Temple Hopping through Angkor Wat after Eating Happy Pizza (Part 1)

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Angkor Wat’s nostalgic reflection in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Traditionally every year during the half of October I spend my birthday alone on a remote island in Asia.  Traveling to the final destination takes a lot of research and effort, but in return gives me valuable time to reflect on life and also become acquainted with a new culture.  Past destinations have included Okinawa and Yakushima (Japan) and Phu Quoc (Vietnam), which were all unforgettable experiences that have taught me a lot about myself and the stunning world around me.  This year I wanted to go somewhere similar that had tropical beaches and lush nature so I could relax and do photography.  Since I’ve already been to Thailand twice and loved it, I decided to try one of its adventurous neighboring countries: Cambodia.

Cambodia is beautiful, less developed country with a sad past (which I’ll get into later), but is now extremely safe for foreign tourists and backpackers to travel to.  Like Thailand and Vietnam, the majority of people you will meet speak English and are quite friendly.  On a rainy day while I was in Australia, I came up with a tentative Cambodia itinerary which I managed to successfully complete in the 10 days while I was here.  Please take a look at it for reference if you plan on traveling to Cambodia in the future!

Overall, this trip was extremely eye-opening and completely changed my outlook on how I should live my life.  Staying 4 days on a small Cambodian island in a village that only stretched for about a mile taught me how to live frugally compared to my extravagant city life.  The villagers there were extremely kind and I was always surrounded by friendly people that took care of me.  This really helped me let go of a lot of anxieties and insecurities I had that were holding me back recently.  Though I have many caring friends in all the countries I have visited, being in this setting helped me resurface to reality and form an entirely new perspective so I could enter a new mindset that I couldn’t reach before.  I am very excited to start this blog series and share the knowledge I have gained with others.

Exploring Siem Reap’s Pub Street

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Pub Street: A endless expat all-night party complete with strobe lights and neon signs.

I chose Siem Reap as my first destination simply because it is the cheapest city to fly to from Tokyo and has all of the famous temples to explore.  Fortunately getting a visa to Cambodia is quite easy; all you need to do is fill out a form and pay $30 to enter the country for a short-term stay.  You can do this upon arrival, but I applied for an e-visa through Cambodia’s official government website.  This will speed up the process and ensure your swift entry into the country.  *Please be wary of other advertised e-visa websites on Google because they are often double in price.

I arrived to the center of the city around 9pm, just in time to try some of the infamous “happy pizza” adjacent to Pub Street–every bar lover’s dream.  What is happy pizza exactly, and why is it sold openly around Cambodia?

According to The Culture Trip:

Traditionally, marijuana was used as a herb in some Khmer dishes to complement the flavour. In the provinces, it’s also used by some for medicinal purposes.

Though recreational marijuana is illegal in Cambodia and most Asian countries, the “happy” foods and drinks sold here create a loophole in which it can be safely consumed by travelers.  In addition to happy pizza, they also have regular pizza and food here as well.  I decided to try the Happy Angkor Pizza restaurant first due to its raving Google Reviews:

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Needless to say, I was extremely satisfied with the light vegetarian pizza I ordered, so I tried another nearby restaurant called Ecstatic Pizza too.  “Why just be happy, when you can be ecstatic?” the official website questions you.  After my long 10 hour flight, I definitely needed to relax and the “add some extra :)” for a mere $3 more on my receipt did just the trick.  I felt calm and ready to explore the rest of Pub Street.

What I walked into was a street full of strobe lights, loud music, and people from around the world dancing in a trance under the light of the moon.  Fortunately I was in the perfect state of mind to join them:

Angkor What?

The first bar I checked out was called Angkor What? which is a hilarious pun of the famous temple I was going to the next day.  It is actually the oldest bar in Siem Reap and has been “Promoting Irresponsible Drinking since 1998” (though the atmosphere was kind and welcoming with no overly drunk people like in Tokyo).  It’s mindblowing to think about how the oldest bar in Siem Reap is actually younger than me!

Though obviously aimed at expats, I enjoyed Pub Street more than I have other expat drinking holes I have visited in Japan and Thailand.  This is because the street only stretches for a few blocks and is not overly crowded with obnoxious tourists.  Most drinks are priced from $3 – $5 and are extremely affordable.  The menus contained a variety of imported beers, fruity cocktails, and other hard liquors.  Despite the dirt-cheap prices, I was pleasantly surprised to not run into any reckless drinkers–everyone that I met was just drinking to relax and enjoy the night.  And that’s how it should be.

