked there on a quiet, sleepy Sunday morning in the neighborhood. Streets were empty besides a few joggers, elders playing croquet and occasionally some folks off to work on a bicycle. I arrived far too early so I decided to look for a place to eat and warm up. I definitely could have used a warmer coat. There weren’t many places open but eventually I came across one. It was the most charming cafe! They were playing quiet music, had warm blankets and gave me an English menu that included a map and history of the town. After finishing my breakfast, the barista gave me a complimentary piece of tiramisu. Then, upon leaving, they gave me a cookie that said thank you on it! It was such a sweet hospitable experience. I also stopped at another Shrine on my way there. I love how these Shrines are placed in very populated areas of the city (or perhaps vice versa, the cities were built around them).

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WanderLOST in Japan ;)

WanderLOST in Japan ;)

I admit, my first two days in Japan included me getting lost a lot. Regardless, I was enjoying the experience because I usually stumbled across something interesting. My first impression of Japan is that the people are very formal and polite and that the city is very clean and well organized. I opted for a taxi because it was late and I didn’t have a working cellphone to use for navigation. It cost me though, that, or I just wasn’t used to paying so much after being in Thailand for 2 weeks.

I arrived at my hostel (in Asakusa) and the first thing I needed to do was get a SIM card and warmer clothes. I grabbed my warmest outfit and headed to a Family Mart where the reception said I could buy a SIM. I ended up finding it after a few wrong turns and bought one. I struggled to get it to work but I think I was just tired. I finally realized I needed WiFi to set it up… so I went back to my hostel and set it up. Success! Then, I went to a shopping mall I found nearby and bought a bright yellow sweatshirt. Which later turned out to be a poor choice because it came quite obvious I was wearing the same thing everyday.

I decided I should get a bite to eat too so I wandered around until I found a place that looked cute. It was super small, like San Fran small, and I was seated upstairs next to a table of 12 businessmen enjoying themselves and occasionally standing up to give a speech. My table had a stove on it (Hibachi) so they cooked my meal in front of me as I enjoyed a Sake and tried to figure out how to eat it off the stove with this little tool they gave me. I noticed that the neighborhood was starting to close down which sort of surprised me being that it was only 9:30pm on a Friday, but I was tired anyhow so went back.

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The next day I wanted to see the world’s largest crosswalk in Shibuya so I found a subway station and hopped on one. I was pleased at how easy it was to get there, a straight shot and took about 25 minutes only. In which those 25 minutes I enjoyed the most delicious strawberry flavored bread in the shape of a heart. I’m going back there tomorrow just to buy the one shaped like a sumo wrestler. The subways were super quiet too, but I guess people didn’t really talk on NYC subways either.

After watching people cross, I got a Sakura Pink Milk Latte at Starbucks did some shopping. The first store I went in I could have spent hours in. It was a mix of little snacks, makeup, paper good and they were all so stinking cute!!! I ended up getting the most random things like CosPlay contacts, Thank you cards written on candy, Disney Character lipstick, Peter Rabbit bath salts, and Pokemon surprise inside candy.

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Next, went into this clothing store that was full of teenage Japanese girls, exactly who I want to dress like. I needed warmer clothes anyways so I ended up treating myself to two pairs of pants, 2 new shirts, and new pair of kicks that will cover my ankles (so I don’t have to wear socks with my Toms anymore, it really wasn’t a good look despite my efforts). I worked up an appetite after all of the shopping, so found a spot that served great ramen and plum wine.

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I wanted to checkout Shinjuku and decided to walk there since it’s only 2 miles away. To my delight, the walk passed through a park and then a forest. I entered the Shinto shrine gate and then to the shrine shrine, Meiji Jingu. It was rebuilt after being destroyed in WW2 so it was in good condition. I ended up doing this thing where I could get my fortune. Fortunes are very popular here, but they are all written in Japanese. I’ve learned that Google Translate has a photo option take a picture of words and it translates it for you), so I was able to figure out what mine said!

 

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Shrine Gate
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Hand washing before entering the Shrine
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Sake Barrels

Once in Shinjuku I walked around a bit, but then decided to take the train back to Asakusa. It was not as straight forward as my train there but after stopping to ask for help twice from the information stands I was able to figure it out. Back at the hostel I saw a poster for a place that was nearby and had a DJ playing. The music didn’t start until 8pm but I was hungry so I went early thinking I would just hang out. The place was super cool. The bar tender was a Canadian with dreadlocks and she handed me the menus which were written on old cardboard boxes. I sat down on the couch next to a friendly dog and enjoyed an avocado taco and warm sake.

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After eating I suddenly felt very tired so rather than stay I decided to head to a public onsen bath (comes from hot springs) and then home. The bath was only 1 block from my hostel, and down an alley. I saw pictures of what the store front looked like so I was able to find it. I love the history of the public baths. People went to them not for a spa like experience, but literally to bathe because very few houses had baths in them back then.  I walk in, put some coins into a slot for a ticket and some soap and then head in. I hand a guy at a desk my tickets and he points me to the women’s bath.

