Aesthetic Adventures in Cambodia

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Although I have just returned from Australia, I’ve already decided where I’m traveling to next in order to celebrate my birthday; the historic and tropical areas of Cambodia!  I chose Cambodia as my next destination because it has a similar climate and activities as Vietnam and Thailand, which were two of my favorite vacations because of their laidback beaches and inexpensive lodging.  I will be staying in Cambodia for a total of 10 days, though 2 of them will be travel-heavy due to layovers.  I will be bringing my Nintendo Switch and playing Fire Emblem to keep me occupied during these times.

I am most excited to try the local cuisine, explore the famous Angkor Wat temples, and even volunteer to be a bear keeper for a day!  I will also be flying to the tropical island known as Koh Rong to soak up some sun and party on the beach.  Then I will be flying to the capital to learn about the sad history of the killing fields and visiting the memorial.  I hope to keep a good balance of exploring and taking part in cultural events here to make the most of my experience.

My planned itinerary (so far) is listed below:

Tokyo → Siem Reap → Angkor Wat → Tonle Sap Village → Siranhoukville → Koh Rong → Koh Rong Samloem → Phnom Penh → Killing Fields → Siem Reap ↺ Tokyo

Oct 1st: Arriving to Siem Reap

Siem Reap is the cheapest city to fly to from Tokyo, so I booked a $450 flight through Vietnam Airlines from Narita Airport.  This is a discounted flight that includes a 3 hour layover in Vietnam, but from my experience, this time usually goes by quickly (especially if you pregame in the airport).  Since it is my birth week, I will not be holding back on indulging.

Once arriving to Siem Reap, I plan on hitting Pub Street and trying the infamous happy pizza.  I will be posting my own review to let everyone know about my experience.  I have extremely high expectations for it, but even if it’s not “happy”, there are tons of other restaurants and bars around to explore.  I definitely want to try the bar Angkor What? not only because of its hilarious name, but also because I will be visiting the historic Angkor Wat (temple) the next day.  If there’s time, I plan on visiting the Old Market too.

I will be staying in a private room at the Jasmin Hotel for less than $20 a night.  I chose this hotel because it is close to the center of the city and has a pool, so I am excited to go swimming here since it was too cold to during my Australia.  I already know this is going to be an awesome trip!

Oct 2nd: Exploring the Angkor Wat Temples

This will be a travel-heavy day as I explore the most famous temples on a sunset tour I booked from GetYourGuide.  This tour is highly rated and only costs $19 to go with a group of people, so that will give me a good opportunity to meet fellow backpackers.  We will be heading deep in the jungle to see the main Angkor Wat temple, and also trekking to the other aesthetic Buddhist temples around it.  The tour last for 10 hours, but I am more than ready to go hiking again!  I think it will feel like going through ruins in a videogame, which makes me feel a little like Lara Croft from Tomb Raider.

Oct 3rd: Sailing through the Floating Tonle Sap Village

In the morning I plan on waking up early and jogging through the city to see the famous Preah Ang Chek & Preah Ang Chorm temples.  I also want to try some street food and familiarize myself with more of the local shops and parks.  Maybe even do a little souvenir hunting too.

In the afternoon, I booked another cheap tour from GetYourGuide to see the the floating village on the Tonle Sap lake.  This is a fishing village that is similar to Ine that I visited in Kyoto, and looks very relaxing and interesting to see.  I love being out on the water and feeling the wind in my hair!

Once the day comes to an end, I will be taking an overnight bus from Siem Reap to Siranhoukville that I booked through 12goAsia for $25.  Though this is a 10 hour trip, it’s way more cheap than flying, and I really want to experience it at least once.  The reviews on the website are quite mixed, but I had a pleasant time riding buses in both Malaysia and Singapore so I think I will be okay on this trip.  It will be an adventure, at the very least!

Oct 4th – 7th: Partying at Koh Rong

From Siranhoukville, I will be taking the very first ferry to Koh Rong so I can begin relaxing and partying on the beach!  I booked a single room at Treehouse Bungalows right near Police Beach where all of the parties take place.  My room is less than $30 per night and is in a real treehouse!  I am so excited to take pictures and see the beautiful view of the oceanfront.  There are many bars and hostels around the area, so it’s extremely easy to make friends on this island.  I have been to the Fullmoon Party in Thailand before, so I already know what to expect here.

I also plan on sailing to Koh Rong Samloem, which is another beautiful and more private island that is easy to get to by longboat.  It has the gorgeous Saracen Bay to explore as well as a variety of other nightlife options.  I might also attempt a jungle trek to Long Beach on the main island if I have enough energy.  Basically I’m just going with the flow to see where life takes me!

