Days 141 to 142 – Koahsiung

 

We had quite a long ride from Hengchun to Koahsiung. There’s a regular bus who does this route, but we decided to try and hitchhike instead.  We wrote our sign and stood at the edge of the road, on the highway out of Hengchun. We didn’t have much luck at first, with one driver rudely asking us for 1000 Taiwanese Dollars to take us there. Obviously we refused! Luckily, we didn’t have to wait for too long before a van with two couples (and 1 baby) picked us up and agreed to drive us. They were really nice people who also bought us drinks along the way 🙂

We hitchhiked with these nice  people :)

We hitchhiked with these nice people :)

Kaohsiung was the city from which we were supposed to leave Taiwan, and we had originally planned to spend just one night here. But after some research, we decided that there were quite some sights to see, and so we ended up staying for two nights. We found a host using couchsurfing, who offered us a sofa in her living room. Our couchsurfer, Joanne, and her friend took us to a night market for our first night. The market was really lively, with lots of food and some delicious ice cream which we couldn’t resist. There were also some fun classical games, and we both tried different challenges, with no luck 🙁

Jen had to try and get the bottle in an upright position. Its much harder than it looks !

Jen had to try and get the bottle in an upright position. Its much harder than it looks !

The next morning, Joanne (and a different friend) took us to Lotus Pond, which is one of the main highlights in Koahsiung. This place is famous for the many temples which surround the lake. We had a fun morning, but then Joanne and her friend had to leave us, and we went to the art gallery at the pier. The art here is quite original and might be considered even weird, but it’s definitely worth a visit. Later, we went to the mall as I had to buy new sneakers since I had lost my previous pair in Taipei. Half an hour later, I was the proud owner of a new Nike 🙂

Lotus Pond

Lotus Pond

Some nice displays at the Art Gallery

Some nice displays at the Art Gallery

Music is too loud ;)

Music is too loud ;)

So it was then time for our last dinner in Taiwan. We decided to take our host our for Mexican food since she had never tried it before (and it was a good excuse for us who love this type of food). I took the largest plate of nachos I ever saw, and it was the first time I could not finish the whole plate in one sitting. Obviously I took the food with me take away and later ate it at Joanne’s apartment.

Last dinner in Taiwan

Last dinner in Taiwan

And so our 10 days in Taiwan came to an end! The visit to this country was unexpected, but we are very glad that we managed to visit. We met some great and welcoming people who showed us a good time. Even though it’s a small country, Taiwan offers a lot of variety – the bustling streets of Taipei, the lovely scenery of Sun Moon Lake, the mountains of the East Coast, the beaches of Kenting, etc. Travelling between regions is easy and the country is one of the safest we’ve been to. Arrivederci Taiwan !





Days 139 to 140 – Kenting National Park

Given we had only 11 days in Taiwan, we had to choose 3 locations to visit in the whole country, and the third location was Kenting National Park. Taiwan has 6 national parks, with Taroko Park being the most popular amongst tourists, maybe because its closer to Taipei? I’m not sure… We decided to go for Kenting National Park which is in the south most part of Taiwan as it has tropical forests, seaside cliffs and also some nice beaches.

SunMoon Lake to Kenting National Park

While in SunMoon Lake we had met Miguel and Inese from Turning Pages, and they had already hitchhiked in Taiwan and so we decided to give it a try! Since we were 4 people hitchhiking together, i thought it was going to be difficult for someone to stop and pick us all up, however it was pretty easy! All we did was a sign with the name of the destination in Taiwanese and we started walking in the main road and after 2 minutes we were already on our way to Taichung in a comfortable car 😀

Once we got to Taichung, we had two options: bus or train, the latter being obviously faster. The team’s accountant (Steve) said the train was not an option as it would cost us about €25 more than if we go by bus. So we filled our day with buses 🙂 at least they were very comfy, and I even managed to watch half of a very good movie (The longest ride) as my laptop battery died. In all we took a train and a couple of long bus rides and arrived at our hostel in Hengchun at about 8pm – total of 9 hours travelling. We didn’t have a good start with the hostel owner who tried to con us (we had booked 2 beds through Airbnb, but the owner told us that she made a mistake and that the price we paid was for just 1 person). We ended up having to transfer to a simpler room, and we were not happy about it !!

