Exploring the Freezing Ho Chi Minh City of Vietnam

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During my birthday in October of 2018, I made the decision to take a week-long tropical vacation to Vietnam—baby’s first trip to a Communist country.  It has taken me nearly 2 years to find time the proper time to write about it, but take my word that this next article series will be worth the wait.  We will be exploring some of the craziest places and seeing how Communism shaped the culture here.  Going to Vietnam changed my life and is yet another adventure I’ll never forget.  In fact, people don’t talk about this country nearly enough!!

Why Vietnam?  

It all started during my first week Tokyo when I went clubbing in Roppongi (when it was still good) and met one of my best friends who is half Japanese and half Vietnamese.  She likes drinking and dancing as much as I do so naturally we hit it off.  One night while we were having dinner she couldn’t stop talking about how beautiful the beaches in Vietnam were.  Since I had already been to Okinawa (I still need to write about this) and Yakushima for my previous birthdays which are considered some of the most beautiful getaways in Japan, I decided it was time to get out of the country and see these renowned beaches for myself.

I researched and found that Phu Quoc is known as the most beautiful island in Vietnam.  Ho Chi Minh is the cheapest place to fly to from Tokyo likely because it is a large international business hub.  I paid around $400 USD through Vietnam Airlines for a roundtrip flight.  I decided that I wanted to see Hanoi too because that is where my friend is from, so I came up with an itinerary that looked like this:

Tokyo ⇒ Ho Chi Minh ⇒ Hanoi ⇒ Phu Quoc ⇒ Pineapple Island ⇒ Ho Chi Minh ↻ Tokyo

Though this only hits the major areas, I booked some private tours to remote temples that I will mentioning in this series.

Getting a Visa in Vietnam

Since Vietnam is a Communist country, tourists will need to apply for a visa BEFORE they arrive.  Unlike other countries, applying for a visa upon arrival is usually not permitted.  I chose to purchase one online through Vietnam e-Visa, which is a legitimate and trustworthy service that you can safely submit your documents to.  Your visa will last 1-3 months and usually costs around $25 (there is sadly no way to avoid this fee).  You can also apply directly at the Vietnamese Embassy in your country.  For my lifestyle, it was much easier to apply online and I received approval within 3 days.  Easy.

ICE Coffee

After arriving at Ho Chi Minh Airport and successfully passing through customs with my e-Visa (fortunately it was an easy process that didn’t require much time), I hired a taxi and drove to the very first destination on my list: ICE Coffee.  This is one of the most unique coffee shops in Vietnam that has a deep-frozen room full of furniture and sculptures made of ice plus an adorable Husky you can pet!  I was lucky because I came in the afternoon when no one else was there.  I ordered a simple strawberry milk drink and began my journey through the frozen lands of Ho Chi Minh (fortunately winter jackets can be borrowed at the entrance with no extra cost).  To my surprise there was a bed that you could take a nap in too.  Exactly what I needed after my long flight!

I loved the design of this place because it had an avant-garde ice cave feeling to it.  The neon lights that reflected off the ice ornaments added a really cool city pop (cave pop?) aesthetic:

I had previously thought about staying in an ice hotel in either China or Hokkaido, but now that I’ve been here and taken plenty of pictures I really don’t feel the need.  This is the perfect place to chill with your friends and plan your trip around the city (or by yourself like me).  The temperature is quite cold, but the blankets on top of the ice furniture will keep you warm.  The hot drinks definitely help too!

Access

262 Bùi Viện, Phường Phạm Ngũ Lão, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam

When I exited Winters and headed back towards Summers (pardon the Earthbound joke), it started downpouring rain.  That’s when I saw a familiar character’s face just up ahead—it was none other than Donkey Kong!  Not wanting to get drenched in the rain or awkwardly re-enter the coffee shop I just left, I ran towards the mysterious DK shop.  Whatever this place was, it had to be good.  Unbeknownst to me, it was another tea and coffee shop called Aroma Tea!  While I waited for the rain to subside, I decided to order the weirdest drink on the menu: Cream Cheese Tea.  The best part was that DK was smiling proudly on my cup:

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DK AROMA TEA IS HERE!

It was surprisingly sweet and easy to drink.  Obviously a lot of sugar and milk was added to create a satisfactory flavor.  Exactly what I needed after my strawberry milk, right?