October 8th: Visiting the Killing Fields

To reach the capitol city of Cambodia; Phnom Penh, I will be taking another inexpensive bus from Siranhoukville that I booked through 12goAsia.  This trip will only be 6.5 hours, and I’m sure I will be tired from my island adventure so I won’t mind the travel time.

Once I arrive, I will be going on the Killing Fields tour I booked through GetYourGuide.  I do not know much about the horrors of the Khmer Rouge Regime, but I do know it is a tragic part of the history of this country and I would like to learn more about it so I can write a proper article.

During my stay in Phnom Penh, I will be staying at a place with the hilarious name of Lovely Jubbly Villa.  Once again, this is a conveniently located accommodation with a beautiful pool, so I had to book it.  I expect to have a “lovely” time here!

October 9th: Freeing the Bears

As I have said before in my previous blog entries; whenever I travel to a new country I like to volunteer with animals.  I have been accepted to the Free the Bears Bear Keeper Program, and am excited to help rare species of bears in Cambodia!  This program also has other locations in Thailand and Vietnam.

While being a bear keeper, I will be preparing food for the bears, cleaning their habitat, and grooming the ones that are friendly.  I am always happy to contribute to the well-being of endangered animals, as I am lucky to have a lot of things in my life already.  I hope to look for more programs like this in the future if it goes well!

October 10th: Exploring the rest of Phnom Penh

Before taking my late night flight home, I plan on exploring the city of Phnom Penh and see all that it has to offer.  Some of the places I’m interested in seeing are: The Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, National Museum of Cambodia, Wat Phnom, Phnom Penh Night Market, The Russian Market, and of course experiencing the night life.

At the end of the day, I will have to fly from here back to Siem Reap, where I will take my overnight flight to Tokyo.  I hope to sleep well after all of this travel!

October 11th: My Birthday

For the last few years of my life, I have always spent the day of my birthday on tropical islands, but this time I really want to spend it with my friends in Tokyo.  I am leaving this day open for spontaneous shenanigans to ensue, but I know for sure that on October 12th I will be going to a footwork party called Battle Train Tokyo CLIMAX in Ebisu!  My favorite underground DJ Carpainter is playing, and I know that it will be an awesome event.

I am extremely excited to turn 26 this year because each year that passes I am able to experience more of the world and learn more things about myself.  Overall I will always feel very young at heart and still plan on traveling as much as I can!

Hanging out with Kangaroos and Koalas at Cleland Wildlife Park

One of the biggest reasons I came to Australia was to experience its unique wildlife parks and see some of the native animals here.  Whenever I go to a new country, I try to do some volunteer work with animals or donate to a sanctuary because I truly care about their well-being.  Unfortunately Japan’s zoos are quite cramped, and I do not have as many options to volunteer for animal programs here as I do in other countries.  That is why I was delighted to discover Cleland Wildlife Park in Adelaide, because it is one of the the two places in Australia where you can hold a Koala (the other being in Sydney).

What I liked the most about Cleland Wildlife Park was that it isn’t a zoo; it’s an animal sanctuary.  That means the animals are preserved in a natural enclosure, but are free to roam over acres of land.  Visitors are free to approach them with animal pellets purchased for $3 at the park and interact with them.  I had heard rumors that kangaroos in the wild can be quite territorial, but was surprised to learn that the ones here are extremely friendly!  They act a lot like huge hopping dogs when you approach them with food and are very soft to pet.

In addition to kangaroos, I also learned about wallabies, which belong to the kangaroo family, but are smaller and more timid.  You can also spot them by the slightly darker color of the fur.  I tried to approach a few, but they were adorably shy.

The Koala encounters are the most popular exhibit here.  Since we came to the park on a Monday, we fortunately had no problem being able to see one.  Meet Brownie the koala introduced in the video below:

I was happy to see that the koalas seemed to be well taken care of, and the zookeeper was very enthusiastic about her job.  She placed Brownie in a tree and fed her so we could pet and hold her briefly.  It was an extremely pleasant encounter, and I was so happy that I made the trip here!

After snapping many photos, we decided to walk around the bird sanctuary.  On the way there we saw Dingos, which are like wild Shiba Inu dogs in Australia.  We also saw a wombat that was lazily sleeping (I wished we could trade lives for a day), and a number of cockatoos roaming around.  I was surprised to see how large the park truly was.  It was extremely easy to spend at least 2-3 hours roaming around, because the experience is truly relaxing.

