Norway: In a Week Part II

After leaving Bergen relatively early in the day, we began our 7-hour journey to Geirangerfjord. Again, 7 hours might seem a long time but with the Norwegian scenery, car journeys are hardly a chore. Usually, on our trips, we don’t like sticking to a set routine, but because we still wanted to see Lofoten Island and Tromso in the next four days we had to. Our warning for anyone who wants to do a similar journey is that the roads in the winter can be very dangerous. Although gritters and snow ploughs are constantly trying to clear the roads, it only takes one snowstorm and you’re back doing 40kmph for the next 4 hours again. If you are wanting to go in the winter so you have a chance of seeing the northern lights, make sure you give yourself plenty of time as the north is spectacular. We found that the north was much better than the south and we wish we had spent more time here. Stavanger was a bit of an exception, but Bergen and Oslo didn’t really offer much that interested us. Of course, this could be different for you so make sure you do your research before visiting.

By the time we got to the Geirangerfjord, it was late at night and as you can imagine we were more than ready for bed. Again, Airbnb found us a really nice place. If you’re considering using Airbnb, you can save £25 for just sending a signup email and getting them to sign up. Therefore, if you’re travelling in a group then this is a fantastic way to save money and believe us when we say you’ll need all the money saving tricks you can find in Norway! The next morning, we started the day at 7ish, as we knew we had to take a 1.5hour ferry that goes right through the fjord. Unfortunately, due to severe bad weather, the ferry crossing was closed for the winter which really scuppered our plans. So, if you’re wanting to do this ferry crossing then it’s only open in the summer months, so maybe that is something to think about before choosing what season you want to visit Norway in. This meant that we had to head back the way we just came from for about 45 minutes to take another ferry crossing. You might wonder why we didn’t just take the one next to us in the first place, but the crossing that went through the fjord looked amazing compared to the one we eventually took.

After taking the ferry crossing, we then drove to the Ornesvingen viewpoint. Another warning here and as you will see by the picture below, the roads are beyond awful to drive on. Several times we skidded at ridiculously slow speeds. If you do make it to the viewpoint, then the views are out of this world and worth the risk. Overlooking the fjord, it gives you an amazing view of the lake and the surrounding mountains. The sun was just above the mountains which made the view all the better. From here, we visited another viewpoint, Flydalsjuvet which gives another spectacular view of the fjord. However, you are just viewing the same thing so if you are short of time then it may be worth just visiting the Ornesvingen viewpoint.

We decided that as we had around a 21-hour journey up to Lofoten Island that we should set off as soon as possible. This journey was brutal, as trying to sleep in a relatively small car was difficult. Our idea was one driver and one passenger stays awake for a shift and then when they got tired they swapped over with the people who had been sleeping. The only problem with this plan is sometimes the people in the back couldn’t sleep, which obviously makes it difficult and dangerous when the people in the front want to swap. Therefore, if you are deciding to do a similar trip give yourself more time than just 8 days. Obviously, we would have liked to have given ourselves more time, but we had to come back for the start of our university semester. Nevertheless, we powered on through and about 19 hours later we made it to our ferry crossing in the early hours of the morning. Unfortunately, we missed the ONLY ferry that day by 15 minutes! As you can imagine after driving for that long it was soul destroying as Lofoten Island was one of the places we really wanted to go and see.

After missing this ferry crossing it left us with two options, drive another 6 hours straight to Tromso or drive two more hours to another ferry crossing point to Lofoten Island. Even though by this point we were absolutely knackered, and would not have much time exploring the island, we decided to take another ferry crossing. The ferry took around 45 minutes and again as we mentioned in our previous Norway article, was incredibly expensive. However, when we got to the other side, we were so pleased that we had decided to go and check out Lofoten. Although there is so much to see in Lofoten and you could easily spend 3 or 4 days here and see puffins, whales, the northern lights etc, we decided that as we had limited time we would check out a place called Trollfjord. Trollfjord is a huge fjord with miles and miles of stunning lakes and mountain ranges. As it was winter time, there were only around 4 or 5 hours of daylight, so the skylight is amazing! The different colours bounce off the snowy mountains and lakes and it makes for an unreal experience. We spent around 3 hours just driving around the fjord as every time we wanted to leave, we would drive a little before stopping just to gawk at the view.

 

 

At this point, we had been up for around 36 hours (with intermittent sleep) and still had another 4 before reaching our final destination, Tromso. Luckily, and quite surprisingly, the roads got a little better from Lofoten to Tromso, so this meant that we didn’t lose too much time having to slow down. We again used Airbnb and got a really luxurious place with a little hut that had a log fire where we ended up lighting and having a barbeque and some beers in the middle of winter! This was one of the reasons why we wanted to get this place as we wanted something unique and different to add to our experience. The place is called “By the sea” as it’s literally (you guessed it) by the sea and you can see the northern lights from here if the conditions are right. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see the northern lights from our place, so we drove around 20 minutes to different points around the city to see if we could see them. However, as we had been awake over 48 hours, we called it a night just after 11pm because there were no signs of the northern lights and we were struggling to keep awake. Another tip for those who want to see the northern lights is to download apps called Aurora and Northern Lights Shutter as these apps allow you to track and take a picture from your phone! They worked so well for us while we were in Iceland, but unfortunately, we didn’t see the northern lights during our time in Norway. Tromso is apparently one of the best places to see them so one day we will go back and try and see them again!

 

 

When we were planning on where we should go for a little trip, and we found cheap flights to Norway, we didn’t really know that much about the place. Hearing reviews from friends and looking online there was quite a lot of reviews for Tromso, but mainly on the northern lights. However, we absolutely loved our stay in Tromso even though it wasn’t in the place 24hours. This might sound silly, but Tromso had a great atmosphere about it and it was really pretty.

Waking up ridiculously early again, we set off to what might be one of the best activities we have ever done; husky sledding! As we are all dog lovers, the prospect of meeting all the dogs and giving them some love was immensely exciting. When we got to the dog sledding place it was around -15°C and the breeze on your face is killer so wrap up warm! The sledding place gives you some wool-lined overalls and thick boots, but still wear lots of layers or you’re going to freeze.