I spent some time here planning out the rest of my day.  Fortunately the rain was only expected to last for 3 hours and I could still go out at night.  Because the traffic was starting to get heavy, I kindly asked the staff to assist me with calling a taxi because I couldn’t flag one down.  I severely underestimated the craziness rush hour here.  The majority of people in Vietnam ride motorbikes and it’s extremely hard to cross the road until you get the hang of it.  Most drivers will slow down when you start to walk across, but some remain driving at full speed until they’re right beside you!

Another thing to watch out for is the exhaust from all of the bikes.  I noticed it in my lungs immediately when I went for a run the next day.  Though I don’t have asthma, it was harder for me to breathe than usual.  Luckily I had planned various excursions outside of the city so I wasn’t breathing it in all the time.

When the taxi arrived, I had them drop me off at my hotel so I could check in and put my suitcase away.  After that, it was time to get changed into fancy clothes and party!

Dining in Ho Chi Minh (Nha Hang Ngon)

Even after sipping on all of those sugary drinks, my hunger was still unsatisfied.  I hadn’t eaten anything all day so I decided to dine at a beautiful restaurant called Nha Hang Ngon.  This place has all sorts of Vietnamese cuisine you can try with a gorgeous interior decor.  The menu is in English and has pictures of the dishes so it’s the perfect place to try things so you know what you like.  I ordered coconut shrimp, chili crab, and coconut ice cream while dining in the garden area.  The food and service was amazing!  Plus the rain had subsided so I was in a happy mood.  Who wouldn’t be when they’re eating here?

Even upscale restaurants in Vietnam are extremely affordable.  I only paid around $30 USD for all of this and it was very fulfilling.  Next it was time to hit the clubs!

Clubbing at Apocalypse Now

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I had a list of clubs written down, and Apocalypse Now was at the top of the list because of its iconic name…  In no time was drunk and ready to take on the apocalypse.  The club had no entrance fee and I immediately made friends with several Vietnamese girls who invited me to their table (probably due to my extremely blonde hair at the time).  They spoke simple English and we danced to better-than-what-you’d-expect remixes of popular EDM songs.  The club’s interior was very beautiful and had red lanterns.  I wish I would have taken more pictures, but I was too focused on having a good time and sipping on Coronas.

Though my time here was short because I had a huge itinerary, I still stay in touch with the girls I met through social media.  I enjoy seeing them travel around Vietnam because it inspires me to come back!

Clubbing in Ho Chi Minh is safe because there are always officers in uniform around keeping watch.  However, they don’t act like bouncers do.  They simply observe and ensure that no suspicious people try to sell drugs or anything.  Drugs are quite rare in this country so you shouldn’t have to worry about getting your drink spiked.  It is always a good idea to keep your eye on it, however.

Accommodation

I stayed at a private room in Blue River Hotel for $20 per night.  It was quiet, clean, and located near most of the attractions that I wanted to see so it was perfect for me.  With a little more money, you could likely stay in an upscale hotel with a spa and more luxurious amenities!  I was on a budget so I wasn’t able to stay in the nicer hotels, but I plan on checking them out in my next trip!

As far as transportation goes, I recommend using Grab app so you don’t get scammed.  The price is automatically calculated by distance so you don’t have to worry about dodgy people.  I’d like to believe that most people are honest, but I was scammed by an old taxi driver who hid the meter with a piece of cloth.  I can’t remember how much I lost, but it was likely the equivalent of $50 USD and I had no way to determine the correct amount.  I reluctantly paid and got out.  Vietnamese people are not rude or dangerous, but they will try to take advantage of tourists.  Please be careful while traveling here.

In my next series of articles, I will be writing about the rest of my adventures around Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, and Phu Quoc Island.  Please stay tuned for more!

My favorite places to hang in Seoul

Since I’ve finished my Jeju Island article series, I’m going to write about some of my favorite places to hang out in Seoul next.  It’s hard to structure this article because there are literally so many cool areas of the city!  My two favorite districts in Seoul are by far Itaewon and Gangnam.  Both have extremely different vibes but are perfect for a night out depending on what my mood is.  Itaewon is friendliest and most international while Gangnam is the fanciest district is Seoul.  Even though I can’t speak Hangul, I never have trouble making friends in this city.  Spontaneously getting invited to a bachelor’s party while staying here was one of the coolest things that have ever happened to me in a foreign country.  I’ve been to Korea three times and hope to visit again when international travel is possible again.

