A Travellerspoint blog

Nagano (Nozawa Onsen)

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We have taken a temporary break from Tokyo after spending two nights there. We come back to Tokyo after our weekend stay in Nozawa Onsen for three nights so we will publish our Tokyo blog after that.

So come Saturday morning we made our way to the station, hopped on the Shinkansen and travelled north west to the Japanese Alps to Nagano, home of the 1998 Winter Olympics.
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We put our bags in lockers and headed off to see the Zenko-ji temple while we waited for our next train. It was actually built in the 7th century (yeah, only the 7th century) and was actually nice to walk around. Here’s a few more temple happy snaps to soak in.

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As I am sure a lot of people can appreciate, once you have a visited a place you can always think of better ways that you could have got around or done it in a smarter way. That is certainly the way with us after discovering Nozawa Onsen.

We booked three nights at a lodge in Nozawa Onsen which we thought was very close to Nagano. We discovered was that it was actually another 12 minutes on the Shinkansen (just opened), or 1 hour on local train, followed by a 30 minute bus ride up the mountain. No problems, the directions provided by the hostel smoothed our way! In fact, there is an Aussie guy (Luke) with a Japanese wife (Mariko) who manage the lodge, owned by more Aussies who live on the Gold Coast. This place would be flat out in Winter, especially with Australians coming to ski in December and January (it’s actually cheaper to come here for a longer ski trip than to stay in Australia!).
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On the night we arrived, Luke and Mariko invited us out to fireworks at the local lake. The fireworks aren’t like what we have back in Australia, in that they would announce the sponsors and then have a brief fireworks session, followed by another announcement. This went on for about an hour and half and was pretty impressive. Summer is fireworks season in Japan, no particular festival, they just like to have fireworks!

There were a lot of resort towns upgraded for the 1998 Winter Olympics. We discovered that Nozawa Onsen was used for the Biathlon and for Ski jump, we could still see the runs and the infrastructure used. There are local ski champions and gold medal winners all over the village!

It’s a beautiful town to walk around with a lot of buildings having quite a European feel to them. There’s water running everywhere, springs flowing all around the houses, and veggie patches in every bit of available space (growing veggies and rice for the Winter).
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On our must do list was a visit to an Onsen, which is a public bathing house. Everyone in the town goes to the public Onsen (or they pay to go private) for their bathing each day. You walk in, strip off (no point being self-conscious!), wash yourself and you can jump into a very warm 42 degree bath for a soak; better in the cooler months than in on a warm 32 degree day. They are heated by mineral springs and some have a sulphurous smell – the boys weren’t too keen on that! A very common sight is to see villagers in their kimonos with a towel over their shoulders sauntering down to the local onsen!
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On our second day, we caught the Gondala to the top of Mt Kokenashi. It was a bit hazy but the views were impressive. The boys managed to play some mallet croquet, summer toboggan and there was a playground there too. It was really nice just to walk around and enjoy the scenery. Plus it was cooler!
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We stopped by the Ogama Hot springs where the villagers come to cook their eggs and veggies. Yes, the water comes out hot enough to cook food, about 70 or 80 degrees!
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Our our way we passed Henmei-ji temple and Yuzawa Shrine. Set in the old forest, with water flowing in streams, beautiful!
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We met an American family who have been living in Japan for 8 years. We ended up having dinner with them for two nights and having some great chats about their adventures.

We really enjoyed Nozawa Onsen and none of us wanted to leave. We would definitely come back here during the autumn months for the colours and winter for the fresh powder snow. Lachie has been wanting to go to the snow for a long time, a good excuse to come back we think!

Posted by tollidaytravels 00:25 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Hiroshima

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We are now on the JR Pass clock. The pass lasts for 14 days, and day 14 sees us leaving Japan, so we have set ourselves a busy but not too manic schedule to travel and see as much of Japan as possible.

Day two finds us boarding our first bullet train (Shinkansen) from Kyoto to Hiroshima. It was an exciting trip and interesting to travel from Kyoto to Osaka in 10mins when our train up took over 30 minutes!
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We went past Kobe Station and thought of our Kobe at home. We finally arrived at Hiroshima.
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We have been seeing a lot of scouts around Kyoto sightseeing and we learned from an Australian contingent that there is a huge Jamboree on down near Hiroshima celebrating world peace and recognising 70 years since the atomic bomb was dropped. Unfortunately, we will just miss the commemorating ceremony but we certainly got a good feel from our few days here as to what the city went through.

