Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Tokyo > Seoul > Ho Chi Minh City

The direct airport train is much faster than the one we took in to Tokyo. We did have some time before it left to use up money on our transit cards to buy random things from the various vending machines on the platform. It was startling to grab a hot can of milk tea when I was expecting a cold one.

The check-in agents were very confused by our lack of physical Vietnam visas in our passports so it took awhile for them to accept the paperwork to obtain an e-visa on arrival. The best part of Narita Airport is that they have couches to sprawl out on while you use their wifi. Some good food and beer later, we were on to Seoul for our layover.

Seoul International Airport is huge and it's filled with expensive international brands. The have about 6 different stores that just appear again and again every couple of meters. I had no interest in going into any of them.

I couldn't leave Korea without having a bit of food. Pork and Kimchi stew seemed Korean enough to satisfy me. So I sat eating my stew, drinking weird rice wine beer, watching K-Pop music videos, and wondering if I had just done everything I needed to in Korea. By the time the flight to Ho Chi Minh City left I felt the 2 hour layover was all I needed in South Korea for now.

I don't usual sleep on planes, but I'm sure I was asleep for part of the five hour flight. It was a pretty easy flight. North American flights don't serve free food on flights less than 3.5 hours in length, but in Asia even short flights will serve a proper meal for free (beer is free too!)

A visa was easily obtained on arrival. We had to give in our papers and wait for them to print it. I think they were mostly interested in the stamping fee. The taxi to the hotel was part of a scam. 400 000 dong (~$20 CAD) for a short trip. We were too tired to care much.

There was a drunk, angry Australian arguing with one of the hotel staff about room rates. I was happy to see the staff turn him down with a curt remark and flicking his passport back at him. Australians, am I right? The hotel room was alright. Our window overlooked the hallway, but that didn't really concern us since we were more focused on sleeps.

Tokyo: the tokyoning (part 2 of the thrilling Tokyo series)

Culture shock can be pretty full on. Tokyo was easily the hardest. I just felt uncomfortable from the moment I stepped off the subway platform and waited for Keir to save us.

We woke up the next morning, strewn around Keir's floor, parts of us on the bit of padding on his floor, others in most corners of his one room (note - one room... Not one bedroom) apartment. If I weren't so exhausted from the long flight I doubt I'd have slept much at all. Never the less, I was awake around 7am Tokyo time and waited around and Facebooked and reddited until Keir woke up and went to work.

I promptly got Erica moving and we spent some time deciding what to do with our day. It was our 2 month wedding anniversary, Erica's birthday and kinda sorta our honeymoon. We should probably make it special, right?!

Really, I was just uncomfortable, both physically and socially at Keir's place... But the above reasons really helped justify getting a hotel room. We figure around $300 per night for two nights was justified, Japan is notoriously expensive and it WAS a very special occasion. We booked a room at the okura hotel, somewhat within walking distance of Keir's place. We were just staying there two nights so we left the bulk of our stuff at Keir's.

We packed up and head out, roughly towards the hotel. We stopped for mediocre coffee and a decent lunch. We stopped in to a supermarket, which in hindsight probably shouldn't have surprised me when it was *just* like an Asian supermarket back home. We picked up some weird sushi shaped candy for a friend and an awful coffee-in-a-can and headed back out to check in to our hotel. "roughly walking distance" would have been a better description if it weren't directly uphill, and if a typhoon didn't show up half way through. The rain didn't seem so bad at first, we didn't bother stopping for umbrellas. 20 or so minutes later and we we were lugging our weight in water along with everything else. We stopped and picked up umbrellas despite the relative futility.

Rocking up at the Akura, we were greeted by bellboys and directed to reception. We dripped through the fancy lobby and a very helpful and enthusiastic lady showed us to our room, carefully pointing out the hair dryer.

This place was fancy. Much fancier then I anticipated. The mirror was heated so it wouldn't fog up. All the lights, the curtains, everything was controlled by a panel next to the bed. The mini bar had the most ludicrous prices I have ever seen in a hotel ever. In short, good times. 

We went out and hunted for dinner. We figured, Japan being such a culinary Nirvana that we'd have no problem. I don't know where we ended up but the first place we tried sent us away (or I think they did? They made weird hand gestures while looking angry and speaking japanese). The second place just said 'no English menu' over and over again so we just said 'beer' until they brought us some. 

We looked at a few other places but none looked English-friendly. The end result was hitting up a 7-eleven and eating the best damn microwaved meal of my life along with some fancy Japanese beers at our fancy hotel. The rain had gotten much stronger while we walked, glad at this point that we had those umbrellas. 

We watched the rain and enjoyed the space of our indulgent room away from all of the people we were growing accustomed to surround us. 

And that was day 1. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Suffocatingly Small Spaces for Smoking

It's been almost a decade since someone in a restaurant has asked me if I wanted to be in the smoking or non- smoking section.

Smoking indoors is still a thing in Tokyo. Which is unfortunate with all the small spaces they have.

I can deal with two twin mattresses pushed together to pass as a double, or the duvet made of two smaller ones velcroed together, or the tiny window, or the slightly claustrophobic room. But it harder to deal with all that when it's a smoking room. When everything reeks of stale cigarettes it makes the room seem so much smaller and it doesn't get much smaller than Tokyo. We attempted to mask the smell with air freshener, but without proper ventilation the added chemicals made it even harder to breathe.

Being smothered by smoke can really take away from the experience of eating in a tiny little restaurant down a small alleyway. It was almost dizzying sitting on the top floor of a narrow, but tall bar down a different small alleyway.

Smoking indoors is still a thing in Vietnam, but at least they have more space.

Friday, October 18, 2013

So, Tokyo, huh? Part 1

So much stuff! So many emotion!