Without further ado, here are the most fun places that I’ve discovered:

Common Ground

Common Ground is an urban mall that was built out of containers and is really fun to explore.  Unlike other malls, there’s not a huge mob of annoying shoppers here because those type of people usually go to the fancier malls in the center of the city.  Common Ground features small designer stores and also has restaurants and live music.  A lot of stores here import brands too.  No matter what your price range is, you can usually find something that fits your taste here.  I actually didn’t buy much but I had fun doing photography with the winter illuminations outside.  There was also a statue of an astronaut outside and some replicas of Roman statues inside the main building when I visited.  How aesthetic!

While I was walking around here, a Korean student came up to me and interviewed me for a university project.  Since I didn’t have a strict itinerary during my first trip, I happily participated.  She asked me various questions about my country and also gave me some Korean snacks.  Though it was a simple project, I was happy that I could help out.  Common Ground is close to many universities so it’s great for socializing and meeting people!

Lotte World

Lotte World is one of the most famous amusement parks in Korea.  In fact, it’s the largest indoor theme park in the world—which is why I had to go!  It’s located in the massive Lotte Mall that has hundreds of shops and food from all around the world.  If you are looking for top tier shopping in Seoul, then this is the place.  I came after the start of the new year so the park had a winter theme.  Fortunately it wasn’t very crowded and I could ride all of the rides that I wanted!  There are carousels, roller coasters, haunted houses, and my personal favorite: The Balloon Ride.  You can see the entire indoor park and mall from the top which makes it an amazing experience.

Even though Lotte World is owned by Lotte Co. Ltd., there are actually a lot of parallels between it and Disney Land.  For example, the outside of Lotte World resembles the Disney World Castle.  It also has a beautiful lake that you can view by walking across a bridge that leads to the artificially created “Magic Island” which is a lot like Disney Sea.  Despite these similarities, the attractions are quite different and the entrance to Lotte World is considerably cheaper.  If you like one park, you’ll probably like the other too.

I would recommend checking out Lotte World as opposed to other amusement parks because you can come here in any kind of weather thanks to the indoor park area.

Entrance Fee: 32$ for adults (cheaper than most amusement parks in Japan so it’s overall worth it)

Jogyesa Temple

The Jogyesa Temple in Insadong, Seoul is probably my favorite temple of all time in Korea.  I first came here during the Lotus Festival in April and many bright hand-crafted paper ornaments were hung around the entire complex.  I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was!  Jogyesa is actually the center of Buddhism in Korea and many rituals and ceremonies are held here.  There are private prayer rooms as well as places that you can make public offerings.  The Chinese Scholar Tree was planted on the temple grounds because it is said to convert negative energy into positive energy and happiness.  Though I’m not particularly religious, I definitely felt in high spirits here.  Please check this place out if you ever get the chance.  The monks are very friendly and welcoming.

I enjoyed seeing the English pack of M&Ms being used as an offering when I went:

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Entrance Fee: Free

Myeongdong

Myeongdong is essentially the Shibuya/Harajuku of Seoul.  You can come here at any time of day and find something fun to do.  It has street food, hilarious fashion (“say no to kids, drugs”), recreational parks, and cafes galore.  The street and night markets have knock-off Gucci and Supreme which you can score for a low price.  I enjoyed eating octopus and drinking sochu while I walked through all the streets and alleyways.

Some of my favorite places I found around Myeongdong Station were:

  • Artbox – An adorable mall with art supplies, cosmetics, and accessories.  It reminded me of the LINE Friends store in Japan but had way more variety.
  • Stylenada 3CE – A pool-themed shopping mall and cafe with beautiful pink decor.  It has amazing desserts!
  • Bbongsin – An amazing restaurant with cold noodles and calzones.  Some of the best Korean food I’ve ever had!
  • Milky Bee – An ice cream shop with flower-shape gelato.
  • Happy Pills – Candy prescriptions.

Myeongdong has bars that stay open late, but not much of a club scene.  Continue reading to see my recommendations for clubs:

Gangnam

Ever since the song “Gangnam Style” became a hit song, I feel like this district doesn’t really need an introduction but I’ll give it a go anyway.  Gangnam is the most upscale district in Seoul but you can enjoy the nightlife here with almost any budget.  In addition to some of the most reputable clubs, it has secluded parks you can walk through by the river side and amazing cafes.  Gangnam itself is pretty spread out so people don’t normally drink in the streets like in Itaewon.  It’s classy and has a club area as well as a quiet upscale residential district as well.