On the same day we arrived we went for a walk to the A-bomb Dome and Peace Memorial Park. There is a lot to see here as we will explain with the photos following.

The A-bomb Dome was almost directly underneath the A-bomb (it detonated 600m above ground to cause maximum damage). This was what remains and several preservation campaigns have been undertaken to keep it to what it was after the bomb.
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This is just one part of the Hiroshima Memorial Park. Look for the ever-lasting flame and the A-bomb dome between the archway. 6_Hiroshima_War_Memorial.jpg
This is the Children’s Monument built to give comfort to the families who lost children. One girl, Sadako, who contracted Leukemia 10 years later and died at 11 years old believed if she could fold 1000 origami cranes she would live (based on a very old belief of the crane representing longevity). Unfortunately, she didn’t make it and her school colleagues finished the milestone for her. To this day, cranes continue to be folded to promote world peace.
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This mound is where the ashes of the unidentified victims are entombed. There is also a memorial to all of the Koreans (around 14,000) who were killed, as they had been brought to Japan to work during the war.
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The following day we went to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum where there are some excellent and also confronting displays. The Japanese have taken the view of exhibiting the horror that occurred on the 6 August 1945 to promote Peace and Nuclear disarmament. The flame mentioned above will be extinguished when the last nuclear bomb is dismantled. There is a good replica of ‘Little Boy’ (the A Bomb) and a plan view model of Hiroshima city post detonation. At the end of the exhibit, we had an Origami Crane tutorial and took away our cranes to donate to the Children’s memorial the following day. Note the glass building next to Tania; this is full of cranes and there are similar smaller buildings holding cranes beside this one.
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Hiroshima is the home of Okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake) and was a must have on our food list. We went to the Okonomi-mura Village (3 floors of Okonomiyaki) and enjoyed a feast cooked in front of us.
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A few final things – here’s Lachlan in the hotel-supplied Kimono. Oh and we just happened to find the Hiroshima Pokemon centre in a shopping centre here which was a real hit for the boys.
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Tomorrow we catch the Shinkansen back to Tokyo for the next part of our journey. It will be a 6 hour trip, even with the train travelling so fast!

Posted by tollidaytravels 00:54 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Kyoto


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Well we can finally say we have reached our dream destination. Japan has been on our wish list for a long time and it hasn't disappointed so far.

After a great time in Bangkok, we landed in Osaka at 11pm. We always knew that it was going to be a tough day for the boys and having not been here before we really didn't know what to expect. They were exceptionally good (of course!) but hit the wall at 2am when we got off the airport bus just around the corner from the hotel. Cameron was totally over it!
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So, having climbed in to bed at 2:30am, we used all of our allocated time by sleeping in and checked out at 12pm to go and find some breakfast. We took a local train from Osaka to Kyoto where we had booked 8 nights to work out 'where to from here'. We had planned on spending about a week in Kyoto as we had a good travel tip that it was a must see destination.

We had no idea that Kyoto had so many shrines, temples and pagoda's but we were inundated with choices of where to go. Here's where we picked:

Kiyomizu-dera Temple and Gion District - a famous district of Kyoto showing traditional houses and lanes, and also famous for the Geisha that learn their craft there.
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Here's looking down the street. Note the lady in traditional Kimono. It is quite common to see both men and women dressed in traditional clothing and they are gorgeous!
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Ryoanji Temple founded in 1450 - note the boys sitting in front of a traditional Japanese Zen rock garden.
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Kinkakuji Temple - or "Golden Temple", covered in gold-foil and one of Kyoto's most famous temples.
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Tenryuji Temple and Bamboo Forest - built in 1339 and including a Zen garden of the same age. the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is very famous and was amazing to wander through.
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Yasaka Shrine and Chion-in Temple - considered to be the guardian shrine for the Gion district. The Yasaka Shrine gate is quite impressive at 9.5 metres high
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What's developing as a regular occurrence in each country is our boys ability to wind up having their photo taken with beautiful women.
Here's Cameron 'hanging out' with a couple of Korean Army First Lieutenant Surgeon's who had come to Japan for a weeks vacation.
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And, not to be out done, Lachlan accidentally winding up in a photo session with two gorgeous Japanese girls in traditional Kimono's. Oh Dad was so jealous!
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Our trip wasn't all about Temples and Shrines. We took a day out to visit the Kyoto Train Museum. The Japanese love their trains, and they did a great job with preserving some old engines, much to Cameron's delight! Apart from a very brief steam train ride, there were numerous steam trains available to climb over and play with. There was also a very good exhibit on how the train works. Something for adults and your everyday steam-train-loving 6 year old.
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Travelling requires a bit of flexibility while bookings need to be made and we had the boys do some schoolwork while we were sorting out our JR Pass and reservations - use any opportunity! They did a great job.
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But there is also time for some play and interaction with the locals..
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We saw a couple in traditional wedding gear while wandering around the Imperial Palace Gardens - the ladies always look stunning.
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After spending almost a week in Kyoto, we decided to activate our Japan Rail Pass and use our first day to go to Nara on a day trip. Nara is an easy 40 minute commute and is well worth a visit. As usual, there is a lot to see and we tried to hit the key spots.