After meeting all the dogs in our team, we set off and over the next 45 minutes had one of the best times of our lives. As we didn’t see any whales whilst whale watching in Iceland, we really wanted to whale watching again. However, the prospect of dog sledding was too good to turn down and it seriously lived up to all our expectations. The dogs are incredibly well looked after and have great nutrition, so there isn’t any worry of animal abuse! The place we booked with was the Tromso Villmarkssenter and it cost around £180 each – which we know is ridiculously expensive, but because the animals are so well looked after the cost is a lot. The guide there said the dogs go through 2 tons of food every week, so no wonder it costs that much! However, although very costly and with us being students we are on a tight budget, it was worth every penny! You get some lunch (reindeer stew for us, but there was a vegetarian option) at the end of your sledding trip as well as transport to and from Villmarkssenter. We ended our Norway tour by viewing the Arctic Cathedral, which is pretty cool but not something you should prioritise. Before we left Tromso, we just drove there from the city which is about 5 minutes away took some pictures and left.

The journey back from Tromso to Oslo was roughly around 24 hours. Our route back took us through Sweden and Finland and was not easy. Our total journey meant that we had been driving over 5,500km in just 8 days so you imagine just how tired we were by the end of it. However, we made it back to Oslo and had such an incredible time in Norway that we would recommend it to everyone!

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Nevertheless, there are some things that you need to consider that you may not have thought about. Check the driving laws before coming to Norway. Although we did, we saw so much misinformation that we had no idea what was happening. We had just about every colour in the rainbow flash at us from different speed cameras and couldn’t find any consistent information about what they meant.  It was really confusing and quite a stressful experience. Toll roads are something to think about. We spent around £140 between us on toll roads, which between 4 of us is under £40 each, if you’re going by yourself or with just another person then this can become expensive. Also, the alcohol limit for driving is an eighth of what it is in the UK, so don’t even consider having a drink with your meal if you’re driving afterwards. One final thing to bear in mind is that the ferries are just ridiculously expensive. Our route meant that we took over 15 ferries and on average of around £40 per ferry, regardless of their length. Some may be 10 minutes, and some could be 45 minutes, but the prices seemed quite random. Just make sure that you have enough money before setting off to Norway. It is such an expensive country, but if done right then the price is worth the incredible experience.

View the rest of our Norway pictures here.

 

 

 

 

Norway: In a Week Part I

Our plan to travel the whole of Norway, from the south to Tromso in just 8 days was ambitious and most people we met were all saying the same thing; ‘good luck’. However, we never like to give up and decided that there was no harm in trying. Starting our Norwegian adventure in Oslo, we decided that just like in Iceland, we would rent a car from the airport. People reading this might ask why we didn’t just fly, take a bus or get a train, well as we are four students, we were on a budget and heard that driving in Norway is part of the fun. That is something that we would like to point out. Although some of the journeys were so long in between places, the amount of times we stopped just to look at the scenery made all the driving worthwhile.

 

After researching online for what we can do in Oslo, we found very little that interested us. Therefore, we gave ourselves half a day to see what we wanted to see and then set off on the near 8 hour car journey to stavanger. We started our day bright and early, and drove to the Opera House which is on the coast of Oslo. Side note here, if you’re going to drive be prepared for out of this world parking fees. Obviously, we knew it was going to be expensive to park in a capital city, but we spent over £20 for an hour and three-quarters of parking. Nevertheless, the Opera House did you a good view of the coast as it allows you to walk on the roof! However, just be careful if you go in the winter time like we did, the thick snow and ice walking up a slope can be fairly hazardous as you’d expect. From here we walked down the pier where we came to a place called Vippa which is like a modern, hip food court. We ate a place called ‘Hot Hot Harmonica’ where we ate chili con carne, and it was really really good. Everything is homemade, including the sauces which really added to the taste. If you can find this place, as it took us a while to find it, then we definitely recommend eating here! However, like the rest of Norway it is expensive to eat here, around £14. From here we visited the Vigeland Sculpture Park, which may be the weirdest 40 minutes of my life. For anyone who is interested in statues of naked people, this is right up your alley. After walking around the park and looking at all the weird statues, we started a long drive south to Stavanger where we would later pick up Haydn.

 

Arriving in Stavanger just before 11pm, we stayed at an Air BnB called Hostel Gusto with a lovely host called Cristian. We must just point out that along the drive to Stavanger before it hit absolute darkness we did see some wonderful scenery and stopped off at a place called Langesund, originally for a toilet break until we turned around and saw an amazing view. As we arrived at the hostel, Cristian made us feel very welcome and we asked lots of questions about Norway and about what we could do in Stavanger. He was incredibly insightful and helpful and recommended us things that normal tourists would probably not do. However, Cristian does have some cats, so if you’re not a cat person then this place may not be for you.

 

The next day, following Cristian’s advice we took a ferry from Stavanger to Tou which took around 20-30 minutes. Big warning here, ferries in Norway cost A LOT and us stating this will be common throughout this blog as we had to take so many. Costing around £30 for a short journey, we arrived in Tou on our way to do the Pedersgata hike. If you do go, when you arrive at the barriers turn left before going through as there is free car parking if you do not go through the barrier. If you do, you will find out (like we did) that you just spend an extra £20 on parking for a few hours. Nevertheless, after buying and renting some equipment from the information centre, we headed up on the hike where it started to full on snow which only made the climb more magical. We really did want it to snow as we thought it would add to the effect of us being in Norway and climbing a mountain, and it certainly did! The views along the way became more spectacular the higher you got, the only problem was that sometimes the visibility got bad so you couldn’t always see the view that well. If you are thinking about visiting Stavanger and you only have a day or two, then definitely think about doing this climb because it was one of our favourite excursions down in the south of Norway.

 

After we had departed with another £20 for parking, we headed on home by taking a different ferry that was slightly cheaper, but further away from our hostel and then went to a bar where Cristian worked at. The bar was called Boker Og Borst, and was actually really nice, with live music, and an outside that had blankets and heaters to keep you warm in the winter. The place was hip and chill and Cristian gave us some free samples of Norwegian beer which we really appreciated. He also recommended we go and check out a place called Ost pub, where it was chill but fancier so the prices were expensive even with student discount!