To get to Cleland Wildlife Park from central Adelaide, you will need to take 2-3 trams to get to Mt. Lofty, then you can easily enter the park and see a beautiful view of the city.  You can also use Uber to get there easily, but be wary of the park’s closure time.  We actually got locked in the park while riding our Uber because it was just past 5pm and the gate had closed, so we had to call a park ranger to let us out!

The entrance fee is $30 for one adult, which I think is well-worth the price.  For information regarding the Koala encounters, please see the official website.

Not far from Cleland Wildlife Park is a German Village called Hahndorf, so I recommend going there if you have time after.  We stopped by for drinks with a friend, but there are also a number of things you can experience during the day such as strawberry picking and goat-petting.   The possibilities are truly endless in the wilderness of Australia.

Adventures in Adelaide (Southern Australia)

Since a huge part of why I traveled to Australia was to see wildlife reserves and nature, my friend and I decided to fly to Adelaide for 4 days from Melbourne since this is the place where he grew up.  Like Perth, Adelaide is considered to be one of the smaller and more remote cities of Australia, but it actually has a number of unique attractions worth seeing.  Not only is it one of the two places in the country where you can hold koalas at the Cleland Wildlife Park, but it also has a yearly event called the Fringe with a number of theater and festive events.  Though my time here was very short compared to Melbourne, Adelaide left a huge impression on me and I hope to visit here again in the future!

After landing, the first thing I noticed about the city was the beautiful trees and architecture of the houses.  Though the spring season had just begun, the temperature here was much warmer than it was in Melbourne.  We were staying with a friend who conveniently lived near the airport so it was fortunately convenient to get around by using Uber and the trams.  Since the weather was in our favor we decided to go to Glenelg Beach and soak up the sun for a while.  This beach is perhaps one of the most popular because it is near Jetty Square that is filled with shops and boutiques.  I enjoyed the laidback atmosphere here and managed to relax a lot.  It was just what I needed to rejuvenate myself.

All of the food we had here was absolutely amazing.  I had a delicious chai latte sprinkled with cocoa powder at a cafe called Cibo, which I highly recommend.  Though I currently reside in Japan, I was curious to try the sushi here so we decided to eat at the conveyor belt sushi chain Kintaro.  Surprisingly, their sashimi selection was quite tasteful, and I enjoyed the heaping amount of sauce they put on my avocado crab sushi.  Next up were the Japanese Wasabi Doritos we found at Coles Supermarkets.  They were almost overpowering, but worth it for the meme factor.

We spent a lot of our time here catching up with friends, watching anime, drinking at home, and relaxing, but we were still able to see a lot of the city in the time that we spent here.  My friend went through his anime figure collection and found his Rei Ayanami piece that was actually the top of a pachinko machine in Japan, so it was definitely worth the trip.  One of my favorite landmarks here were the silver balls, or “gintama” as you would say in Japanese:

Apparently they are quite a popular meetup spot in central Adelaide–kind of of like a miniature version of the bean in Chicago.  We also visited an anime store called Shin Tokyo which surprisingly had quite a good selection of goods (way better than where I grew up in Michigan), and hilariously I found stuffed kangaroo balls at a souvenir shop nearby.  There was also something mysterious for sale for $15.  This city seemed to be full of humorous content for some reason:

Another awesome place I highly recommend checking out is called MOD.  This is a futuristic museum with interactive exhibits that will help you discover “hedonism”, or the pursuit of happiness.  They had various happiness simulators here; including one that gave you believable compliments to boost your confidence, and another that had classic games like Solitaire and Minesweeper that would auto-win the game for you with just the press of a button (but it seemed like a fair game at first).  They also had surveys regarding what makes the ideal workplace, and we found some interesting results (see the picture of the coffee cups for reference).

I jokingly called this museum the teamLab of Adelaide, because some of the exhibits have similar concepts with lighting and projected images.  I was actually really impressed with the technology they used for their giant globe that you could spin and interact with.  You could create your own character using touch screens to live out various scenarios through the Symbiosville simulation.  In this exhibit, you will learn through trial and error how to keep you and the people around you happy.  I think this is a vital skill in life.

In my next blog entry, I will talk about my experience hanging out with kangaroos, koalas, and other wildlife in Adelaide.  I hope that more people will make the journey out to this city, because it truly is an interesting place!

Exploring Aesthetic Art Galleries in Melbourne

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Upside-down kanji has never looked better in this florescent lighting.

