It’s good to be back in Asia: the food, the temples, the sun, the constant state of confusion.
We arrived in Bangkok, Thailand late last night after spending most of September in Japan. I think it’s going to be a bit of a shock after the super efficiency of Japan, and we will really miss that wonderfully polite country, but we definitely welcome the far lower prices.
Our Kyoto housesit made a great base for the first half of the month. We lived in a rather rickety old house looking after three lovely cats in a peaceful residential area near the Kamo river. We got out as much as we could to explore the city that was once the capital of Japan, and is the traditional heart of the country. Highlights included learning to cook Japanese Zen Buddhist cuisine; spotting a geisha in Gion; temple hopping amongst the traditional neighbourhoods in the eastern and western hills; taking a day trip to Nara to see a Big Buddha and many deer; hiking in the hills from Kibune to Kurama; hanging out with baby monkeys at the monkey park; and eating some delicious multi-course Japanese vegetarian meals. We must have visited around 15 temples and shrines (there are 2000 in the city!) and our favourites were Otagi Nenbutsu-ji for its quirky statues and Fushimi Inari for a magical series of vermillion torii gates up into the forest.
Armed with a one week Japan Rail Pass we left Kyoto behind and set off on our whirlwind tour of the country, taking advantage of the wonderfully efficient, comfortable and punctual train system to stay in a temple in Koya-san, be humbled in Hiroshima, see the bright lights of Nagoya, admire the picture-perfect traditional mountain village of Tsumago (seriously, go here if you ever visit Japan), and finally relive Samurai life in Matsumoto Castle. And all of this was during our second typhoon of the month! It meant many wet days and we sadly missed out on the hike along the ancient Nakasendo trail, but at least the Japanese kept those trains running.
For our final week in the country HomeAway treated us to an apartment in Tokyo, just what we needed after a hectic week and a good base to explore the immense city. Sometimes we felt like we’d never seen so many people, and it takes forever to get around, but the energy is undeniable. We loved the classic Tokyo moments: immersing ourselves in the neon lights of Shinjuku, gazing at the night time view of the city from the 45th floor of the Metropolitan Government Building, and witnessing the crazy Shibuya crossing with hundreds of people crossing the road at the same time beneath the video adverts. There were some surprises too – just a few minutes from Shinjuku station (the busiest in the world with an unbelievable 60 exits) we found tiny, rickety bars and food stalls in narrow lanes serving up smoking yakitori to businessmen perched at the counter.
And for our final few days in Japan…
We headed to Tokyo Disneyland and its unique sister park Disney Sea. Yep, that’s the second time we’ve been to Disney in five months. As always it was a few days of pure, exhausting fun but in a uniquely Japanese way. Disneyland didn’t quite live up to Florida’s Magic Kingdom and the crowds were immense, but Disney Sea quickly became our favourite Disney Park in the world. The theming is incredible, the rides inventive and we enjoyed some great Broadway style shows. We even had a drink in the elegant Teddy Roosevelt lounge on a giant ship. This is Disney for adults.
Never Ending Voyage Around The Web
Although Simon was drowning in freelance work and trying to make time to explore Kyoto, he decided it would be a good time (as there never will be a good time) to start his Illustration 156 project where he’ll be creating three new illustrations a week for the next year. For number two he was inspired by our friends Mike, Jeannie and Nora who have spent the last month basically living on a train from Lisbon to Saigon as part of the Ultimate Train Challenge. Simon created the poster above for them and it went down so well he quickly whipped them up a version for a new website header. We wish the train challengers luck as they reach the finish line this week.
Also around the web:
We’ve recently joined Google Plus (yes, yet another social network but it does have some advantages over Facebook especially for photography). Come and see our Google Plus profile and add us to your circles.
Simon has been incredibly busy this month with his Line In freelance work. His big project was redesigning and building the Journey Jottings site. Linda creates beautiful, hand drawn map journals of Australia which you can use to mark your route and make notes about your travels. They are really unique and Simon wanted to do justice to them. As well as creating the design Simon custom built a number of plugins for the site so that Linda could manage the sales of her products. There has been a great response to the new design and if you’d like to know more about the geeky ins and outs have a look at Simon’s portfolio.
Another project has been converting Jenneil’s own design into a custom WordPress theme for her Hello Meet World travel blog. Now that it’s on WordPress it will be much easier for her to update and manage.
Simon has been particularly excited this month as Journey Jottings and Hello Meet World have been the first fully responsive web designs he has created. This means that the sites will stretch or shrink to fit the device that you’re viewing it on including iPhones and iPads.
What does Erin do?
People often ask what I do while Simon’s working on his web design projects. Aside from doing all the travel planning and financial management, this site takes up most of my time. After 18 months of countless hours spent sharing our travel stories and advice we decided the time had come to start making some income from it (partly because Japan is really expensive). We have started accepting adverts in the sidebar of the homepage but we hope that these don’t become too intrusive and we are careful about what offers we accept.
After an island jaunt to Koh Mak and some time in Bangkok our plan for the next few months is to settle into an apartment in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. It has become quite a hub of travel bloggers and digital nomads and with good reason: good food and weather, low cost of living and fast internet. We need to take some time to really look at our business and start taking things a bit more seriously without the distractions of constant travel. We’ll be developing a number of projects to make our income streams more diverse than just freelance web design.
See our favourite resources page for the best tools and gear to help you plan your trip.
Leave a comment if you'll be in Thailand this year and would like to meet up, or if you have any Bangkok/Chiang Mai tips for us.