 

Our final day in Stavanger was going to be a relative short one as we had to go and pick up Haydn at about 3pm from the airport. Again Cristian recommended us things to do so we wouldn’t be waiting around doing nothing in the morning. All we can do is thank Cristian for recommending the things he did because the views, mountains, and waterfalls etc were out of this world. At first when we arrived at the places he told us, we were quite confused as they were random coordinates he put in google maps. However, we kept driving and just saw stunning geography all around us. Starting at the Frafjord which is a huge fjord which leaves picturesque views on all sides. If you continue to drive through the fjord, a couple of kilometers further on you come to Manafossen, which is a stunning waterfall, probably the biggest we have seen up close. We must have spent about 30 minutes here just taking pictures and videos and just marvelling in its natural beauty. From there we carried up climbing up to “Man” which is a viewpoint overlooking the entire fjord which as you can imagine was phenomenal. We did have quite a comical experience climbing down as it was so icy and all downhill that we just kept falling over constantly, something we caught whilst on video. To round the sightseeing off, we drove back on ourselves and headed nearer to the city, on the way we stopped at a place called Gloppedalsura which are rock formations, surrounded by stunning mountain views and lakes. Some of this scenery was better than anything that we had ever seen by a country mile. The second day of our stay in Stavanger is best summed up by us constantly stopping getting out of the car and saying ‘Wow’.

 

Picking Haydn up from the airport and briefly stopping at the Sverd I Fjell, otherwise known as the 3 Swords, we headed onto Bergen which was going to take around 6 hours to get there. Here we used AirBnB again as we had such a good experience with Cristian – that was the first time that we had ever used it before as we usually just stay in hostels. Our stay in Bergen was short as we had such a long trip up to Tromso and many places to stop along the way. Whilst in Bergen we started our day visiting Bryggen which is a row of houses, shops and where the famous fish market is. However, only do this if you’re nearby because there’s not that much else to look at, and the famous fish market was a lot smaller than we were expecting. We then aimed to go up the cable car to Ulriken which is a mountain that overlooks the city and surrounding coastline.

 

However, sometimes things never work out the way you want them to and the cable car was shut due to high winds. At the time we were very confused as there was no wind at all where we were standing. The good news was that you can actually hike up the mountain if you choose to, which we did. However, in the winter the hike is incredibly slippy with ice and snow everywhere with steep rocks you have to climb. After climbing for about two hours we reached a point called Montana which is very close to the top, and that is where we found out why the cable car was closed. The wind was so strong here it’s probably the strongest wind we have ever been in! It was impossible to talk or even look into the wind, so we quickly but safely climbed back down to where the wind was not as strong. From here, we looked at the incredible view that was on offer before the arduous journey back down to the car. When we finally got back to the car we set off on our way to Geirangerfjord where we would begin making our way northwards.

View the rest of our Norway pictures here.

 


 

Malaysia: A Look into Paradise

After thoroughly enjoying our stay in Hong Kong, it was now time to head onto the second country of our tour of Asia. Malaysia was the next country and we didn’t really know what to expect. However, when we landed in Kuala Lumpur we instantly fell in love with the city and ended up staying for what some people might say, is way too long.

We arrived in KL late at night and took a taxi from the airport to our hostel ‘Sunshine Bedz’. Little did we know this hostel would be one of the highlights of our entire 3.5month trip. As soon as we got there we decided to go to bed so we could wake up early and start exploring. We began our day by eating at Dragon’s View Restaurant (DVR) where we tried some local cuisine and quickly left to visit the KL Forest Eco Park. The park had a walking canopy where you can walk through the forest and see an abundance of wildlife. However, the Eco Park seems more of something you would do if you prefer hiking than wildlife, as dynamic of the Park seems more built around hikers than animal lovers. After spending a couple of hours at the Eco Park, we left to go and visit the Batu Caves for the 1st time. We got to see most of the Batu Caves, which we would recommend visiting as it’s a really cool place. The caves are full of Hindu paintings and statues and it gives you an insight into some Hindu spirituality. Unfortunately, we could not visit the main attraction as one of us wasn’t wearing appropriate clothing. To enter, you can wear shorts and a T-shirt but your knees and shoulders must be covered, so keep that in mind if you’re thinking of visiting.

As our first day in KL was coming to an end we went back to the hostel to get showered before visiting the night market. Personally, the night market was my favourite place in KL. As a food lover, this market is amazing. During the course of our stay we must have eaten here most days. After eating all different kinds of weird and wonderful Malaysian cuisine, we headed back to the hostel where the hostel Rep, Kat, convinced us to come on the pub crawl tonight. The reason we needed convincing is that we had an elephant sanctuary visit at 7am the next day which we didn’t want to miss. However, even though the next day was a massive struggle, we were so glad that we decided to go out that night. Not only did we have a great time, but also met some incredible people! KL has a great night life down Bar Street and the club Sutra is awesome. KL has a policy where it’s ladies night, 5 times a week!

After being convinced that drinking 2 for 1 long Island Iced Teas all night was a good idea, it actually took the hostel receptionist to wake us up at 7am so we didn’t miss our bus to the elephant sanctuary. After what was a horribly bumpy, hungover, 3 hour journey, we arrived at the elephant sanctuary, via the Batu Caves, which we once again could not see the parts we didn’t see because we weren’t i wearing adequate clothing. However, the second time we actually did not know that we would be stopping at the Batu Caves. At the elephant sanctuary we started the day by feeding the smaller elephants that had clearly been in captivity at some point in their lives. Some of the elephants couldn’t even stand on one of their legs. Nevertheless, it was fun to be able to feed the elephants as it felt like, although our contribution was very small that we were in fact helping just a little. The day continued with us watching educational documentaries on why and how they poachers are capturing elephants. However, even though the reviews on trip advisor for the Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary were good, we quickly saw that the sanctuary might not be treating the elephants as well as we imagined. The set up of the day seemed to be more about the elephants being a tourist attraction rather than travellers coming to help volunteer at the sanctuary. Personally, we would not recommend coming to this elephant sanctuary as the one we visited in Chiang Mai, was much better ran and the elephants treated with a lot more respect!

Our third day in KL was a very busy one. We woke up quite late as we were still so tired from the night before and went back to DVR for a quick lunch. Today we decided to visit some temples as well as just explore the city by walking around and taking it at our own pace. We began the day at the Guan Di Temple, which is a Taoist temple dedicated to Guan Di, the Chinese God of War. This was an interesting visit as we had never been to a Taoist temple and therefore became educated on Taoist rituals. After, we visited the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple, the oldest Hindu temples in Kuala Lumpur. What draws your attention to this temple is the architecture. The front of the temple is decorated with depictions of Hindu Gods sculpted by artisans from Southern India. Both temples don’t take long to visit so if you have some spare time you can fit these into your schedule. Merdeka Square was the next place we wanted to visit as we had heard that you can just relax and watch the city go by. Literally “Independence  Square”, here is where the Union Jack was lowered and replaced by the Malayan flag in 1957 for the first time. The annual National Day parade is held here, although we weren’t there at the right time to experience it. We actually spent quite a while at the square, although there isn’t much here to do. We enjoyed just sitting and chilling on the grass.