While traveling on my spontaneous two week trip to Australia, I decided to peruse the National Gallery of Victory (NGV) in central Melbourne to see some aesthetic works of art.  Needless to say with their large collection of traditional paintings, sculptures, stained glass, and pottery, I was not disappointed by their selection.  Most of the exhibitions here are completely free to enter.  Only the rotating featured exhibit has an entrance fee.  Since it was one related to Asia (where I currently reside), I decided to skip it and see the other permanent parts of gallery instead.  Most of them were pretty awe-inspiring with pieces of art from all around the world:

The first room we entered had European oil canvas paintings that I found to be quite thought-provoking.  Some of the art were beautiful portraits of woman and landscapes, but others depicted quite sad themes like war and death.  I really liked how the portraits were juxtaposed on the bright red wall–I had to walk around this room several times so I could fully let the context of it all set in.

In the connecting hallways were displays of pottery from various centuries (I was especially fond of the vase with booty painted on it), sculptures, a rocking chair, and other interesting works; like a horse with a lamp on its head.  On the top floor is a beautiful stained glass window that illuminates the performance hall.  They also had some really derpy paintings of animals, and one wall of art depicted a hint of bestiality, but it was discrete and as tasteful as possible.

My favorite exhibit was definitely the neon upside-down kanji room.  It only exemplifies the difficulty of learning kanji as a westerner:

The final room we entered had shapes made completely out of pages from books which gave them a unique texture.  There was also the “Ship of Time” exhibit you could walk through to find the inner peace depicted in Zhuangzi’s parable.  Once again it was a lot to take in at once, but I managed to successfully cross over:

Overall this was probably the best free museum I have stumbled upon in my travels.  I was impressed with all of the diversity it had to offer, and despite my initial jetlag I had a lot of fun reading about the exhibits.  Be sure to check out the NGV if you ever are in Melbourne!  There is also the Eureka Skydeck nearby where you can see a beautiful view of the the city.

Seeing Penguins on the Beach at St. Kilda

While selecting activities for my trip to Australia, I came across many tours for penguin watching on the beach online.  As an animal lover, I decided that this was something I must definitely experience!  However, most of these tour packages were priced at over $100 to go on a two hour trip to Phillip Island, which is a bit expensive for people who are backpacking.  With a little more research, my friend and I figured out that you can see them pretty much every night at the beach in St. Kilda, which is just 20 minutes away via tram from central Melbourne.

After knocking back a couple drinks at the bars in CBD, we hopped on the tram from Southern Cross Station and made our way to the pier at St. Kilda Beach around 7pm a little after the sun set (we confirmed this time via the weather app).  At first we weren’t sure if they were going to come out, as spring had just started in Australia and it was a bit chilly.  But we saw a large group of people gathered at the pier and sure enough, a group of penguins started to emerge from the rocks!

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Sometimes they are hard to see in the dark, so usually a fluorescent light is shone over them so people can view them from the wooden docks.  Park rangers are present to ensure the penguins’ safety, but sometimes they wander close to people.  One even climbed up to say hello to us (I apologize for the low video quality, as no flash photography was allowed):

I really enjoyed this experience a lot because it wasn’t like going to a zoo–it was a completely natural phenomenon!  Compared to other penguins I’ve seen in other countries, these ones looked a lot tinier.  In addition to Melborune, there are several other places in Australia where you can see penguins frolic on the beach.

St. Kilda also has botanical gardens that I recommend going to during the day!  My friend and I were able to see some sakura blossoms here and along the Yarra River.  Though I thought the weather here was quite cold compared to Tokyo, I am really happy I was able to see the beautiful sakura once again this year!

No matter what time of year you come to Australia, I think you can always find something beautiful to enjoy!

Invading Australia: Exploring the Picturesque Melbourne City

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Beautiful view from Albert Park in Melbourne.

For the past 2 weeks I’ve been invading Australia; starting from the southern picturesque city of Melborune to the charming countryside of Adelaide.  Since a number of my Japanese friends have studied abroad or traveled to this country, it’s always been on my radar.  Unlike my previous trips to Asian countries where I have a set itinerary for each day, this trip was a lot more easygoing and spontaneous.  A friend I met at a beach party in Japan kindly let me crash at their place near the center of the city, so together we decided to hit the city while catching up and also experience the seemingly endless nightlife.

A lot of my American friends have asked me what Melbourne was like, and I told them: “Picture a cleaner, safer, version of your favorite American city with slightly less people, and that’s pretty much it!”  One thing I notice about most Australians is that they are pretty laidback and travel more frequently outside the county than a lot of Americans do.  Australia is very affordable to live in, and the tuition fees for education are greatly subsidized by the government compared to America.  The only downside is that eating out is somewhat expensive, but on the plus side, there is no tipping like in the US.