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You put your things in a locker, I’m talking everything. Then you head buck naked with your soap in hand into the shower area. After a good washing under a shower that is waist high (I opted not to sit on the stool they provided and just squat which was awkward), I went into the first bath. The water was as hot as a hot tub would be, maybe 102 degrees fahrenheit? I used the jets to massage my back, then went into the electrical bath. If you’ve ever done STEM treatment for an injury that is exactly what it feels like. Your muscles tighten and contract and while some find it painful, I thought it was great. While in there, an older woman started asking me where I was from and then proceeded to read my palm and told me I would make lots of money. Great fortune, but the nakedness of it all made me want to keep moving. I went to one that was semi-outdoors and it was an ice bath! It reminded me of jumping in the lake and after a Sauna. I jumped into the hot one next to it to warm back up. I think I probably spent a total of 20 minutes in all of the baths. I felt refreshed and slept easily.

Cats, when I needed them most.

Cats, when I needed them most.

The plan this morning was to scope out the gym, drop off laundry and then visit the Cat Cafe. After a quick workout, I walked about 1.5 miles to a laundrymat I found on Google maps. It didn’t show hours online, but I assumed at 9:30am it would be open. I was wrong, it opened at 10am, so I hung out for a bit. Once open, I was told that the earliest it could be done was tomorrow morning. Unfortunately, that would be cutting it too close with my flight tomorrow so I decided I would just walk to the cat cafe and hope to see another laundry mat on the way. In Chiang Mai they were on every corner. Well, this isn’t Chiang Mai. My load was getting too heavy since I had my laptop, camera and a full second backpack of laundry and I was almost to the cafe. The cafe was supposed to be right here, or was it here? I walked in circles for about 20 minutes trying to find my way. I stopped into places where I thought they could direct me but I got no where. Just as I was about to give up I saw the sign for it, but on the second floor of this building. My search then became how to get up to the second floor. I could not find a staircase anywhere. I was starting to think this was a secret place for locals only, or, that it recently closed for good. I was starting to get really hot and my multiple backpacks weren’t helping. It seemed I wouldn’t be going to this cat cafe, so went to choice two, which was further. I took a cab over there, but got there at 11am and it didn’t open until noon. Here we go again. 🙂

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Bangkok, an unlikely unicorn.

Bangkok, an unlikely unicorn.

I’m serious when I say I changed my hostel to a homestay based on it’s proximity to the Unicorn Cafe. It’s this cafe that is covered in unicorns from head to toe and I must go there. So naturally, after I landed, I dropped my bag off and immediately walked over to the cafe. I think if I went there everyday I’d be a very happy person…. and also maybe get diabetes.  I ordered rainbow waffles, a unicorn cupcake and a hot chocolate. Of course, it wasn’t all for me…I was sharing with my unicorn friends 😉

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If you can’t beat em, join em.

If you can’t beat em, join em.

One day on Phi Phi Islands, what to do? I considered diving, but my ferry didn’t land until 11am and honestly I didn’t’ know if I felt like rushing and diving. I also knew where I was staying was a “party hostel” and I figured the best way to sleep at a party hostel was to avoid sleeping at a party hostel. So, I signed up for their booze cruise. The island government recently changed their booze cruise rules so it limited where you can drink. I figured this worked in my favor, as it would limit how crazy it would get. They also had a rule that if you lost your cup you can’t drink any more (to save on plastic) which I think is a fabulous rule.

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To where everyone told me not to go: Phuket.

Today I ran the perimeter of the Chiang Mai old city (I always try to run on travel days) and then hopped on a plane to Phuket, the place that almost everyone told me to cut from my itinerary. Instead of cutting, I changed my day trip to Phi Phi to an overnight trip, that turned out to be a very good decision which you can read about in my next post.

Landing in Phuket I opted to take a group shuttle into Patong beach where I was staying. It was only 150 Baht ($3) for an hour long drive. Well, how could I forget, you get what you pay for. After waiting for 30 minutes to make sure the van was packed full, we finally took off. We made a stop after 15 minutes at travel agency to “verify” our hotels. AKA to try and sell us tours which thank goodness no one fell for and we were on our way after 20 minutes. From there it was a 2 hour drive since it included dropping others off. The good news is that I was riding shot gun, had access to a charger and the driver was playing early 2000’s R&B hits.

It’s true what I was told, Patong is like Jersey Shore for Russians. Lots of young men in tank tops and older men in Speedos drinking on the beach. At night it turns into what I can best explain as the Las Vegas strip. You want bottle service amongst a techno DJ? You got it! You want to see a strip show for the cheap price of $30 a beer? Done! There were promoters on every corner offering you a deal to get into their club. To be honest, I probably would have had fun if I was with a group of my girlfriends and didn’t have a 7am wake up call.

Instead, I went and found some food, walked around and then packed a bag for my trip to Phi Phi tomorrow. I decided to not mess around with my large backpack for just one night. My carry on bag wasn’t very small, but I tried to cram in everything I thought I’d need. Mainly, a swimsuit, sunscreen and pajamas. Then, I climbed into bed (this hostel has the privacy curtain so it was like my own dark movie theater) and fell asleep watching Outlanders.