We then decided to walk for at least an hour to visit the National Monument and War Memorial. For those of who you have our blog before, you will know that history and politics interests us and therefore this was a must do for us. However, be aware that it is quite far away from the city centre, so if you do not want to walk, getting a bus is probably the cheapest way. The monuments were stunning pieces of design and symbolised the soldiers who fought for the British Empire. We ended our day by visiting KL’s Botanical Gardens and visiting the Batu Caves for the third and FINAL time, this time appropriately dressed! The Botanical Gardens is like most other Botanical Gardens, with large walking areas with nice scenery. We only stumbled upon it during our walk back from the War monuments. We left here to go to the Batu Caves which we finally could go and see the caves that we were not allowed into the first two times. With 272 stairs up to the cave, we definitely went at the best time of the day (just before closing time) when the heat had calmed down a bit. Although we felt the caves we had already seen were much better than the cave we were finally allowed in to see, the sunset and view over the city coming out of the cave was really good and definitely worth third visit. Like most days, we decided to go and try some more local cuisine at the night market which is located close to our hostel. We tried stingray, which is still one of our favourite dishes to date!

With it being Sunday, we decided to chill and just relax in the hostel and catch up on some much needed rest. The heat and humidity in Malaysia was not an experience we were used to coming from the north of England. By the time we decided to get up and do some exploring, it was afternoon and we decided to just go for a walk and see where it took us. It led us to going on a 2 hour walk through Little India, which is a street which gives you a taste of India, and onto Thean Hou Temple, which is probably one of my favourite temples. We had been walking for over 2 hours on the hottest day we’d had to date, by the time we got to the temple we were dripping in sweat but the temple architecture made it all worthwhile.  You can just get a bus or a taxi to the temple, but we really wanted to just go for a walk. The temple has elements of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism and mixes modern and traditional designs together. Everything combined makes for a stunning temple, and when you get to the top the view over the city is just as good. Personally, if you’re not really a temple person then only go and visit this temple in KL because it is worth the visit.

When we got back to the hostel, one of us became really sick because we had started to take our malaria tablets for our trip to Cambodia. Nevertheless, we still got convinced to go out, even though it was a sunday and we wanted to just chill. Again the hostel rep Kat convinced most of the hostel to come out on the pubcrawl and again we met so many awesome people that we are still in contact with today. One of us met their now girlfriend on this pubcrawl. Although Kat no longer works at this hostel as a rep, she made our stay in Malaysia amazing. Not only did she make us feel comfortable and convince us to do stuff that we might have not done otherwise, she was really fun to be around and to talk to too.

After demolishing too many 2 for 1 Long Island Iced Teas all night (breaking Kat’s record of the most she’d seen someone drink by far!), we were completely written off the next day and actually did nothing during the day time but eat and stay in the hostel. We did pull ourselves together enough to go to a pub quiz where we failed spectacularly as a group to put many answers together. We left the night early as we were heading to the Cameron Highlands the next day and did not want a repeat of our journey to the elephant sanctuary.  

Before leaving for Asia, we booked the Cameron Highlands tour with Anuar who we would like to personally recommend as a great host and incredibly knowledgeable guy. He picks you up from your hostel and drives you for 4 hours to the Cameron Highlands, which is a place everyone should visit if you’re in Malaysia. During our trip to the Cameron Highlands we learnt how to hunt with a blowpipe by getting a demonstration from a local tribe, as well as visiting some amazing waterfalls. Other activities included strawberry picking, where you get to pick your own strawberries, and the time tunnel, which show a history of the Cameron Highlands dating back to when the British first invested in the area. After visiting the “time tunnel” where Anuar had educated us on the history of Malaysia as well as the Cameron Highlands, we took a visit to  the butterfly centre where we got hands on with snakes, scorpions and other exotic creatures. We ended our visit by going to the BOH tea plantation where we got to see up close the process of how the tea was made and how many different countries import their tea from the Cameron Highlands. We even got to taste the tea at the end, and even for someone who isn’t a big tea lover, the tea was great!

As we were coming to the end of our stay in KL we were thinking if we should leave KL and go and explore other areas of Malaysia which we really wanted to or leave and visit another place like Bali. As we had a couple of more things we wanted to see, we decided we would put the decision on hold. As we had visited Hindu and Taoist temples we decided to go and visit the National Mosque as we were in a Muslim Country. Visiting the Mosque was quite a brief experience as we were not allowed in the main area as we aren’t Muslim. Therefore, we headed over to the National Museum which gave you an insight into everything related to Malaysia. From prehistoric animals and early civilisation to the British Empire, the Museum was really fun, interactive and educational. We ended the night again going on the hostel pub crawl (again) where we met some Australians who were leaving to go to Bali the next day. We got on so well and we really wanted to go with them so badly, but the money we’d lose on our flight to Cambodia and activities booked there persuaded us against it.

We ended our trip in Malaysia with visiting the Petronas Towers, which with student discount only cost around £12. The Petronas Towers give you an amazing view of the city from every angle and was incredible as we headed there for sunset.

Even though we spent 9 days in KL and only had day trips out of the city visiting other parts of Malaysia, it is still one of our favourite countries. Not only did we fall in love with the city, but we met so many amazing people from all over the world. We enjoyed the food, the culture, the night life and it’s of the reasons why we just couldn’t leave!

View the rest of our Malaysia pictures here.

 

 

Vietnam: Riding The Buffalo Run

After one final night in Hanoi after Sapa, we left to start the Buffalo Run. The Buffalo Run is an epic week-long adventure where you start in Hanoi and finish in Hoi An. Inspired from Top Gears Vietnam Special, the Buffalo Run gives you a great chance to experience the culture, the scenery and history of Vietnam. Like the other trips, it also gives you a great chance to meet new people from all over the world and since you’re with them for a week, really get to know each other.

