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.

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!

Lavender Fields Forever, Alpacas, and the Blue Pond!

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Lavender Fields Forever taken at Farm Tomita in Furano, Japan.

There’s nothing quite like backpacking through flower farms and eating lavender ice cream in the countryside of Japan.  During this time of year (late June – August), Hokkaido’s flowers are in full bloom and many people flock to Furano and Biei to enjoy the view.  There are a number of farms you can visit by taking the Lilac Express from Sapporo Station, and each of them have unique attractions and food!

I first started at Farm Tomita which is just walking distance from Lavender Farm Station (what a cute name)!  This is one of the most famous farms due to its large variety of flora, melon farm, and delicious lavender-flavored food.  The fields here are very large and you can easily spend over an hour here.  I highly recommend trying the tiny slices of lavender cheesecake and hiking to the top of the hill for a unforgettable view.  Here is a map of other lavender farms that you can visit in the area.

Afterwards I decided to take the express train from Lavender Farm Station to Biei Station and take a sightseeing bus to see the Blue Pond.  This miraculous pond was formed by aluminum and sulfur mixing in with the water during a landslide.  Groundwater washing in from the nearby Shirahige Falls and Shirogane Hot Spring also played a role in helping it obtain its color.  What makes it amazing is that trees are still growing from the bottom of it.  The color of the pond slightly changes over the course of the year and it has become an extremely popular tourist attraction.  It was a cloudy summer day when I arrived, so I was able to capture a wonderful blue hill:

Unbeknownst to me, the sightseeing bus next stopped at a flower farm called Shikisai-no-oka, where you can rent vehicles to ride through the fields and also see alpacas!  I was absolutely exhausted from backpacking, so I spent the majority of my time with the alpacas.  They were fluffy and adorable–definitely a sight for sore eyes!

Overall, Furano and Biei make for a wonderful day trip in Hokkaido!  They are fairly secluded areas in a valley of mountains so this trip was the perfect escape from the city.  These areas are quite crowded during the summer seasons by tourists who come to see the flowers, so be sure to come early and “be careful about saliva”.

Bathing in the Mud with Elephants at the Sanctuary (Phuket, Thailand)

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Volunteers jump in the mud to wash rescued elephants in Thailand.

I never dreamed I would be swimming through the mud in a giant elephant bath during my first day in Phuket, but as soon as I heard that the elephants were in need of protection, I signed up to be a volunteer at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary.  There are a total of 4 parks in Thailand you can visit to help save the elephants (Chiang Mai, Pattaya, Samui, and Phuket) that all offer an educational hands-on experience with them.

The day starts with a free pickup from your hotel (from most locations) to the sanctuary.  After listening to a presentation on why it is important to protect the elephants, you are handed a knitted shirt and are given directions on how to feed them with corn stalks, bananas, and sugar cane.  The elephants are extremely friendly and approachable, and the English-speaking guides will tell you each of their stories.  You can tell that each one has been through a lot by the marks on their bodies.  They seem much happier in their natural habitat than anywhere else!

Most of the elephants I met were rescued from a harsh lifestyle of show business.  Due to being forced to lift heavy equipment and be trained to do tricks, some of their ears were worn from leather harnesses and and straps.  Additionally, their skin was discolored from being away from the mud for so long.  It is evident that elephants used for riding and for circuses are lacking in hygiene and not taken care of properly.  This is why we must do what we can to collectively help them and spread awareness.

A very important lesson to learn is: elephants should never be ridden.  The elephant’s spine will degrade overtime from the weight on their backs and it can cause permanent damage to their bodies.  One thing that upsets me with tour companies in Thailand is that they often feature both an elephant sanctuary and and elephant riding course.  Elephant riding should be discouraged as much as possible to tourists and permanently removed from the tour companies because it is extremely harmful to them.  Even though elephants look strong, they are fragile creatures that should be treated with respect.

After our feeding session, we headed to the mud bath where we happily washed and played with them!  The mud is extremely important in nourishing elephants’ skin and you can tell that they really enjoy it.  I’ll admit that I was a bit nervous to get in, but the group of friends that I met here encouraged me to so I took the plunge!  I am so happy that I decided to do this because I feel like I understand the elephants a lot more now.