My first memory of Gangnam was meeting up with some of my old college friends here and going to Octagon, where we got invited to VIP tables and drank champagne.  If you’re a girl then it’s really easy to meet people that will buy you drinks here.  The crowds and sound system are pretty insane too.  I honestly got too lit my first time here so I’d really like to come back and just focus on the music next time.

Last year I decided to get my eye bags removed at JK Plastic in Gangnam.  I had sunken eyelids that were caused by genetics so the veins under my skin would show and create permanent eye bags.  I always looked tired and wanted to fix the issue so I opted for eye surgery.  I chose JK Plastic because they are one of the highest-rated clinics in Korea and speak English.  It took about a week of downtime in Korea and then six weeks of recovery at home, but the skin beneath my eyelids has been fully restored now!  When I woke up from surgery I nearly cried because they did such an amazing job and I could already see the results despite having a swollen face.  During my down time I played visual novels and also watched a lot of anime.  It wasn’t so bad—just make sure you have enough time off to take care of yourself!

Plastic surgeons in Korea are the best in the world.  The advantage of going here is that if you’re a tourist you can get a tax refund from the surgery when you go to the airport.  I would not recommend plastic surgery in Japan because my friends have said the surgeons here are not as experienced or friendly.  I would recommend doing research, scheduling an online consultation with a clinic you like, and seeing what options fit you best.  I may write a full article on this at a later time!

Itaewon

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The inside of Fountain, one of my favorite watering holes in Itaewon.

Itaewon is my favorite place to start my night out in Seoul.  I have so many fond memories here.  It caters to the late-night international crowd and has small, condensed streets as well as beautiful murals that decorate the walls.  You can sit at an outdoor bar or go drinking in the street and easily meet people (both tourists and Korean nationals).  You can find pretty much any type of restaurant or dessert shop here too.  It has the feel of a college town but is much more upscale and classy.  Usually I spend my first night going to various clubs and bars then wake up and soak in Itaewon Land Spa.

My favorite club here is called Cakeshop because it features a lot of independent producers from both Seoul and other countries plus it has a great vibe.  It originally caught my eye because Carpainter did a set here in 2015 (unfortunately I was in America at the time or I would have gone).  The club is small enough with one DJ booth and bar that it’s easy to converse with people and enjoy the music.  I have made a number of friends here that I still stay in touch with.  The entry fee usually isn’t more than $25.

Besides Cakeshop, Fountain is a great place to check out.  The first floor is huge dance floor that’s always usually packed and the upper floors have tables and arcades for bigger groups.  The music here is usually western EDM which disinterests me, but the atmosphere of the club is impressive.  I have never paid any entrance fee when I have gone in.  What I remember of Club Awesome was awesome too!

Next time I’m here I really want to check out a club called Pumpkin.  If it’s actually Halloween-themed like its outer decor implies then I’m in.

Other Interesting Places:

  • Hongdae – Hongdae is a popular spot for college students and those who love K-pop music clubs.  I came here to visit the ADERerror store and also to do some shopping.  I didn’t like it as much as Itaewon or Gangnam due to my music taste, but I highly recommend you spend a night exploring here and see what you think.

    I found an amazing “Magical Item Shop” called Creamy DD with tons of Sailor Moon and other magical girl accessories here.  It’s easy to spot the sign if you walk down the main road:

  • Ihwa Mural Village – Since I went to Busan and saw Gamcheon I skipped this village, but if you are looking for beautiful murals and art to see then please check this place out!  I want to go here in the future.
  • Secret Garden – A scenic area around Changdeokgung Palace that I recommend checking out if you have the time.  It is one of the most beautiful gardens in Seoul!
  • Nami Island – A scenic island near Seoul where many K-dramas are filmed.  Click the link to read my full article on it!

Places to Stay

As a backpacker, I favor cheap hostels but the majority of accommodations in Korea are less expensive than in Japan.  You can likely find a nice hotel for $45 USD or less too.