This trip initially started out very rough because I negligently forgot to apply for my ETA to enter the country (I thought I could do so upon arrival), so Jetstar had to reschedule my flight a day later after I applied for it.  Essentially all you need to do is fill out a form online and pay $30 to enter the country so it’s extremely easy, but make sure to do this before your flight!  I have never had issues with tourist visas until this trip, but it was only a small bump in the road because I still was able to do everything I wanted.

Once I landed, I took the Sky Bus to Southern Cross Station to meet my friend.  Immediately he recognized me due to my flamboyant blonde hair despite us not seeing one another for over two years.  We first got some lattes at Mid Town Coffee which I highly recommend, then immediately proceeded to go day drinking at Melborune’s famous rooftop bar.  The coffee and the White Russians somehow helped me fight off the jetlag as we walked around Chinatown and other parts of the city.  What I liked most about Melbourne is that almost all of the downtown area is walkable and there are inexpensive trams available as well.  The system is very easy to figure out.

 

Being in Australia felt like being in an alternate universe America.  Instead of GameStop, they still have EB Games, which seems to have more selection and be far more superior.  Forget about Burger King–it’s called Hungry Jack’s here.  Porn Hub should cum and get their pizza8bit burgers is also a great place to eat out (I love their logo design).  Lord of the Fries is not only a good pun, but they also has an entire vegan menu.  Despite living in Tokyo, I tried a lot of Japanese places here that were a little expensive but overall delicious.  Wagaya was one of my favorites due to its large sake list, but Japanese Gyoza Bar deserves an honorable mention.  Those are just a few of the places that we visited, but there are many more!

 

My favorite dessert places were Chokolait, where I had amazing rainbow pancakes made with pavlova, and a cakeshop called Glace where I had an amazing mushroom pastry.  They also had a really cute marshmallow one I wish I could have tried, but was too full!

 

There are a number of bars along the Yarra river that runs through the city, but my favorites were Storyville where I ordered Butterbeer, and the Croft where one of my Japanese friends DJed.  They also have syringe drinks available that are very tasty and fun to share with others.  All of these places had really friendly and welcoming atmospheres, and I even managed to make friends in the bathroom!

One event I recommend checking out is Delight because they run really fun music events with Smash Bros. tournaments at various locations in central Melbourne.  I met some very nice people here, and was impressed with the quality of music.

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それを考えぬく – EMBRACE

One of my favorite memories in this city was drinking Korean sochu while watching Kenny Beats & Zack Fox with two friends in an office building.  I felt like I was reliving my college days and it was extremely nostalgic.  The above poster I shot inspires you to let go of your thoughts and embrace your surroundings, which is exactly what I did during this trip.  It was really beneficial for my mental health.

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Seeing this Shelter poster hanging in my friend’s room only continued to add to the nostalgia.

Overall I was very impressed with this city and felt like I could finally escape from my high-stress life in Tokyo.  Some people refer to Melbourne as the “hipster” area of Australia, but I think it has a lot more to offer than just chic cafes and murals like other places that have that label.  I will be writing more about the art galleries and wildlife reserves I visited in my future posts so you can get a better feel about what this country is like, but I recommend that you visit it if you ever get the chance!

The Most Colorful Temple in Kyoto: Yasaka Koshindo

Before heading to Nanoboro Festa, a famous underground music festival during my trip to Kyoto, I decided to rent a yukata (casual summer kimono) and do some sightseeing in the Gion district.  Historically, this area was one of the most famous for its tea houses and traditional sweets, upscale lodging for visitors, and the extremely aesthetic Yasaka Temple that attracts a lot of people with its brilliant colors.

Yasaka Temple is dedicated to the three wise monkeys and a guardian warrior known as Shomen Kongo.  The colorful cloth balls that are attached to it are called “kukurizaru” which are talismans that provide good luck by taking away greed and impure desires.  Like ema and other talismans in Japan, you are able to purchase one at the gate if you would like to make a wish or prayer, but there is no fee to enter the area where the temple is.

Back in the day, many geiko (who are similar to geisha, but are known more as “woman of art”) resided in this area.  Nowadays there are many bars and restaurants as well as hotels for travelers, but much of Gion’s history has been preserved and it is a very relaxing are to visit.  You can see beautiful parks, temples, a river, and bamboo growing around Gion Station, so it is definitely worth checking out.

For those who are interested in renting a kimono, I rented one for 4000 yen from Kyoto Kashin in Gion.  This is actually a very good price because it includes hairstyling, accessories, and shoes as well.  At first I was a bit nervous about wearing one because I am a foreigner in Japan and it is not native to my culture, but I realized they are very flattering and fun to dress up in when you are seeing temples in Japan.  I encourage everyone to try it at least once~