SONY DSC
SONY DSC

On the first day of a trip down to Hoi An, we cycled to a local temple where our tour guide (Ricky) explained about history of Vietnam and its kings. After this we took a two-hour boat tour through caves and around mountains where they filmed ‘Kong: Skull Island’. This was a lot of fun as everyone we met got competitive and we made it into a race to see who could get around the quickest. This was funny as our guides who were rowing us also got competitive. We won the first leg, but unfortunately, one of us had to help another boat which was stuck after disembarking to explore an island and so we only could claim second place. After sweating profusely during the boat race, a shower at a hotel was more than welcome before taking the night bus to Phong Nha.

Day two was one of the funniest days of our stay in Vietnam, if not the whole trip. After driving from about an hour from our hotel, you get to take a 400m zip line trip across the river before entering the dark caves. In Vietnam, they have a naming method in English which is very exact. So, the dark caves are genuinely just caves that are dark. However, these caves had a mud bath right at the end, where many a mud pie was thrown when the lights were turned off. Nevertheless, it was a great laugh, especially the mud slide back into the river at the end of the cave.

Lunch consisted of DIY spring rolls, before venturing onto a cave in which 80 people became trapped and died from in a US bombing campaign. Ricky explained a lot about the history of why the US bombed the area and it was a sobering activity. What we liked about the Buffalo Run was it was a good experience learning about the history of Vietnam, with almost constant fun as well. After visiting the war cave, we went to a farm stay where we sat by a pool drinking beer and watched a beautiful sunset. It was the perfect ending to a great day and a start to a great night. We later bought drinks from a shop and stayed playing drinking games in a hotel room, having a fantastic time.

Day three, we decided to go in the back of a truck to our next place instead of taking bikes. This was a fun experience but not exactly a luxurious journey, as the truck didn’t have the most advanced suspension system. If you decide to do the Buffalo Run you do get the option the night before on your mode of transport, whether that be bicycles, scooters or a truck like us.

Day three was not as hectic as day two. We thought it was strange that our guide Ricky kept on specifying that the pub we were going to had cold beer, but the place was actually called ‘The Pub with Cold Beer’. Here, you can relax in hammocks with a beer, play volleyball, and then cool off in the river afterwards. This was a very nice addition as the volleyball got quite heated when we started a tournament that pitted the British and Irish Lions vs ‘Canasians’ (Canadians and our Asian tour guide, Ricky), especially when we introduced the rule that the losers had to buy the winners a beer each!

Also at the Pub with Cold Beer you can partake in a more unusual, perhaps once in a lifetime activity and kill a chicken. The method for doing so is somewhat brutal (a machete to the back of the neck) and not for the faint of heart. However, everyone in the group agreed that the chicken tasted phenomenal and it was a very rewarding experience to take responsibility for ending the animal’s life that you were about to eat.

On day four we travelled to Hue, whilst also stopping at a land mine museum as well as some Vietnam war tunnels. Again, our tour guide explained the history behind the land mine museum and the war tunnels. This was very interesting as the three of us did not know much about the Vietnam war prior to our trip. After arriving in Hue, at another Vietnam Backpacker Hostel, there was a pub crawl with the theme ‘shit shirt night’. The whole of team Buffalo Run made a strong effort for the event. In our shit shirts and matching shorts, we were ready for a crazy night. Here, we also met some friends that we previously met in Ha Long Bay and made plans to meet up in Hoi An.

Day five of the trip was a beach day! However, we stopped off at a temple first, where the car in which a monk drove himself into the town square and set himself alight to protest the anti-Buddhist regime was kept. After Ricky had educated us more on this temple, we finally set off to the beach and spent the day there. All of us decided to play volleyball in the sea as well as playing another competition for beer. Probably wasn’t a clever idea as we kept losing more than we were winning. In order to play, we first had to find buckets and bottles, fill them with water and throw it on the volleyball pitch, as the sand was far too hot to play on. One of the most ridiculous things we did, but Ricky had assured us it worked beforehand. If it’s stupid and it works, then it isn’t stupid.

On day six we travelled to Hoi An via the Hai Van Pass in ex-army jeeps from the war. It is also possible to do the pass on motorbikes through VBH, but we decided to take the jeeps and felt it was the right decision. This was such an incredible experience as big fans of Top Gear. We also stopped off for lunch and had a swim at the beach before arriving in Hoi An. Again, stopping at a Backpackers hostel, we signed up for the ‘Beer Olympics’ but were cheated out of a victory! But it was all just fun and games really, and there was the opportunity for everyone to get involved.

On the final day of the Buffalo Run, we rowed in bamboo boats and went crab fishing. Accidentally, one of us dropped a crab in our boat and as the guide went to pick it up the crab pinched him. This was funny though as he made a massive joke out of it and we continued to have a really fun experience. As it was our last day we had one last game of volleyball in the hostel pool before going out for our last night out together. Here we met up with our friends from Ha Long Bay and had an amazing night. Unfortunately, the next day we had to leave to Ho Chi Minh City as we were flying out of there to go to Thailand. Although we deliberated whether we should just stay another night we finally decided to leave.

On arriving in Ho Chi Minh at night and not having much time there before leaving for Thailand, we visited some markets and walked around the city a bit. We didn’t experience much of the city so we can’t say much for it. But this just means it’s somewhere we will have to go back and visit!

Overall, I wish we could have spent a lot longer than just 17 days in Vietnam. It was all absolutely incredible, and we did so much but it felt like we were only scratching the surface. If you’re going South East Asia and not visiting Vietnam, I would strongly recommend changing your schedule.

View the rest of our Vietnam pictures here.

India: A Roller Coaster Experience

As the title probably explains, India is a crazy experience with so much happening at once. India for the three of us was like a roller coaster of highs and lows, one minute you just wanted to go back to Southeast Asia and the next, you never wanted to leave. The main problem we had in India happened straight away, by getting scammed in New Delhi. However, we tried to be as open minded as possible and tried to enjoy the rest of our stay.