After having my fill I wandered through the night markets (which are a lot similar to those found in Vietnam), walked by a few “Doc of Fish” massage places (I’ve already tried this in Tokyo and it’s quite a weird sensation), then I decided to go back to my hotel.  I stayed in a private room at the Jasmin Hotel for less than $20 a night.  I highly recommend it because it is close to the center of the city and has a beautiful pool.  I was able to sleep peacefully and wake up in time for my tour the next day, as well as finish my morning workout.

I will be writing in detail about my trek through the famous Angkor Wat temples in my next blog entry this week.  Thank you to all of my readers!  I will try to be as open and honest about my experiences here as possible.

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!

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!

Shooting Up Nutella in Southern Australia

Have you ever had the urge to just straight up inject fresh Nutella into your mouth with a syringe?  Well at Dex2Rose, one of Melbourne’s most unique gelato spots, you can legally do this without any shame.  In fact, the syringe filled with chocolate and hazlenut spread actually packs a lot flavor you wouldn’t get by simply spreading it on food.  Not only do they have Nutella gelato that seemingly defies gravity, but they also have crepes, waffles, cider, and other brilliant desserts.  This was one of the silliest things I did while I was on my two week trip to Australia, and it was completely worth it for the meme factor.

Another unforgettable dessert I had was Flamin’ Hot Cheetos Ice Ccream at Milkcow.  Who knew that by mixing vanilla ice cream and ground up Cheetos sprinkled with the “flamin’ hot” powder, you could get this beautiful creation:

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Flamin’ Hot ice cream that ironically helps you beat the heat.

The taste of this ice cream is a bit difficult to explain in words, so I recommend that everyone tries it for themselves!  The ice cream was definitely still sweet, but the texture of the powder makes your mouth tingle for a bit at first until the ice cream hits your tongue.  Regardless of the initial sensory processing disorder, this is something I’m really happy that I had the chance to try!

I will be writing about my experience traveling through Melbourne and Adelaide including stories about closeup counters with kangaroos, partying and playing Smash Bros. at the local bars, and all of the aesthetic food I had in the meantime!  I am currently back in Japan writing and doing some freelance work, but I will be planning my next international trip for my birthday very soon.  Thank you for reading, as always! ♡

Aesthetic Dining Experiences in Kyoto, Japan

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Soft mochi and iced green tea at a traditional sweets store in Gion.

Whenever I travel to a new place, I like trying a combination of the local cuisine and the most crazy places that I can find.  Kyoto is known for its tofu, noodles, kaiseki (vegetarian dishes), and of course; matcha sweets (which includes green tea-flavored ice cream, parfaits, and more).  Here is a list I have compiled of the most unique dining experiences I have had in Kyoto:

Gold Ramen at Zundoya

Zundoya is an extremely popular ramen chain in Japan because of their affordable and delicious bowls.  In their Tokyo and and Kyoto branches, they have the option to purchase gold flakes which you can sprinkle on any ramen dish on their menu.  This comes with a hefty extra 5000 yen charge, but was fun to do just for the aesthetic purpose of eating golden ramen.  You can buy these gold flakes at souvenir shops in Kyoto and Kanazawa.  They can be used as a topping for virtually any food due to them being flavorless.

The regular bowls of ramen are also packed with flavor!  The funny thing was I came here after a music workshop with some of my Japanese friends per their recommendation.  That’s when you know it’s a good place to eat!

Kichi Kichi Omurice

Omelette and rice dishes (dubbed omurice) are an extremely popular food combination in Japan, and this restaurant does it best!  When you see the head chef, Yukimura Motokichi, slice a freshly baked omelette and have it perfectly melt over the rice in an almost cinematic fashion, you’ll understand why this restaurant is so popular.

This meal was seriously the best omurice I had ever tasted because the omelettes are cooked to be extremely fluffy.  Since this website is so popular, it is recommended to make a reservation on their website.

Kitten Company Cafe

As the name implies, this cafe has cat-themed sweets, and is extremely vegan-friendly.  I tried their vegan curry, chocolate cake, and kitten cookies.  All of them were scrumptious, and I was delighted to see the curry arranged in the form of a happy cloud!  No reservation is required for this restaurant, but you can see their website here.