Going around in Kenting National Park

Kenting has a number of attractions spread along the southern coast, and we decided to rent a scooter to be able to see as much as we can in one day. Normal asking price of scooter was 800NT$ for 24 hours, but we bargained for 500NT$ which is about €14 which is twice as much as in Philippines and some other Asian countries, but still a good price for Taiwan. We first passed by South Bay, but decided to keep on driving along as it was way too touristic for us. Our second stop was at the Chateau Beach Resort Kenting, which has access to a very nice and quiet beach. We’re not sure if we could actually go into the resort and walk straight to the beach, as after an hour of fooling around with the waves, a guy told us the beach is only accessible to residents staying at the resort. So we decided to move to the next attraction.

fooling around with the waves

fooling around with the waves

this is only a small part of the Chateau Beach Resort.. my favourite in Kenting!

this is only a small part of the Chateau Beach Resort.. my favourite in Kenting!

We visited the Southernmost tip of Taiwan, and also the Eluanbi Park which has a nice lighthouse and a nice view of the southern coast too. There’s an entrance fee for the Eluanbi Park, but it’s really cheap 40NT$ (€1.15), and we got the students tickets which is half price. We are both very hardworking students!! While at the southernmost tip, we bought a super mega delicious ice cream, mint chocolate, swiss chocolate, oreo mmmm SUPER!!

mega delicious ice-cream :D

mega delicious ice-cream :D

One of the beaches on the east side of Kenting - unfo it's not accessible to people!

One of the beaches on the east side of Kenting – unfo it’s not accessible to people!

Southern most tip of Taiwan!

Southern most tip of Taiwan!

We then drove up to Jialeshuei scenic area which is on the east part of Taiwan, and we both noticed this area is way nicer than the west part we had visited earlier. The east side of Taiwan has plenty of cliffs, and the beaches are not accessible many of the times. The only one we saw accessible was the one at Jialeshui scenic area. All in all the 36km drive was awesome with great sceneries of both the sea and the green areas found in the park!

Lighthouse at the Eluanbi Park

Lighthouse at the Eluanbi Park

Great views along the east side of Taiwan.

Great views along the east side of Taiwan.

The most cautious scooter rider ever :p

The most cautious scooter rider ever :p

On our last day in Kenting, we had to return the scooter by 11am, and so we decided to wake up early (something we rarely do) to visit the west tip of Kenting, specifically Baisha Bay. This is one of the shooting scenes of the movie ‘Life of Pi’.

at Baisha Bay

at Baisha Bay

Kenting was a great experience, something different from the usual lake/forest national parks. We had a great time 😀

 

 

 

Days 137 to 138 – Sun Moon Lake

We only just managed to catch the bus to Sun Moon Lake, after an impressive sprint from the metro to the bus station. But our efforts paid off as we got to the station, paid for our tickets, and rode the bus with 2 minutes to spare 🙂

The bus ride to Sun Moon Lake took 2.5 hours, and we were lucky that our hotel was just a few metres away from the final bus stop. Accomodation in Sun Moon Lake is quite expensive, and the cheapest hotel was over €30 per night, and it was nothing special.

We met a couple of friends of ours while in Sun Moon Lake. I had been chatting with Miguel (an old Gozitan friend) for some time now. Miguel and his girlfriend Inese are currently also travelling around Asia, and they were also in Taiwan. So we decided to hang out together for a couple of nights. They were camping out near the lake, so we bought some alcohol and spent the rest of the evening drinking and exchanging interesting stories about our trip. The hours passed by quickly and we went back to the hotel late at night (and feeling a bit tipsy)

With Miguel and Inese :)

With Miguel and Inese :)

The next morning we met with Miguel and Inese once again, and rented a couple of motorbikes. The plan was to travel around the whole of Sun Moon Lake, stopping at the major highlights. We had not rented a motorbike  for quite some time (since Philippines) and I always find it exciting when we drive around with one. We stopped at Syuanguang Temple which must be the 100th temple we have visited on our trip. I’m getting a bit tired of temples now !