We arrived Monday afternoon, around 4, after a lovely flight with air Canada. Me and Wombie had taken full advantage of the free booze and in - flight entertainment.

We asked around how to find our way to ashujuban (or something) station where our friend and accommodations were waiting. We were exhausted but excited. We found our way to a train and boarded, without even seeing the sky outside. By the the time the train departed and got us outside, it was dark out (around 5ish?). Was really kind of bizzare seeing it dark out. Not much to see out the window at all.

The train just kept going and going. After getting quite worried because we couldn't find any of the stations we were stopping at on our map, we arrived at where we were supposed to change. About half an hour late for our rendezvous with Keir already. If only we could find a way to let him know? Free wifi perhaps? We *are* in the technology capital of the world...  NOPE. NO FREE WIFI. AT ALL. Hell, everyone uses flip phones here like it's the90s.

Turns out we got a slow train rather than an express. The lady that directed us seems to have assumed we wanted dirt cheap rather than reasonable speeds. Whatever. We got there and eventually got a message to Keir to let him know we had finally arrived. Good times. We stopped for some draft beer and for the first time felt like we were in a whole new, exciting, colourful, brilliant place.  Then we crashed on Keir's floor. Crashed hard.

... Stay tuned for part 2

Flying Metal Tube and One Year Older

A 12.5 hour flight doesn't seem like a long time until you're only a few hours in and you're staring at a map wondering how you could only be that far. I was exhausted before the plane even took off so you could imagine how I felt after being awake for more than 24 hours. At least going through customs was relatively easy. We some how took the slow way into the city without getting on a wrong train.

We have a theory that Wombie can control the weather, but he never uses that power for good. For me birthday he got my a typhoon off the Japanese Coast. Typical Wombie.

It was my birthday on 15th so we decided to go crazy and spend money on a nice hotel room for two nights. The price was ridiculously expensive, but we definitely enjoyed our stay. It provided us a good view of the heavy rain and wind that came through that night and the next morning. We attempted to brave the downpour get dinner that night, but the first place was either closed or wouldn't serve us. The second place told us they didn't speak English or have an English menu. We didn't care. We just wanted beer. Tired and soaking wet, we settled on pre-made meals and beer from the seven eleven. There was something going on in the hotel that night because we walked down a hall with professional looking people quietly lining the halls. I don't know what they thought of two drenched, under dressed foreigners walking through, but it might have been a bit judgemental. It didn't help that my waterlogged shoes were loudly squishing and the take out containers were squeaky. It was a long walk.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Pearson International

I've always liked Pearson International airport and today I discovered it has gotten even better. A few years ago it started free airport-wide wifi that is good in the more isolated areas. The new terminal is spacey and now includes fast walkways and super fast walkways to help you get across all this space. There are now restaurants with an ipad at every seat you can order food and drink with. The best part is that they are not single purpose. Flight details and internet are available to use while you wait.

I was finishing packing at 11am and Cam was jumping up and down telling that we were late. We weren't. No traffic, just had to drop off bags, no line at security, and boarding isn't until an hour and a half (thanks for the info ipad) Preflight beers and a walk around the terminal before boarding. It's been too easy.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Canadian travel and choo choo trains

There's something about travelling (at least in Ontario) that requires a stop at Canada's favourite mediocre coffee chain for cheap coffee and dounuts. Regretting the sugar soon after is not a requirement, but it adds to the experience. Unfortunately Cam can be extra chipper in the morning while I'm left grumbling until the coffee starts working.

Toronto's union station can be a mess to get through even if half the building isn't under construction. Three different train services converge in the middle of the city with the main stadium on top. There are so many people arriving from within the city and province that it's difficult to get up some staircases. At least the Toronto Maple Leafs' mascot,  Carlton , was a source of amusement as he wondered through the rush hour crowd.

If you ever take a train from union station to Montreal, you'll be stuck watching the boring southern Ontario landscape go by. There's free wifi, but it's easier and faster to use my phone as a hotspot. I'm pretty sure the British tourists behind me keep on referring to Toronto as the capital. It's not, but if this train doesn't hit a bus that ignores the crossing signals we'll be in the capital briefly. At least Wombie is entertained by the train.

My posts will be less negative soon.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Montreal tomorrow.

Before our trip to Asia (just over a week) we're spending the weekend in Montreal! I've never been.

This trip was an extremely thoughtful wedding present from a group of friends and family. There's a nifty to-do list attached! It looks fascinating. I'm rather excited to see a French speaking city in the middle of North America. I kind of expect it to remind me of Melbourne in a few ways... Just more European feeling than Toronto? Who knows!

My #1 to do at the moment is obviously the Dieu du Ciel Brewpub. Their beer is world class. The plan is to head straight there after checking in to our B&B. Still pretty open to suggestions on what to do while we're there though!

Note: Keen observers may have noticed the blog name and URL change from wombieinasia to wombietravels. Makes more sense, why have a whole blog for just one trip?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Pre-Flight Check

After decades of international travel you think I'd would have my pre-departure routine figured out. Or at least be relaxed enough about it to start looking forward to the holiday. As much as Cam is focusing on the destination, I'm focusing on actually getting to the destination. Which as we all know can be stressful. I'm not trying to be a downer, but there are things that need to be done before we leave. There's excitement under the stress.

If you ask me what I am thinking about, more than half the time it will be food. I love food. I love eating it, love learning about it, and (luckily for Cam) love making it. I think the main reason I want to go to Asia is for the food. The phrases I'll be using the most will be 'feed me!' and 'more, please!'. I'm just sitting here thinking about all the delicious food I will be consuming in two weeks. The food alone will make the stress of getting ready to go worth it.