Arriving from Tokyo in the early hours of the morning, like most travellers, we just wanted to get to our hostel and sleep. However, the next couple of hours were the most unexpected and most annoying of our travelling lives. As were in our taxi to our hostel, we came across some police barriers where a guy told our taxi driver that we could not pass due to the riots. He continued to explain, that he should take us to a tourist information centre, where they would help us out and find us a new hostel. However, what did happen was a (seemingly) nice and helpful Indian man scammed the three of us out of £60 each. He did this by saying that we needed to leave the city as there were no point in staying in Delhi as the riots meant most of the city was closed. He also encouraged us to phone other hotels up, where he would dial the number and the person down the line would quote us hundreds of pounds per night. What we later found out, was that it was just a person in the other room and that there were many people in on the scam. In the end we ended up paying £60 each for a taxi to Agra, which obviously really frustrated us. Nevertheless, we found out that many people who chose not to pay, later were mugged of all their belongings, so we were glad that we only paid £60. It seems many people are falling for this scam all across India, and our only advice would be if this happens to you just get out at the point where you’re not “allowed” to cross, before you’re too far in.

After being scammed and being really annoyed, we decided to enjoy our time in India and make Agra our first proper stop. We started our day by hiring a day’s long tuc-tuc so we could tour the city. Our tuc-tuc driver recommended a lot of different places that we should visit. Firstly, we visited Akbar’s Tomb which personally we didn’t think was that good. As the name says it was just a tomb, and not something we would recommend going out of your way to see. However, as it was part of our tuc-tuc tour we didn’t mind doing it. Afterwards, we visited Mariam’s tomb, but only from the outside gate as Vickie, our tuc-tuc driver, said it was not worth paying to get in as there was nothing inside. One of our favourite parts of the day was going to a Sikh temple and meeting some of the nicest people we will probably ever meet. Vickie told us that we could get a free meal here, but as we didn’t know what to expect we walked in to look where to pay. As soon as we went inside, people came up to us giving us free food, and water. Without even asking, they kept refilling our trays until we didn’t want anymore. We all agree that the Dal we eat was one of the best meals that we have ever had (although very spicy). It’s not compulsory, but we did leave a donation as we enjoyed the hospitality we received. We finished the day by going to Mehtab Bagh gardens opposite the Taj Mahal for the sunset. The friendliness and hospitality we received from different people was really what we needed after being scammed.

The next day we again chose to do a day tour with Vickie where we would go and visit the big attractions in Agra. We began by visiting Agra Fort which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Costing 550 Rupees, about £6, I have to say was really good value for money. Agra Fort was one of the best attractions we visited in India. After spending nearly 2 hours walking around the Fort and its surrounding gardens, we set off to visit the Baby-Taj. As the name suggests it’s literally just a smaller version of the Taj Mahal, but it was actually really cool to visit and again like the Fort, walk round the surrounding gardens. Here we also met some Indians who were jumping into the Yamuna river, where it was absolutely filthy. Vickie found our reaction funny as he said most people bathed and washed their clothes in this river. Our last stop on our day tour was at Chini-Ka-Rauzah, which is older than the Taj Mahal. We really did like this place as it was filled with spectacular gardens, walkways and history. Everything that we did during our second day in Agra we would fully recommend for anyone to do.

During our last day in Agra, we woke up early so we could visit the Taj Mahal for sunrise. As we had already visited the gardens opposite for sunset, we decided that it would be better to see the sunrise so we could see them both. However, unlike the gardens, the entrance fee into the Taj Mahal is 1000 rupees for foreign visitors. We expected that when we got inside we would never be able to look at it properly, or take a good picture, as there would be so many tourists. Surprisingly, this was not the case, and it was actually really enjoyable to see the views of the city and of the Taj itself. We must have spent around 3 hours at the Taj Mahal, seeing what can only be described as the perfect sunrise. Seeing the sunrise at the Taj Mahal was truly an incredible experience, and we can fully appreciate why the Taj is a World Wonder. As we were leaving Agra that day to catch a train to Jaipur, we stayed at one of our favourite local restaurants playing games and trying to eat as much Indian food as possible. The restaurant is called “Good Vibes Cafe”, and we would recommend this restaurant to anyone, as the food is good and cheap, and the the owner is very friendly.

We had already pre-booked our train from Agra to Jaipur, and this is an important thing to remember as Indian trains get booked up months in advance. The only problem with this is, that when there is a delay all you can do is wait. Annoyingly, our train was delayed for 8 hours and meaning we didn’t get the train until 2.30am. As you can imagine, by this time we were knackered due to waking up extremely early to see the sunrise at the Taj Mahal. Arriving in Jaipur in the early morning, we decided to just sleep as soon as we got to the hostel. Before sleeping we had arranged a tuc-tuc tour of the Amber Fort and Jal Mahal as we only had one day in Jaipur. Due to this, we wanted to prioritise the main attractions from our original plan. Although we really enjoyed the short time we had in Jaipur, we really do wish we could have spent more time here and is somewhere that we would like to return too.

Flying to Goa the next morning, meant we had to try and arrange a taxi in the early hours. The problem with this is we struggled badly trying to organise anything. The hostel said it booked several taxis all for them to cancel our booking. This meant that we were cutting it really close with missing out flight. But luckily, we managed to find in the end. Some advice would be, if you need to get a taxi early in the morning make sure you give plenty of time so you don’t miss a flight or bus etc. When we got to Goa we had a really strange experience where during our taxi ride, our taxi driver got out off the taxi and started arguing loudly with another driver. We were told that the South was much more chill than the North but at first this did not seem the case. However, during our stay in Goa where we stayed at a beach resort to just unwind before ending our 13 week Asia trip, it was one of the most chill places we have been. Even though we really didn’t do much in Goa as we just wanted to relax on the beach, it was exactly what we needed.

During our trip to Goa, we also decided to take a 10 hour ride to Hampi. What we can say is about Hampi, is it is a MUST DO! Hampi was beyond incredible, from all its different temples and it’s Palace, to all its different random rock formations, Hampi was a traveller’s paradise. Hampi, like Fuji and Pai really felt like a proper travelling place and not just a tourist destination. This is why Hampi was such an incredible place, because not everyone goes to Hampi, which means the things you do and see aren’t setup for tourists, and also aren’t overpriced.

India is a place which for us is filled with many different emotions and feelings. During our stay, it was a place that gave us a lot of frustrations, such as being scammed and our train being delayed 8 hours. However, seeing the Taj Mahal and being able to experience places like Hampi, Goa and Agra were incredible. Many different we met during our trip kept telling us that you cannot prepare yourself for India, which may not be useful information. But when it comes to India it really is a roller coaster experience because you never know what is going to happen next. What we can say is visiting India really makes you appreciate so many different aspects of your life, giving us a better understanding of extreme poverty (although it really isn’t all poor), as well as different cultures and just helping us become better travellers in general.