First up was a trip to Kofuku-ji Temple (transferred from Kyoto in 710) and five storey Pagoda (built in 1426). The Pagoda is the second largest in Japan standing at 50.1 metres (it was pretty big!).
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On to our next site and you couldn’t help being inundated with deer that freely wander the streets of Nara. The deer were considered messengers of the gods in pre-Buddhist times and now enjoy National Treasure Status. We think that they are more focussed on the biscuit handouts they get from the tourists than their status, and they are pretty pushy in getting them!
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It was a pretty hot day, so we stopped at a visitor centre rest stop and found an Earthquake display. You could sit in a racing car seat and experience an exact recreation of three of Japan’s recent earthquakes. Tan couldn’t resist a crack at that. They also showed designs of new houses to resist the earthquakes.

We moved on to our final tour spot which was Todai-ji Temple which contains Daibutsu (Great Buddha). The Buddha was cast in 746 and contains 437 tonnes of bronze and 130kg of gold. The building housing it has been rebuilt twice (last 1709) to two thirds of its original size but it is the largest wooden building in the world. It is breathtaking to look at and hopefully you can get some appreciation from the photos.
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We have really enjoyed Kyoto as you can probably tell from all the photos! It is a must see destination if you come to Japan due to history and beautiful temples and gardens. The bus system has also made getting around very easy and efficient, the staff are also very helpful. The boys are now totally over temples, so much so that at the mention of another temple Cameron burst into tears! Luckily, we're moving on to a place famous, or infamous, for another reason. Hiroshima will be our next stop for a few days, we'll put our adventures in the next post!

Posted by tollidaytravels 01:25 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Bangkok


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Readers of this particular post will notice a considerable lack of photos, compared to the other posts. That's because while we've been here in Bangkok, just for 5 days, we actually haven't gone out to do much sightseeing at all! That's from a combination of finding ourselves in a fantastic apartment (thanks to our friends Shane and Lisa who are living in Bangkok for a few years, and who have done a great job at settling in and finding some great accommodation), and of being a little bit "sightseeing-ed out". All of us were just as pleased to hang around the apartment, a luxury that we haven't had for a few months now!

We did, however, get out and about on the SkyRail (above ground rail system), which makes it extremely easy to get around the city. We checked out some of the glitzy shopping centres that Bangkok is famous for, it's phenomenal how many shopping centres there are here. We seriously wonder how there could be enough people purchasing to keep them all running, especially when they're Dolce & Gabbana, Rolex etc etc. One even has a floor that displays the latest top market cars, like Lamborghini and Porsche!
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We also did a ferry trip along the Chao Phraya River, which is a hop-on-hop-off system used for a lot of the major sights in Bangkok.
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We checked out Wat Arun, a Buddhist temple that has been there in it's current form since the early 1800s. It's different to all of the other temples we've seen, since this is painted white with colourful glass and porcelain pieces arranged in patterns all over it. It's beautiful, and we were pleased to see extensive restoration works happening (which must be going to take forever, it's such detailed work).
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We've been enjoying Pad Thai, Tom Yum soup, Massuman curries and bubble tea (love bubble tea!). And now we're looking forward to sushi, okonomiyaki, and Japanese curries. We're off to Osaka tomorrow afternoon, and our adventure through Japan will be our next exciting instalment!
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Posted by tollidaytravels 01:40 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Hanoi


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We arrived back in Hanoi on the 30 June 2015 and returned to the same hotel, the “Golden Charm Hotel” in the Hanoi Old Quarter that we’d stayed in before we went to Sa Pa.