Our ride in Sun Moon Lake :D

Our ride in Sun Moon Lake :D

Syuanguang Temple

Syuanguang Temple

Another highlight which we could not miss was the Ci En Pagoda, which was built by late President Chiang Kai-shek in 1971 in memory of his mother. The pagoda is about 7 storeys high, and we climbed to the top where we were met with breathtaking views. We could also ring the bell at the top of the pagoda, and me and Jen were definitely not going to let this opportunity pass by 🙂

Sun Moon Lake is stunning

Sun Moon Lake is stunning

Ci En Pagoda

Ci En Pagoda

Swimming is illegal in the lake, but people still do it in some areas. We were thinking about it but suddenly the weather took a turn for the worse and it started raining. We decided to go to a nearby village and eat lunch, while waiting for the weather to get better. Unfortunately, it was raining harder than ever, so we decided to keep on driving in the rain and hope for the best. I had never drove a motorbike in the rain before, and I really like new challenges, so I enjoyed the drive even though we got soaking wet.

The sun came out just as we seemed to lose our way. Luckily, google maps came to the rescue and we were soon back on our path. There are a lot of scenic spots around the lake, and we stopped a number of times to take pics and selfies with our friends 🙂 It was quite an eventful day and we arrived at the hotel tired but happy. We offered Miguel and Inese to shower in our hotel since they were wet and had nowhere else to shower. After dinner, we decided to call it a night.

Another view of the lake

Another view of the lake

In the morning me and Jen returned to the lake to take some early bird pictures, as our camera died out on the previous day. We got some excellent shots 🙂

Good morning from Sun Moon Lake

Good morning from Sun Moon Lake

 

It was now time for our first hitchhiking experience !




 

Days 133 to 136 – Taipei

Taiwan was our 6th country, and I was very happy to be seeing my Taiwanese friend Jennifer after about 3 years. The flight from Okinawa was only 1.5 hrs, but we had the first long delay in our trip – a 4 hour delay!

We landed in Taipei about 2pm, and our first impressions were quite good compared to China; people are very nice, and not annoying as many chinese we’ve met during our trip. Taiwan is certainly a better version of China, when it comes to people’s attitude and environment cleanliness. Undoubtedly, China has a wider variety of attractions and landscapes, all thanks to its large geographical area.

Jenni and her boyfriend Corey met us at Taipei Main Station, and after we settled at our couch surfer Andy Wang, we went for dinner at a local Taiwanese restaurant and also managed to try the Taiwanese famous bubble tea along the way 🙂

Bubble tea - Taiwanese tea-based drink invented in Taichung in the 1980s

Bubble tea – Taiwanese tea-based drink invented in Taichung in the 1980s

eating Taiwanese food at a local restaurant

eating Taiwanese food at a local restaurant

After dinner and a quick nap, we met Jenni and Corey again for some drinks. This had to be a relaxed night, however after drinks at the bar, we ended up having cocktails in a club and later ‘singing’ in one of Taiwanese famous KTV (Karaoke). It was a great night, in fact we returned back to our host at about 6am – something we were not really proud of, given it was our first night with him.

While in Taiwan, we had no lazy days. Actually it was always on the go. The day after we visited a nice walking bridge, and the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall remembering the former president of the Republic of China.

About 30km away from central Taipei is Jiufen, which is said that in 1890’s workmen discovered flakes of gold while constructing the new Taipeh-Kelung railway. This turned the village into a gold-mining town, and nowadays is one of the most popular attractions in Taipei.

An easy and great way to have a lunch with a view is to make a booking in Starbucks at Taipei 101 building; the largest building in Taiwan. Starbucks is located on the 35th floor and has great views, definitely a must do while in Taipei!

booze time at InHouse

booze time at InHouse

at Club Mist

at Club Mist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

on one of the walking bridges in Taiwan

on one of the walking bridges in Taiwan

It was not a rainy day, but it did rain sometimes

It was not a rainy day, but it did rain sometimes

at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

 

 

 

Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

i always cherish our friendship Jennifer Hsu :)

i always cherish our friendship Jennifer Hsu :)

family dinner at Five-Dime

family dinner at Five-Dime

 

Taiwanese are very good at Foot Massages

Taiwanese are very good at Foot Massages

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Views of the Pacific Ocean

Views of the Pacific Ocean from Jiufen

Although digging stopped in 1950s, Jiufen did not turn into an anonymous mining ghost town!