View the rest of our India pictures here.

 

 

 

Japan: Mission to Climb Fuji

After spending the last couple of days exploring Tokyo it was finally time to set off to Fuji. As this was our main reason for wanting to travel to Japan, we were very excited. During our trip in Thailand, we had decided that we would walk from station 0 instead of taking the bus up to 5th station like most of the “Fuji Climbers” do. Leaving Tokyo by its central station we took a bus to Fujikawaguchiko which cost around 2,300 Japanese Yen. After spending around 2 hours on the bus, we arrived in Fuji and headed to our hostel. This is where we came into a bit of trouble as none of us had any internet to google map our hostel. We decided that we should get a map from the bus station, thinking that this would make it easier for us to locate our hostel. However, we couldn’t be more wrong, as when we asked the locals for help they didn’t speak a word of English meaning we ended up walking what was only a 10 minute walk, about 1.5 hours. Nevertheless, when we got to our hostel we decided to chill and check the area of Fuji out.

One thing we would really recommend is making sure you get a good hostel or guest house in Fuji as it will help you for your climb. Many guest houses advertise tours, where your host will also take you up Fuji. Personally, we don’t recommend that you book a tour, as you follow thousands of people doing the same route. The hostel we stayed at was called ‘K’s Hostel’ and we could not recommend this enough. The hostel is relatively cheap, very nice and also the hostel was very helpful. Another thing that we liked is the fact it had its own kitchen as we were starting to run out of money, as Japan is so expensive. This allowed us to make our own food and save money that way. A useful tip is to check the weather so you know whether you will see a good sunset/sunrise, depending on the time you choose to climb Fuji. Another great thing about K’s Hostel was that they had a computer that you could use to check the weather or anything else you would like to know. The hostel was also the most chill place, with hammocks everywhere, a suntop terrace and was close to many authentic Japanese restaurants.

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During our first proper day in Fuji we really didn’t do much apart from extend our stay at K’s Hostel as we really felt welcome and enjoyed our stay. Additionally, as we were told by the reception the weather was going to be bad the next day we chose to not climb Fuji. After chilling at the hostel during the day we decided to go and eat authentic Japanese food at an authentic Japanese restaurant. After asking the hostel where they would recommend, we decided to go to an authentic Japanese restaurant where the owner spoke no English and it was almost like you was entering someone’s home. With the menu being in Japanese we had no idea what the price was for anything that we may order. However, we thought this just added to the experience. We decided to order some ramen noodles and we have to say that these were amazing. It’s one place that if you want to eat good Japanese food, then this is the place to go.

 

 

As we decided against climbing Fuji on our second day we chose to explore the lakes and parks around Fuji. Walking around Lake Kawaguchi for about 4 hours we saw some spectacular sights and mountain ranges. Sometimes you forgot that you was in Japan, as it’s not something you expect to see. If hiking is an activity that you are interested in then walking around the lakes is something that might interest you. On our way back we stopped at a museum cafe, which was about the history of Fuji and had a beer. Also we stopped by at a local temple in Fuji which was just in a random location along the lakes pathway. The temple didn’t really have much to see but we just thought as were we already here, we may as well check it out. When we got back to the hostel, we met a traveller called Andy who also wanted to climb Fuji and was looking for someone to tag along with. Obviously, we asked if he wanted to climb with us as we didn’t want him to climb nearly 4000m by himself.

 

 

Day three in Fuji was the big day for us. Finally we were going to climb Fuji as we had made sure that the weather was going to be good for us to climb, and also for the sunset the next morning. What we would recommend is to take a small bag, probably a 20L bag, so you can put in extra layers, food and drink. This is because food and drink are ridiculously overpriced, and at the bottom of the mountain it’s too warm to wear all your layers. After choosing to start from station 0, we went even further and decided to start from our hostel. The four of us all agreed that if we were going to do it, we wanted to do it right. The walk from the hostel to station 0 was around 1.5 hours to begin with. In hindsight this probably wasn’t a good idea as the full trip to the top and then back down to the hostel took over 24 hours. Nevertheless, we were told that no one had ever attempted to start from the hostel and then walk the entire way. This only spurred us on to try this!

 

 

After finally reaching station 0 we were now on the main trail for the ascent. Most people who choose to climb Fuji get a bus to first station that costs 1,900 Yen. However, we didn’t see the point paying for a bus, which is expensive, and seemed to go against the point of coming to Japan to climb Fuji. The beginning of the climb from station 0-5 seemed pretty easy, and we were making good time in order to see the sunset. One memory of Fuji I won’t forget, is when we saw the view for the first time above the clouds. Being around 1840m in the air, allowed us to see some amazing views above the clouds.

 

 

After reaching station 5, we decided to take a bit of rest as we had been walking for about 5 hours straight from the hostel. The good thing about setting off so early, meant that we were at 5th station for sunset. After spending around 20 mins watching the sunset, we decided to start climbing again. After station 5, the climb gets progressively harder as you are climbing on ice, snow and through the dark. As darkness was approaching, there was a sudden drop in temperature so make sure you bring plenty of layers in your backpack. After layering up at station 6, we continued to head up the mountain. As its pitch dark by the time you make station 6, there’s not really much to see. However, at this point your main is aim to keep going so you keep warm. We found that stopping at some stations made you really cold and it took awhile for you to get warm again. Unless you need a break from the climb, then try to stop as little as possible. If you really want to, you can hire a bed and a room at the different stations, but these were ridiculously expensive, and really not worth it. We managed to climb Fuji, with no previous climbing experience, and although it took us ages, and we were in pain and so tired at the end, we are glad we didn’t waste money on these rooms.

 

 

By the time we had reached the summit, we had been walking for around 14 hours and now we were waiting for the sunrise. We initially, laid down on a bench and fell to sleep as we were so tired. However, our bodies were shaking so much from the cold we soon woke up and realised that there was a line to get inside a food cafe. Although we knew we would have to buy something, at this point we were so cold, and so hungry, that we wanted to buy something anyway. If you are going to do this, make sure you’re first in line when you reach the summit, and then eat your food really slowly so you can stay in the warm. The food as you can imagine is a rip-off, but when you’re hungry and so cold you have little choice but to pay the price.