Here are some of the places that I stayed at and enjoyed in Korea.  I booked them close in proximity to the clubs I was interested in checking out:

  • Guesthouse Yacht (Itaewon) – A very inexpensive apartment-style dorm in the heart of Itaewon.  This is my go-to place if I’m spending the night there because it’s safe, quiet, and conveniently located.
  • Kimchee Guesthouse (Gangnam) – A guest house near Gangnam City Office that has private and dorm rooms.  I stayed here during my eye surgery recovery period and it was perfect because my room had a shower inside it.  This is the cheapest you will get in the fanciest part of the city, I assure you.
  • Neo Seoul Guesthouse – I wanted to try staying in Hongdae for a night, so I chose this place because of the cool name.  It was cheap and I could easily access the airport limousine the next day so I recommend it for its convenience (Itaewon and Gangnam are a bit further away).

Dessert Recommendations

Please see Desserts that will make your heart melt in Seoul Vol. 1 and Vol. 2.

This will be the last article about Korea that I write until my next trip!  Since I live in Japan, I can sometimes find cheap round-trip flights for under $150 so I come here usually once a year for a week long vacation.  Usually new restaurants and venues open, plus cosmetics and beauty clinics are really cheap here so I always have something to look forward to.  Until next time, Seoul!

 

Getting Invited to a Bachelor’s Party then traveling to Korea’s DMZ on the Day When Peace was Declared Between North Korea and South Korea [A True Story]

Apr. 27th, 2018 – I’ll never forget the day when I was strolling through Itaewon on my way to the club when I ran into a group of Korean guys who were pouring beer in plastic cups and passing them out to random people on the street.  Not wanting to be rude, I happily accepted one and drank it with them.  I noticed one of the guys in their group was dressed up in body armor made of cardboard and duct tape while the others playfully gave him commands.  Since this was only my 2nd time in Korea, I wasn’t sure if this was something normal or a special occasion.  Fortunately some of guys spoke English and informed me what was going on—this was a bachelor’s party.  A very casual and spontaneous one, apparently.  And I was invited!  Lucky me~

Since I left America when I was 21 years old, I never had the chance to partake in any wedding parties since I wasn’t old enough to drink.  Not many of my friends were mature enough to get married at that age either.  Who would have guessed that my first time attending one would be in Korea with a bunch of guys I just met?  I had booked a tour to the DMZ the next day, but I figured I could drink and relax for a few hours since it was my first night in town.  And this would historically be a night to remember, because the very next day North Korea and South Korea agree to end war.  But we wouldn’t know that until the next day…

After hanging out on the street and making conversation with random people, we moved to Awesome Lounge where they had reserved a VIP table.  I had been to a number of bars and clubs in Itaewon before, but this was my very first time here.  Everyone was extremely friendly and I was honestly having the time of my life.  Perhaps too much fun.  I remember drinking 1/3 of a bottle of champagne, pole dancing near the side of the VIP area, and losing my pocket wifi out of my purse which later cost me $60.  Fortunately I woke up with my wallet and passport the next day though.  The club was loud and dark enough so it was the perfect atmosphere to get belligerently intoxicated.  South Korea is a very safe country so you really don’t have to worry as long as you can make it back to your hotel.  I vaguely remember us going somewhere to get sashimi after the club.  It was one of the largest sashimi platters that I had ever seen in my life and man it was amazing!  I was happy that I took a picture so I could remember it.

After we finished eating it was near 2am so we happily parted ways.  I made sure to thank them for the most lit night in Itaewon ever and wish the cardboard armor guy good luck in his future marriage.  If this was just the bachelor’s party, I could only imagine how crazy the wedding party was going to be.

I drunkenly walked back to my hostel called Guesthouse Yacht.  Not only is it insanely cheap, but it’s on a hill just over the main street with all the bars and pubs.  The perfection combo.

Apr. 28th, 2018 – I woke up hungover but in an extremely elevated mood.  I couldn’t believe how crazy my first night out had started.  I was missing my pocket wifi, but I figured all the crazy memories from the previous night were more than worth it.  I had successfully attended my first bachelor’s party (even though I was a girl) and lived to tell the tale.  How often do you get to live out experiences like that?

Anyway, it was time to resurface to reality.  I had booked a tour to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on Klook for $45.  This tour will take you to the borders of North and South Korea, and you can climb through a tunnel to technically be inside the North Korean border.  You can only come here if you book a tour as entry into North Korea is extremely restricted and there is a checkpoint in Paju.  However, the tours are completely safe and you will be with an English-speaking guide at all times.  Learning about the Cold War and seeing the Four Infiltration Tunnels (that were dug between the borders for a surprise attack) is a rare experience and I was grateful I got the chance to climb through them.  The views of North Korea that you can see from the DMZ border are surreal.