Hanoi’s Old Quarter is famous for its 36 streets. It is the original trade area of Hanoi, the commercial centre for almost 1000 years. Each street has a specific item that it sells, and is named after that specialty. For example, Hang (merchandise) Be translates to Silk Street. Hang Quat (where we are staying) – has Buddha Statues, fans and ‘temple merchandise’ for worshipping.
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While some streets have either changed or adapted different items for sale, you can pretty much get the picture of what the street is about as you walk around. We frequently walk along and say “This must be Haberdashery Street” or “This must be Paint Street” (photo below). A particular favourite is Gold Street! It’s great to wander around and check things out, but it can also be a bit of a stressful experience, since the streets were never designed to take all of the motorbikes and cars that whiz along. You need to keep your eyes peeled at all times!
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Tan and I celebrated our birthdays in Hanoi and both had good days. The hotel staff were brilliant and surprised Tania with a birthday cake.
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For my birthday, we had a good family day at the Vinpearl Waterpark at the Royal City Shopping Centre. The water park was actually two levels underground and took us quite a while to find. We’d decided to wing it with the local bus system, and found that no one really knew which bus we needed, bus drivers included. So we’d hop on the bus after being told it was the right one by the driver, only to be told by the conductor that no, this was not the one to be on. After a fair bit of good luck we managed to sort it out and got to the park after 2 hours. After 6 solid hours of climbing stairs and riding water rides, Cameron finally hit the wall and we headed home for late dinner, a surprise ice cream cake, and bed. Both boys did very well for the day.

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One Sunday we went (or at least attempted to) for a walk around Hoan Kiem Lake, the central landmark for the Old Quarter, said to still be holding a magical sword that was used to beat the Chinese and boot them out of Vietnam after 1000 years of rule in the 10th century. We were approached by a number of Vietnamese students, young adults who are studying at Uni but also learning English. They wanted to practice their English, and we have since learned that this is quite a common practice, for students to come and actively seek out foreigners who would be willing to have a bit of a chat. Lachlan, Tania and I were all sitting and practicing English with the group over a chat that lasted 2-3 hours. This was a great experience for us and the students were so keen. I am sure we would have still been there to the evening if we hadn’t made the move to leave. We made arrangements to catch up with one of the students again, and we arrived to find she had brought her whole class!
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This led to an impromptu English lesson, with people sauntering up to listen for a bit, and sauntering away again. It was a bit surreal, but lots of fun!

Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights see’s the closure of some streets for the Market and other street activities. We have seen street performers and even found a street where kids could play. We have commented previously on how ingenious the Vietnamese are and this was certainly evident when you look at the play equipment they make from bamboo. We even saw a bamboo scooter that had grinding disks for wheels. Is there nothing that bamboo can't do???
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While we haven’t typically gone for ‘sit on the street’ food, the desire to try one of the street vendors Doner Kebab’s was too strong. Needless to say they were delicious and with no ill effects afterwards which was even better. It shows how much you miss a food when you go back the next day for another one!
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One of the things on our list before we headed off was to see a water puppet show, which is a traditional Vietnamese form of entertainment, originally developed by rice farmers for during the wet season. As all of the ads say, it's a "must see cultural experience", and we wanted the boys to see it. There is a water puppet theatre in Hanoi, so we went to the show and had a great time. The music provided for the show was played live by a band using traditional Vietnamese instruments, and the stage is basically a shallow pool of water, with the puppeteers operating the puppets from behind a screen. The show was a series of short plays, on things like "Catching the fox that chases the ducks" and "Fishing". There were even some fire-breathing dragons which were very cool!

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We have commented a few times on how strange it feels to not be out and about constantly sightseeing, as we would normally do during a holiday to a foreign country. We actually feel a bit guilty for not doing it, like we’re wasting time and we should be going to have a look around, but it would be purely out of obligation. It’s nice to be able to chill out, as Lachie would say, without having the pressure of time upon us. We still see things, and get a sense of Hanoi, without having to rush around. It’s a different way to travel, and even after 5 months we’re still getting used to it!

So we head off to Bangkok on Monday, ending our 3 months in Vietnam. We've really enjoyed Vietnam, it's a great country with great people, but we're also looking forward to going to Japan (after 5 days in Bangkok). That's going to be a complete change in culture!

Posted by tollidaytravels 03:39 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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