Although digging stopped in 1950s, Jiufen did not turn into an anonymous mining ghost town!

Eating sweet taro balls at a local Jiufen restaurant

Eating sweet taro balls at a local Jiufen restaurant

Jiufen was a prosperous gold mining town until the digging stopped in the 1950s.

Jiufen was a prosperous gold mining town until the digging stopped in the 1950s.

at Shihfen, the place where many lanterns are released in the sky on a daily buses

at Shihfen, the place where many lanterns are released in the sky on a daily buses

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

at Taipei 101

at Taipei 101

Taipei by night - Photo taken from Dongxiaonan Mountain

Taipei by night – Photo taken from Dongxiaonan Mountain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Days 126 to 132 – Okinawa

Okinawa – finally !!! The islands of Okinawa have been on our bucket list of desired vacation spots ever since we searched for it on Google a few year’s back. We couldn’t possibly end our trip in Japan without visiting it’s southernmost prefecture, which comprises of hundreds of islands in a 1,000km chain. The airport lies in Naha, which is Okinawa’s capital and our flight took 90 minutes from Fukuoka (flight is slightly longer if leaving from Tokyo). The flight was also very cheap, only costing us €45 with Peach Airlines.

Okinawa is host to several US bases (Okinawan citizens are not happy about this), and it is said that the American citizens on the island account to 8% of the island’s entire population. One of the Americans (actually he is Hawaiian), Andrew Fink, offered to host us during our stay here, and we are very grateful to him as accommodation on Okinawa is not really cheap.

We arrived in Okinawa at about 11pm , a day after a typhoon hit the island, and since it was quite late (public tranport ends at about 9pm) Andrew came for us with his car, accompanied by another couchsurfer (Emmy from Sweden). Andrew has a big beach house, and he sometimes hosts several people at one go. It’s like a mini hostel on the beach ! On the way home, I asked Andrew for a reason why he would leave a place like Hawaii (whichI have always imaged as a magical place) to go and work abroad. His reply was that Hawaii has become way too touristy and that Okinawa is nicer. Wow 🙂

The next morning, on our first full day in Okinawa, we visited Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, which is the third biggest aquarium in the world. The aquarium is huge, with loads of really big fish, like manta rays, hammerhead sharks, and even 3 gigantic whale sharks. Impressive! We also got to witness a lovely dolphin show which was full of surprises, and was free. There is also a deep sea section which was quite interesting, and is home to several fish which can probably never be seen in their natural habitat (divers can normally only go to a depth of 40m, and these particular sea creatures reside at depths of 100m – 1000m). Normally I found places like circuses and aquariums to be cruel, but the animals here seem to be well taken care of.

Andrew, Emmy, me and Jen taking a selfie with a friendly dolphin

Andrew, Emmy, me and Jen taking a selfie with a friendly dolphin

Whale shark ! Biggest attraction in the aquarium

Whale shark ! Biggest attraction in the aquarium

What are you looking at ?

What are you looking at ?

I had been wanting to go to Karaoke ever since we landed in the Philippines, and when I mentioned this to Fink, he immediately suggested that we do a Karaoke night at a place close to his home. We started the evening by taking a fabulous ‘all you can eat’ dinner, where I must have consumed a record amount of meat, and then went to sing our hearts out. Karaoke in Japan is different from Malta, and you are given a private room to hang out with your friends. It was a great night, we were 6 people and we got to sing and listen to various songs and Disney Classics. We were really enjoying ourselves and didn’t want to leave. In fact, Fink had to pull me and Jen out of the room during our ‘Uptown Funk’ rendition as our time was up and everyone was already waiting patiently outside.

The new Green Day

The new Green Day

Getter, Emmy and Jen performing 'Let It Go'

Getter, Emmy and Jen performing ‘Let It Go’

The highlight of our trip to Okinawa was definitely when we decided to go for a couple of days to nearby Zamami and Aka Island with our new friends Hottor and Emmy. There’s a choice of 2 ferries: the first one takes 1 hour to arrive at Zamami, while the second takes 2 hours, but is cheaper. We opted for the latter and decided to stay at a place which was recommended by Fink – Zamamia Hostel. Here we met a couple of Canadian guys who were really funny and who joined us as we went around the lovely beaches. We also had fun swimming with the many turtles who could be sighted from the beach. We spent the night playing drinking games with the whole group, and ended up being a really awesome day.