My tour group was one of the first to visit after peace was made between the North and the South.  I had only figured this out shortly before my tour bus came to pick me up as the news was announced early this day.  I had planned this trip during my Golden Week vacation a month in advance and had no idea this was happening.  Everyone was in extremely high spirits and it was a great time to be in Korea!

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One of the most peaceful days at the DMZ in history.

Here are some pictures I took of North Korea.  It was neat to see it with my own eyes.  With all of the stories of it circulating online you often don’t know what to believe.  It looks like there’s an extremely forested area nearby from the border.  You wouldn’t even guess that it was North Korea at first:

North Korea is apparently famous for its chocolate soybean candy.  Or at least that’s what they want you to think.  I tried some at the souvenir shop and it wasn’t my favorite chocolate, but it definitely had a unique taste to it:

Here is a picture of my location within the border to prove I was in North Korea.  What’s ironic is North Korea supports Google Maps but South Korea doesn’t.  How crazy is that?

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Inside North Korea, baby!

Next we visited Dorasan Station (which leads to the capital of North Korea):

Dorasan Station connects the railway between North and South Korea.  It is located within the DMZ and has been out of use for years, but serves as a symbol of hope that unification may be possible in the future.  You can walk inside it and take pictures, but even though peace was made it will be quite a while before civilians can use it.  Apparently goods are transferred through it now, but limited information in English is available.

I was very moved by this tour.  Though North Korea has a dangerous reputation, I don’t want to believe that all of its people are bad.  I met one Australian girl on my Herb Island Tour later who said she had volunteered there.  I can’t remember the details of what she did, but she spent about a week there learning about the culture.  Since I am American, I know it is dangerous (and likely still impossible) for me to go, but when it becomes more safe I would really like to do a volunteer program there.  I hope in the future it continues to open its borders, as South Korea is a wonderful country that I hold dearly in my heart.

 

The Tale of the Monkey Forest and Glaass Lounge in Nagano

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Matsumoto Castle in Nagano, Japan.

Nearly two years ago, I ventured north into the mountainous region of Nagano with two missions to accomplish.  The first was to see the famous hotspring-loving monkeys in Jigokudani.  Though a lot of monkeys in Asia are known to be feisty, the Japanese macaque (also known as snow monkeys) are said to be pretty relaxed.  It’s probably due to the fact that they have their own 24-hour hotspring to themselves.  The second objective was to go to a rare event in Matsumoto called Glaass Lounge.  This party is a gathering of house and techno enthusiasts that goes all night, and on this particular weekend Carpainter and Seimei of Trekkie Trax were to appear.  The stars had aligned for the ultimate weekend and I couldn’t be more excited!

 

Jigokudani Monkey Park

As soon as I arrived to Nagano Station, I went to the ticket office and purchased a day pass for Jigokudani Park.  The park is about an hour bus ride from the station, but you have the chance to see rare scenes of the countryside so it’s not a bad trip.  From the bus stop, the walk to the monkey park is about 30 mins through a lush pine forest.  When you get to the top of a hill in the mountains, you will see dozens of monkeys running through a roped-off area full of hotsprings:

Though you sadly cannot enter the hotsprings with the monkeys, you can get pretty close to them.  Often they will go under the ropes and leisurely mingle with people.  It is advised not to look them directly in the eyes because that is a sign of aggression.  Also there are notices posted not to feed them and to be careful with your bags (a.k.a. common sense).  I would allow yourself at least 1.5 hours to fully enjoy the park.  The monkeys are quite fun to observe and the mountain air feels lovely.

Besides the monkeys, the scenery surrounding the park made it worth the trip.  The mountain backdrop on the lake looked like something straight out of a postcard.  Plus hiking through the forest was an awesome workout and I saw many beautiful rivers along the way.  You can see the Japanese Alps from here too:

Admission Fee: 800 yen to enter the park // 3200 yen for admission to the park and roundtrip bus fare (I recommend this option unless you rent a car)

Although I had fun here, the day I went the monkeys weren’t particularly interesting in bathing even though it was cold out and there was snow on the ground.  Hakodate in Hokkaido has a better monkey onsen that you can see.  The monkeys there seem to love hotsprings more than the monkeys I saw here, but both are worth checking out.