You can choose from a half day and full day course with them, and an overnight course is available as well.  I decided to try the half day course just to see what it was like for 2,500 baht.  All of the money is used for medicine and maintaining the elephants in the sanctuaries, so I felt like this experience was well worth it.

After you bathe with the elephants, you will be able to take a shower and feast on a delicious Thai buffet meal,  I enjoyed my experience here very much because I feel like I learned a lot about them, and I even got to hug one at the end of the tour!

For those looking to volunteer, please look at the volunteer page, and cherish the moments you are able to spend with these precious animals.

Exploring Koh Samui Island on New Year’s Day

On the first morning of 2019, I took the very first ferry that departed from from the Full Moon Party Island (Koh Phangan), and traveled to my neon pink hut on Koh Samui.  Koh Samui is my favorite island in Thailand because not only is it conveniently located, but it also has a myriad of activities and places to explore.  What better way to kick off the new year than on a beach!

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Sunset on Lamai Beach in Koh Samui, Thailand.

After doing some swimming and photography, I took a taxi to see the Hin Ta and Hin Yai, also known as the Grandmother and Granfather rocks.  They are extremely famous due to their uncanny resemblance to human genitalia, and are definitely worth checking out for the view of the beach as well.

Next I had my taxi driver take me to the Secret Buddha Garden on top of  Pom Mountain.  This is a relaxing outdoor sculpture park surrounded by lush jungle and waterfalls.  There are also some nearby temples and buildings you can walk to on foot.  It is one of the most relaxing places in Koh Samui due to it being away from the beaches and center of the city.

I had originally planned to see the pink dolphins on this trip, but due to a severe storm that hit Thailand, I had to come back and do this on my 2nd trip.  Instead, Koh Samui Tours rescheduled me to a Samui Aquarium & Tiger Zoo where I got to meet tigers, see birds race on bicycles, and get kissed on the cheek by an otter! 

Though I’ve been to more zoos than I can count in Asia, I had fun seeing the wildlife here that is unique to this island.  The double-beaked bird and the long-necked turtles were animals that I had never seen before.  The otters were some of the friendliest I had ever met and could do a lot of neat tricks!

You could easily spend a week on Koh Samui Island relaxing and enjoying the scenery, but I recommend staying for at least 3 days.  You can book ferries to other surrounding areas through 12go like Krabi, Koh Phangan, and Koh Tao.  Each hotel usually has their own restaurant, and the island food is always fresh and delicious!  Be sure to try the mangos and any fruit that you can find.  My favorite dish was the glass noodles with shrimp.

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Delicious seafood glass noodles made at New Hut Bungalows.

Be sure to be outside during the sunset you so can look at the beautiful magenta sky!

I loved swimming under it every day!  Though the weather during this trip was a bit stormy, I fortunately was able to a lot of fun things.  Please come here if you get the chance.

Petting and Holding Otters at Tokyo’s Otter Room Cafe

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Two adorable otters huddle together for comfort at the Otter Room Cafe.

I never thought I’d have the chance to hold an otter out of water, but after almost 4 years of living in Tokyo, I should know that nearly anything is possible! With my recent visit to the Otter Room Cafe in Ikebukero, I learned they are not only adaptable and highly intelligent creatures, but also quite cuddly ones too.  This animal cafe was newly added as an expansion of the Usamimi Cafe that features rabbits, and visitors can choose a timeslot between 30 minutes to an hour to play with either species by submitting a form via email through the official website (JP/EN).

Upon arriving, my friend and I paid 1000 yen for 30 minutes, and were promptly handed an apron, hand sanitizer, and printed English instructions so we could brace ourselves for the otter outbreak.  We were then led to a room where three adorable otters were sleeping in a cage.  When the cage door opened, one of them was placed on our laps!  The otter was so adorable we didn’t even know how to react.

Wanting to see his friends, the otter would crawl on and off the seats and back to us.  Though otters are not intended to be kept as pets, these otters were kept in a very clean area and seemed to be healthy and happy.  It was difficult to take photos of them as they are a bit finicky, but I managed to capture a few.

The three otters we saw were named Gucchan, Taeko, and Wakabarasu.  Though there were a bit sleepy when we saw them in the afternoon, they seemed happy to be together.  Compared to the meerkats I saw in Korea that were quite scrappy, these bunch were very friendly and pleasant to be around.  Please come if you are interested in meeting otters!