Zamami Island

Zamami Island

Trying to keep up with a really fast turtle

Trying to keep up with a really fast turtle

Great company :)

Great company :)

The next day we went to Aka Island by speedboat. This is also a gorgeous island, and it is only 10 minutes away from Zamami. We couldn’t swim for the first couple of hours as there was a second typhoon approaching and the waves were quite high. We wouldn’t have minded swimming nonetheless, but the lifeguards were pretty strict about this, and one thing we learnt in Japan is that rules should not be broken here 🙂 Luckily the sea got calmer and we enjoyed ourselves snorkelling (the sea is pretty much unspoiled over here and the fish appear to be curious of humans) and collecting seashells. A young deer also surprised us when he came on the beach and started wetting his feet. Apparently this is normal on Aka Island, which is home to a lot of deer.

Arrival at Aka Beach

Arrival at Aka Beach

Jen getting a tan

Jen getting a tan

One of the most unspoiled places on our travels

One of the most unspoiled places on our travels

Overall, it was a lovely week in Okinawa, and we were sad to be leaving. We had a lovely time with Fink and the other friends that we met during our time here, and the island is such a lovely place to relax and chill. But our time is limited and it would not be a wise decision to spend a lot of time on such a small (but awesome) island.

Next destination – Taiwan

Days 124 to 125 – Fukuoka City

Our last 2 days in mainland Japan were spent in Fukutsu city in Fukuoka, with our lovely host Shingo and his wife Akko. I must say that our couch surfing experience in Japan was brilliant, without any doubt the best we’ve had on our trip; people are very nice and friendly, very helpful and it’s like they were looking forward to spend time with us. Shingo was no exception, he showed us around, lent us his bikes to go around the place, took us for lunch, and he also played playstation with Steve for a couple of hours i guess – they really enjoyed it, I even enjoyed watching them getting into the games!

so into the game :)

so into the game :)

Only five minutes away from Shingo’s house was a very nice deserted beach, and since we didn’t step on a beach for quite a long time (about 50 days spent in China and Japan) we were very excited to see a beach again 🙂

the desserted beach 5 minutes away from Shingo's house

the deserted beach 5 minutes away from Shingo’s house

While at Shingo, we decided to prepare dinner to repay their kindness. We made pasta with mushrooms and bacon and cordon bleu with some vegetables which they really liked! We had a relaxed and lovely stay at Fukutsu! On our way to the train station, Shingo passed by his strawberry farm and we were ready to go to our next destination: Okinawa!!!

at Shingo's strawberry fields

at Shingo’s strawberry fields

 

 

Days 121 to 123 – Osaka and Kyoto

After the trauma of climbing Mount Fuji, we decided that we needed to settle down for a couple of days in a comfy hotel. We decided to book a love motel in Osaka, with super modern amenities which kept us very entertained. It worked out well as I had an eye infection and so we couldn’t go around Kyoto like we had planned. But we didn’t complain much, as our room was so good that we didn’t feel the need for going outside. Some of the extras with our room were:

  • 2 floors
  • 2 giant screen TV’s
  • projector
  • slots machine
  • karaoke
  • jacuzzi
  • sofa
  • massage chair
  • super toilet
  • huge bathroom
Our room even had a slots machine if we ever decided to gamble money

Our room even had a slots machine if we ever decided to gamble money

The bathroom was complete with toiletries

The bathroom was complete with toiletries

Big screen TV

Big screen TV

Doing the laundry

Doing the laundry

The massage chair was one of the highlights of our room


The massage chair was one of the highlights of our room

After a couple of days in which my eye did not get better, we decided to go to Osaka centre to visit an eye doctor. The eye clinic and doctor looked to be very high-end, and I was given some drops which healed my eye in no time. While at the city centre, we noticed that it was ‘Bargain Week’, with discounts available on a variety of products and food, so we went for a delicious Chinese buffet.