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After spending an hour in the warmth, we decided to head outside to see the beginning of the sunrise. Seeing this sunrise made the entire climb worth while! The sunrise was genuinely one of the best sunrises that we have ever seen, and it made the pain of climbing all worthwhile. If you ever get the chance to climb Fuji and see the sunrise you will appreciate just how amazing nature can be.

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Many people start the climb by getting a bus from the town to 5th station. And although this is a lot easier, it is so rewarding actually climbing from the bottom to the top! Just keep in mind that at the top it is so cold and that you need to make sure you have adequate clothes. I remember one conversation I had with max, that is shown on the video below, saying wow it must be so cold, before coming across some of the biggest icicles we have ever come across. Also what you need to keep in mind is that when you finally get to the top you have to get back down. You could either do what Max and I did, and walk down all the way, or what Haydn and Andrew did, and walk to 5th station and get a bus back. In the end, the bus only saved them 2 hours, but obviously it meant that they could get home sooner.

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All in all, if you’re thinking you wanna climb a mountain but don’t wanna pay a lot of money to climb one, then Fuji is a great opportunity and experience to see whether you like climbing them. If you don’t end up paying for the busses there and back then climbing Fuji is free, and it is something to knock off your bucket list. Something we all agree on is that Fuji was one of the most rewarding activities that we have ever completed.

View the rest of our Fuji pictures here

Japan: A Taste of Tokyo

After a long flight from Bangkok to Tokyo which included a long stopover in Malaysia, we were finally out of Southeast Asia. For the first time in over 2 months, we were no longer on the ‘normal’ backpacking route of travelling Asia. As regular readers of this blog know, we absolutely loved our time in Southeast Asia and anyone who is thinking about going should definitely go. However, the idea of going and visiting Japan really excited us especially as we knew we were going to attempt to climb Mt. Fuji.

Starting our Japan adventures in Tokyo, we started by exploring the city on foot. Tokyo like many other developed capitals is extremely expensive, and taxis are no exception. When we arrived at Tokyo airport, the public transport system was closed as it was the early hours of the morning. This meant we had to take a taxi which ended up costing us the equivalent of £60 between us for around a 15-minute taxi ride. As you can imagine, we quickly decided that walking was the best option.

As the main point of our trip to Japan was going to Fuji, we didn’t have a long stay in Tokyo. This meant that we had to prioritise what we wanted to see. During our time in Malaysia, we had met someone who had visited Tokyo many times. When we discussed that we were going to Japan but dedicated most of our time to climbing Fuji, he soon started ranting about just how great Tokyo is and how you could easily spend two weeks there. With this in mind, we decided months in advance that for this reason, we would have to be wary of time and make sure we see some of the main points of Tokyo. Therefore we wanted to try and get a mix of activities that were relatively cheap but also relaxing, as we wanted to rest for the long climb to Fuji. So, we decided to start the day by walking around the Imperial Palace Gardens which was genuinely a really nice pastime. Although the gardens aren’t anything particularly special, it was nice to just take a stroll around the nice scenery and be able to talk about our trip so far. Again walking on foot for about an hour we decided to head to Sensoji Temple. The walk allowed us to experience Tokyo in ways that if we had decided to get public transport we would never have seen. During our walk, we saw authentic Japanese markets, restaurants and shops which was something really cool to see as obviously they’re so different to what you see anywhere else. We were pleasantly shocked how cool the temple was when we first got there. The tourist information centre gives you a map where you go and visit the different points around the temples, which included a five-story Pagoda. Sensoji Temple is Tokyo’s oldest temple so it was quite remarkable that the temple was still in such good condition. After walking around the temple area for some time, we decided we wanted to go and visit the World Trade Centre in the heart of Tokyo. One of the reasons for this was to see the stunning views that many people had talked to us about. When we arrived at the World Trade Centre, we ended up spending over an hour just looking at the magnificent views of the city on every side. On days where the visibility is clear, you can apparently see Mt. Fuji from this tower. Unfortunately for us, this wasn’t the case.

 

Something that was quite a unique experience, and one we definitely weren’t expecting, is nearly having a Buddhist conversion. As we were walking around the city towards the end of our day, we were invited to a temple by a Japanese tour guide. Whilst in the temple we were asked if we wanted to take part in some Buddhist rituals and chanting. As we always like to take in the culture of any place, we started taking part in the rituals. As soon as we finished we were asked many times whether or not we wanted to convert to Buddhism and the language barrier made the experience very funny. Although many people may not like this to happen to them, it was one of those random funny moments that when you look back on your trip it just adds to the experience. All in all, it was fun to take part in the rituals, even though we didn’t want to convert.

 

The Kawasaki Daishi Temple is one area that we would highly recommend visiting when in Tokyo. If you like history, culture, traditions and authenticity, then this area has all of that combined into one. The temple was founded in 1128 and is a sect of Shingon Buddhism. The temple is actually a stunning piece of architecture, and if you would like to get involved in Buddhist rituals the temple allows anyone to take part in these. Furthermore, and something that personally I really appreciated about the area, was the surrounding marketplace. The marketplace had great energy and sold all kinds of weird and wonderful items. Something that you want to take advantage of is the free sweet tasters that they give out. Although we found some of the sweets to be absolutely disgusting, you can’t turn down free food, especially when you don’t want to pay Tokyo prices!

Obviously, when you’re in Japan you have to try Japanese foods. During our trip to Japan, we tried many. In Tokyo, we tried Sushi and as someone who personally hates it, I can admit that it is a lot better in Tokyo than anywhere else in the world I have had it. As a group, we tried many different Sushi’s and even ordered more after our first three trays! For all you sushi lovers, Tokyo is the place to eat your sushi!

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Overall, although there were some good things to do, and we didn’t have much time at all in Tokyo, the hype that surrounds the city for us did not live up to our expectations. Many of our friends say they would love to go to Tokyo, and we aware that if we went back and spent more time there then maybe we would love it too, but the general feeling we got was just not really a place where we would want to spend much time. The city itself feels more tailored towards business people, rather than travellers, and the cost is another factor. I’m sure you could have some very fancy nights out which would be a lot of fun, they were just well above our pay grade. When we left Tokyo to travel to Fuji, we instantly fell in love with the place, and it has made us want to go back to Japan and travel around its other cities.

View the rest of our Tokyo pictures here