Food

Due to having to catch a train into the city that night, I didn’t have a lot of time to look for places to eat but fortunately Nagano Station had me covered.  I managed to find some amazing kitsune udon (noodles topped with a thin layer of fried tofu), and oyaki (stuffed dumplings).  I was happy to see they had a number of vegetarian options and were very cheap to order individually.  Oyaki are a Nagano specialty so definitely try them if you get the chance!  You can find them literally all over the place in a variety of flavors.

Glaass Lounge

I arrived at Studio SONIC around 11pm when Glaass Lounge had just kicked off.  The club had a simple setup with a DJ booth in the front and a bar to the side, but since it was compact it was easy to socialize with people.  I found my friends immediately and told them the story of the bathing monkeys.  It felt great to experience the music scene of Matsumoto out here in the mountains.  A number of these DJs come to Tokyo events every once in a while too.

Monolith Slip, a duo of two music producers from this area were one of my favorite acts.  They create a lot of rave music and were featured on an earlier Haka Gang x Trekkie Trax compilation:

Besides them, I of course enjoyed seeing Carpainter as the featured guest.  As always, his techno/house mixes are amazing:

This party went on until 5am and was an experience I’ll never forget.  I haven’t been back to Nagano in over 2 years, but if there are more music events like these in the fture then I’ll definitely be tempted!

Address: 2 Chome-5-6 Fukashi, Matsumoto, Nagano 390-0815

Access

From Tokyo Station, take the Hokuriku-Shinkansen to Nagano Station.  This will take 2 hours and costs 8400 yen one way.  From Nagano Station you can take a bus to the monkey forest and the Shinano Limited Express to reach Matsumoto City.  All tickets can be purchased on they day you arrive, but if you are coming during a holiday I would book them in advance.  I would recommend 2 days and 1 night here to see everything.

Since I didn’t have a lot of money at time, I stayed at a net cafe called Carefree Cafe for a few hours after the party.  However, there are a lot of great hotspring resorts and ryokan you can stay in that are better!  Booking usually has some great deals depending on what you are looking for.

 

 

The Future Legacy of Super Dance Tools: Carpainter at Planet Cafe, Hamamatsu

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Carpainter plays a 90 minute set at EFEKT’s 7th Anniversary at Planet Cafe, Shizuoka.

During my backpacking trip to the Capybara Zoo of Japan, I spent an entire night dancing at Carpainter’s Future Legacy Tour held at Planet Cafe in Hamamatsu.  I had previously attended the album’s original release party at Contact Tokyo in December, but I wanted to travel here so I could experience the music scene in Shizuoka in addition to seeing him perform at a rare venue.  This particular event was not only a release party, but it was also combined with EFEKT’s 7th Anniversary.  In this article I will be reporting my experience at Planet Cafe and also talking about Carpainter’s latest releases: Future Legacy and Super Dance Tools Vol. 1.

Planet Cafe & EFEKT

Planet Cafe is one of the most famous music venues of Shizuoka located in the populous city of Hamamatsu.  Unlike its name implies, it has the atmosphere of an underground club instead of a cafe.  It’s divided into two rooms with one bar and one DJ booth, making it easy to listen to music and socialize with people.  I found it to be much more laidback than the typical clubs in the Tokyo scene.  The entrance fee was only 2500 yen and well worth the price for the quality of music.  The party lasted from 9pm – 5am so it was quite a long time—almost the duration of a music festival!  There was never a dull moment in the club because the music selection of all the artists was carefully chosen.

EFEKT is an “all style bass sound music” party routinely held by a group of Shizuoka-based DJs at Planet Cafe.  In addition to bass music, you can except to hear a lot of nonstop dance tracks with techno and disco influences here.  At this party in particular, I heard a lot of fire UK Garage tracks which really made me happy.  In addition to Carpainter, they have featured artists such as Licaxxx, submerse, and Chimpo at their previous events at Planet Cafe making the lineup more diverse each time.

Resident DJs: MASKAT, SADA, SUGURU, SINYA (see the EFEKT Twitter for more information).