Plate no. 1

Plate no. 1

Plate no. 2

Plate no. 2

Plate no. 3

Plate no. 3

Trying to look macho at dinner

Trying to look macho at dinner

KYOTO

We had originally planned to spend a couple of nights in Kyoto, but due to my eye infection we had to change plans. We then only had time to visit Kyoto for a couple of hours before we made the trip down south towards Fukuoka. We decided that the main highlight for us was the Bamboo Forest, so we made our way there and spent a couple of hours admiring the wonderful sights.

Japanese Geisha's in Kyoto

Japanese Geisha’s in Kyoto

Selfie in front of the Bamboo trees

Selfie in front of the Bamboo trees

Jen enjoyed herself among the bamboos

Jen enjoyed herself among the bamboos

Captivated !

Captivated !

Many temples in Kyoto, but we decided to skip them since we had already visited a lot during our travels

Many temples in Kyoto, but we decided to skip them since we had already visited a lot during our travels

Jenny looking cute as ever :;:;)

Jenny looking cute as ever :;:;)

Days 119 to 120 – Mount Fuji

“A wise man will climb Mount Fuji once, a fool will climb Mount Fuji twice”

It’s hard to argue with this popular Japanese saying. We have just succesfully climbed to the summit of Japan’s greatest mountain, standing at 3776 metres, and we both consider this as our most challenging adventure ever.

We had already climbed about 6 or 7 mountain on our trip, and were starting to consider ourselves as worthy trekkers. But all of those treks had been during daytime, and in excellent weather! We decided to start trekking Fuji at night, starting at 10pm, thinking that we might make it to the peak just in time for sunrise. The weather was especially cruel, with endless rain and wind, and the fact that we weren’t wearing adequate trekking clothes and gear didn’t help at all. Most people climbing the mountain looked like seasoned pro’s with their walking sticks, waterproof jackets, sunglasses, headlights, spike shoes etc… and here we were trying to keep up, Steve in his trusty AC Milan jersey and linen trousers, and Jen with a light raincoat and training pants. Unsurprisingly, we got a lot of odd and sympathetic stares from fellow hikers.

Not the ideal trekking gear for climbing Mount Fuji on a rainy night

Not the ideal trekking gear for climbing Mount Fuji on a rainy night

Part of the never ending trek

Part of the never ending trek

Feeling cold but trying to put on a brave face

Feeling cold but trying to put on a brave face

Arrival at the entrance of the summit... finally !

Arrival at the entrance of the summit… finally !

100% satisfaction

100% satisfaction

After a couple of hours of climbing we were already soaking wet and feeling extremely cold and unhappy. We had a few more setbacks along the way. Our flashlight went out and we had to use our mobile’s torch in the rain – not such a good idea as Steve’s iPhone got wet and died (though it was miraculously brought back to life 12 hours later by a hairdryer). Jennifer’s umbrella which was protecting her from the rain broke. Steve had a bad case of altitude sickness and threw up on the summit. We also ended up paying around €45 just to rest in a hut for about 3 hours – we couldn’t take any more of the cold and rain on the mountain.

Feeling sick at the top of the mountain

Feeling sick at the top of the mountain

Mount Fuji conquered !! against the odds

Mount Fuji conquered !! against the odds

In the morning, the trek didn’t get much better as there was mist everywhere, and we couldn’t see any views, apart from the fact that the rain seemed to get even worse. However we persevered, and eventually arrived at the peak at about 8am. We didn’t stay there for long as sadly the clouds were obstructing all the views and we were really looking forward to getting down and getting a hot shower. We managed the whole descent in under 3 hours, which is pretty good. Total time on the mountain was 13 wet hours.

Going back down

Going back down

Jen not feeling very happy

Jen not feeling very happy

Almost there

Almost there

All in all, the feeling of satisfaction for having conquered Mount Fuji is amazing and it definitely is up there as one of our greatest achievements 🙂

Celebrations once we arrived at the bottom of the mountain

Celebrations once we arrived at the bottom of the mountain

But would we climb it again? NEVER !!!!!