Menbaka Fire Ramen

NO RAMEN NO LIFE” is the English slogan that greets you at this ramen restaurant.  I immediately liked the atmosphere the minute I entered.  Menbaka puts a large amount of green onions and pours oil right over the dish before it is served to create an explosive fiery effect.  Just watch the video of me seconds before the fire starts to burn:

The taste of the ramen is quite ordinary; maybe a little more oily but otherwise unnoticeable.  It is worth going to once just to see the fire!  This restaurant does not accept reservations; you must lineup and take a numbered ticket.  You can explore other places in Kyoto while you are waiting, so it’s not so gruesome of a wait.

Green Tea Soba Noodles

Tsujiri Teahouse offers one of the most unique noodle dishes I’ve ever seen in my life: green tea soba and tofu in a white milk-like broth.  Though that doesn’t sound appetizing at first, it actually has a refreshing taste!  I ordered mine chilled and they really hit the spot.  If you are feeling adventurous, this is definitely a good thing to try!  In additional to noodles, there are many parfaits and sweets here.  Next time I come to Kyoto, I’ll be sure to keep my eye out for more unique food like this!

Amanohashidate: An Eerily Beautiful Beach in Northern Kyoto

Over the weekend I had a wonderful trip to obscure fishing villages, islands, and beaches in northern Kyoto and Shiga Prefecture.  One of my favorite places that I discovered was this sandbar in Miyazu called Amanohashidate (try saying that three times fast)!

Amanohashidate is a 3 hour train ride from Kyoto Station with four different transfers, but its scenic atmosphere and remote location make it the ideal getaway for hotspring vacations or even just day trips away from the city.  Due to my bus itinerary, I arrived here around 7pm just as dusk fell.  I wasn’t sure if I would be able to walk across the entire sandbar this late at night, but surprisingly it’s open 24 hours, which is often rare for public beaches in Japan.

When I reached the southern tip of the sandbar (which is just a short walk from the station), the beach was illuminated with backlights in stark contrast to what it would normally look like during the day and some serene music was playing from a speaker.  It was like being at a rave, but with calming music.  I felt as if I was an alien that had landed on another planet!

Though I’ve been to many wild beach parties in Thailand, my stroll on Amanohashidate was something I’d had yet to experience.  I’ve never seen such a thin and beautiful beach lit up like this.  In the middle of the sandbar is a shrine, and there are lookout points on both ends of it.  It takes about an hour to cross the sandbar by foot, but bike rental is available during the day.  I was extremely tired from all of the travel, but during this trek I felt rejuvenated by soaking my feet in the water.

I’d recommend for most people to visit Amanohashidate during the day so you can ride the cable car, but unfortunately I did not have time to do this.  However, I was pleasantly surprised by the experience I had here, and would recommend it to people who have already been to Kyoto and Osaka and are looking for something different.  Walking across a sandbar is definitely a unique experience for most people traveling in Japan!

Before I went back to central Kyoto, I decided to try a course meal at a restaurant near the station called 310 Amanohashidate Japanese Table.  Since I do not eat meat, I requested a fish and vegetable course a received avocado, salad, tofu, sashimi, and some delicious grilled fish and rice:

If you have the time, please consider exploring northern Kyoto.  You will find less tourists and a lot more culture here!

Sweet Twist: A Vintage Ice Cream Store in Shimokitazawa

Trying unique and adorable ice cream stores scattered across Asia has become a huge hobby of mine. As I was thrift shopping for clothes in Shimokitazawa (which has much better selection than the overcrowded Harajuku), I stumbled upon Sweet Twist–a vintage ice cream store selling a variety of soft cream, gelato, and crepes with customizable toppings.

Like most sweets stores in central Tokyo, the store is tiny, but the bright pink exterior and colorful signs advertising a variety of desserts seemed extremely inviting.  Not to mention the fluffy mascot that’s printed on all of the cups is the epitome of cute!

I decided to try the strawberry topped soft cream first. Like the name implies, the ice cream is extremely light tasting and sweet. The strawberry topping tasted much like strawberry chocolate so I really enjoyed the taste. Since the portion size I ordered was small (I regret not doing the 2 scoop option), I decided to try the raspberry gelato as well. They have a variety of flavors like green tea, coconut, chocolate fruits, etc. and you can choose extra toppings for just 50 yen. I liked the ice cream slightly better due to its sweetness, but I imagine everything here is really good!

The interior design with the neon pink flamingo and framed photos of Audrey Hepburn and other nostalgic icons was also a pleasant experience to take in. This neighbor hood has a lot of vintage shops that you should definitely check out if you have the chance.  I will definitely be back here in the future to try more delicious flavor combinations!