Angry at the train station when we saw a picture of Mount Fuji

Angry at the train station when we saw a picture of Mount Fuji

Days 112 to 118 – Hokkaido

After spending the first 4 days in Tokyo, it was time to travel North of Japan, which is famous for its nice scenery. This was the second time we were travelling by train in Japan and we were still a bit green. When we got on the train we found the first two free seats and made ourselves comfortable. The cabin was quite luxurious with free Wi-Fi, very comfortable seats and wide leg space. After about 20 minutes, the train conductor came along to check our tickets and told us we were in the wrong one. We were in the business class, supposedly in the standard cabin and so had to move to a less enjoyable cabin.

feeling poshy in the business class

feeling poshy in the business class

xoffa sa l-art

xoffa sa l-art

Lake Toya

Our first stop in Hokkaido was Lake Toya. Eriko together with her daughter hosted us for 3 days and they picked us up from the train station, as their house was about 20 minutes away, but only one minute by walk from Lake Toya! The scenery of this lake was amazing, and the village is quite small, it’s like everybody knows each other. On one of the nights, Eriko invited her friends for dinner and everyone prepared some food. We prepared our famous penne with mushrooms and bacon, some bruschetta and asparagus wrapped in cheese and ham. We got to try some authentic Japanese local food and the majority was very good!

with Eriko's daughter and her friend/neighbour

with Eriko’s daughter and her friend/neighbour

dinner at Eriko

dinner at Eriko

finally it was time for a haircut!

we also managed to get a haircut 🙂 finally :D

peacefulness at its best!

Lake Toya – peacefulness at its best!

admiring the view at Lake Toya

admiring the view at Lake Toya

Part of Lake Toya

Part of Lake Toya

One of the days spent here was sunny, and we decided to go visit the Nakajima Island, which is in the middle of Lake Toya. The ferry to the island was about 15 minutes, and one can go trekking on the island before 3pm. Unfortunately we didn’t make it in time to trek on the island, but instead we went back to trek next to two caldera lakes, which erupted few years ago.

the ferry to Nakajima island

the ferry to Nakajima island

while on Nakajima

while on Nakajima

The crater formed by volcanic eruptions

The caldera lake formed after volcanic eruptions

Noboribetsu

While on our way to Sapporo, we passed by Noboribetsu Hot Spring in Shikotsu-Touya National Park. One of the scenic areas is ‘Oyunuma’ a kind of Crater Lake, which is the biggest heat spring in Japan, making this area the most popular for natural hot springs.

Steve enjoying a natural hot spring

Steve enjoying a natural hot spring

Noboribestu

few metres away from the caldera

few metres away from the caldera

We enjoyed about a 2-hour trek in between the caldera lakes and Steve also dipped his feet into the natural hot springs along the trek. Afterwards, we spent a couple of hours in the Dai-ichi Takimotokan Hotel, where we made use of the Onsen. We were both quite sceptical about the Onsen, as you have to be naked, only a small towel is allowed inside the onsen. Obviously, it is gender segregated, but once I got inside I felt quite at ease actually, as nobody tries to look at you 🙂 Inside there was about ten pools with different temperatures, one of which was outside in the cold but felt really good!

Outdoor onsen at Dai-ichi Takimotokan Hotel

Outdoor onsen at Dai-ichi Takimotokan Hotel

 Sapporo

Our next home was with Bob, a very nice American man living in Sapporo for the past 19 years. We had interesting chats with him and even went for dinner at one of his favourite local restaurants. Food was excellent and we were lucky Bob took us here as they could only speak Japanese and we wouldn’t have managed to make an order without Bob.

Great food and company at a local restaurant in Sapporo

Great food and company at a local restaurant in Sapporo

 Otaru

One of the day trips from Sapporo was Otaru, a harbour city very famous for its sushi and beautifully preserved canal area. The train to Otaru passes along the coast and has great views as well.

canal area

canal area

Otaru has a street filled with sushi restauarnts

Otaru has a street filled with sushi restauarnts

after having a beer in front of the financial museum, Otaru

feeling tipsy after having a beer in front of the financial museum, Otaru

Furano

Certainly one of the best attractions in Japan is Furano, which is home to the famous lavender fields. Given it was a sunny day; we decided to explore the village while riding the bicycle. We went all around Furano by bike and had a couple of stops one of which was the cheese factory, where we had a tasty Furano 4-cheese pizza, and saw a lot of great scenery on the way. From here we got a small train to where the fields are located and spent some time around the nice fields.

Around Furano by bike

Around Furano by bike

milking the cow :p

milking the cow :p

4-cheese pizza

4-cheese pizza

local train to Lavender fields

local train to Lavender fields

Farm Tomita - Lavender fields

Farm Tomita – Lavender fields

Lavender

Lavender

Lovely place

Lovely place

Days 108 to 111 – Tokyo

Yoking past and future, Tokyo dazzles with its traditional culture and passion for everything new. Tokyo’s neon-lit streetscapes still look like a sci-fi film set – and that’s a vision of the city from the 1980s. Tokyo has been building ever since, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible on densely populated, earthquake-prone land, adding ever taller, sleeker structures.

Tokyo is widely considered as the best city in the world, and after visiting, I cannot possibly not agree with this statement. Everything in Tokyo is so much different from the rest of the world, and our 4 days must surely be considered among the highlights of our whole trip.

First off, cheap accommodation in Tokyo is extremely hard to find. Unless you’re prepared to spend big, get ready for a really small room or a capsule (which is a very popular choice). We decided to couchsurf during our time here, and it was a wise decision as our host Keita was a cool guy who made us feel at home.

Public transport in Japan is formidable. We bought the national Japan Rail Pass for 14 days from Hong Kong for about €345 each, which seemed a bit expensive, but which ended up saving us €890. Not bad 🙂 With the rail pass we could catch as many trains as we wanted, provided that the rail belonged to the JR group. This was the main reason why we travelled to Hokkaido and Fukuoka, as it would have been very expensive to do so otherwise.

One of the first things we noticed about Tokyo is that, despite it being a crowded city, it was super clean and safe. Garbage bins are very rare, and I think that many Japanese people take their garbage home with them. Many other countries could learn from this.

Tokyo by night

Tokyo by night

The food in Tokyo and in Japan in general is amazing. I had managed to lose a few kg during the first months of our trip, but Japan made sure that I got my weight back 🙁 The food is so fresh and tasty, and you can even find a lot of cheap meals. Sushi and Sashimi are obviously the most famous Japanese food, but there is a great variety of items to choose from.

We spent 3 nights in Tokyo, and in my opinion these were not enough. We visited Shinjuku which is one of the most vibrant spots, and is home to the lovely Shinjuku Gyoen garden, where one can enjoy the traditional Japanese, English and French gardens.

Shinjuku Gyoen Garden

Shinjuku Gyoen Garden

The next day, we went to Tsukiji where there is a fish market. Unfortunately, we arrived late for the fish market, but it wasn’t a total loss as we relaxed at Hamarikyu gardens instead. Located at the mouth of the Sumida River, it was opened April 1, 1946. The park is a 250,165 m² landscaped garden surrounding Shioiri Pond, the park itself surrounded by a seawater moat filled by Tokyo Bay. It was remodeled as a public garden park on the site of a villa of the Shogun Tokugawa family in the 17th century. Visitors can also enjoy refreshment at a teahouse in Nakashima located in the middle of the pond in the garden that offers matcha and Japanese sweets in a tea ceremony style.

Hamarikyu Gardens

Hamarikyu Gardens

Matcha and Tea :)

Matcha and Tea :)

Tokyo is also a shopper’s paradise. All the top brands have loads of outlets scattered across the city, and discounts and bargains can be found from a lot of places. Our favourite mall was Aqua City in Odaiba, which has some of the nicest shops and restaurants we ever saw.

Odaiba - one of our favourite spots in Tokyo

Odaiba – one of our favourite spots in Tokyo

Steve trying out this 1 seater car

Steve trying out this 1 seater car

This Toyota test drive game was a lot of fun

This Toyota test drive game was a lot of fun

Steve's future car

Steve’s future car

Feeling poshy :)

Feeling poshy :)

Some nice day trips can be easily accessed through Tokyo. We took a one day trip to Nikko with our host Keita, and even though it was a rainy day, we still enjoyed ourselves. Nikko is very popular with tourists, and is the place to go if you love to explore temples. We have seen a lot of temples on our trip, so the one’s seen here didn’t excite us that much, but admittedly some were among the most impressive we have seen on our travels.

With our host Keita at Shinkyo Bridge in Nikko

With our host Keita at Shinkyo Bridge in Nikko

So basically, trust me when I say that everyone MUST visit Tokyo at least once 🙂