You can hear a sample mix by MASKAT here:

Address

Planet Cafe
223-1 Motoshirocho, Naka Ward, Hamamatsu, Shizuoka 430-0946

Future Legacy Release Party in Hamamatsu

Future Legacy

Future Legacy is Carpainter’s 3rd official album defined as “The Japanese Techno Revival”.  Its 14 tracks are reminiscent to old school techno and breakbeat music with a bit of house music effects as well.  A recent DOMMUNE article mentions that Carpainter used rich and melodious synthetic sounds in the album’s production influenced by Detroit techno similar to his Orient EP.  Future Legacy also features the usage of female vocals for the first time in the track O.V.E.R. ft. Utae.  The album fuses old techno sounds with Carpainter’s own unique style making it one of the best nonstop dance releases I’ve heard in quite a long time.  I’ve enjoyed keeping up with the album’s production and would rate it quite high in terms of originality.

The album’s first track Re Genesis starts with a slow and simple build that immediately draws you in.  He used this track to open his set at Planet Cafe and it instantly got the crowd excited.  My personal favorites from this album are “Tiger & Dragon”, “Chaos or Order”, and “Declare Victory”.  A big theme of this album is the balance between looping sounds and inserting cuts and breaks to keep the dance spirit alive.  Each song has a unique way of doing this so it’s something you’ll want to keep on repeat for a while! The album ends with the previously mentioned uplifting dance track O.V.E.R. that was originally premiered at Trekkie Trax’s 7th Anniversary.  It truly is a treasure of Japan and is available worldwide:

Planet Cafe

I arrived to Planet Cafe around 11pm which gave me the perfect amount of time to drink and socialize before seeing the special guest performers.  The club attendees were a mostly a mix of Shizuoka locals and people who had traveled from Tokyo to see the event (like myself).  Though I was the only foreigner, I found it very easy to talk to people here.  The number of people that attended this was similar to the Carpainter event at Outer Kochi last year, so overall it was a good crowd and there was lots of room to dance.

Carpainter played a 90 minute set that consisted of a wide range of music including records with songs he grew up hearing in the Netherlands with his brother Seimei.  In addition to tracks from Future Legacy, he also played his previous bangers like PAM!!! and mixed it into an old style of techno music.  It was really fun to watch the crowd’s reaction because no one knew what song was coming next.  My personal favorite was this creative slip-in of “Mr. Roboto” towards the end:

In addition to Carpainter, isagen, a Shizuoka-based DJ and producer was also featured as a special guest in the lineup.  I have previously written about isagen in my LARGE SIZE article last year, but he has really grown as a skilled DJ since my last article.  In his set at Planet Cafe he played songs from his cgab release on Trekkie Trax as well as tracks I didn’t recognize (which I assume will be part of a future release).

Recently isagen has been featured on THREE THE HARDWARE, which is a unique video project started by tofubeats that demonstrates the production of DTM (desktop music) made with second hand equipment.  A recent video called THIS IS UK STUDIO explores some of the sound effects that isagen and other featured artists have made through experimentation.  This project is inspirational because it shows that you can make virtually any sound on your hardware with the right technique:

My clubbing experience in Hamamatsu was unforgettable and I hope to come back here in the future to listen to new types of music!

Super Dance Tools Vol. 1

Super Dance Tools (Vol. 1) is the latest release by Carpainter which contains 17 tracks over 5 minutes designed to be used as “tools” for DJs.  The loops with the combination of acid techno and hard techno sounds make it an addictive dance album by itself, but it sounds even better when the songs are skillfully transitioned into other songs during sets.  The album has gained international praise by artists such as Anna Lunoe, and the songs have been featured on London radio shows such as NTS.

You can listen to a preview of the album below:

A great example of Super Dance Tools being utilized is in this video of Addison Groove’s Getterfunk Takeover set where “B-Reverse” is played:

My top picks on this album are “Supernova” and “Drifting” because they have a nice build that makes me want to loop them on repeat for hours, but “1994” comes as an unexpected surprise because it ends the album on a mellow note.  I hope to see more artists use these tools to create unique sounds, and anticipate the possibility of more volumes in the future.

Final Remarks

Carpainter will always be one of my favorite artists in Japan because he has introduced me to so many styles of music through his DJ sets.  Despite being from Michigan, I had no idea what Detroit Techno sounded like until I heard him describe it in his interviews as a major influence of songs he produced for Orient and Declare Victory.  The people that I’ve met through his events continually inspire me to listen to new music and travel around Japan to experience it in different places.  I am excited to see what direction his music takes him in the future and hope that someday he fulfills his dream of debuting in the UK.  If that happens, I will definitely be looking more into the UK music scene as well!

For more information, please see:

Experiencing the Nightlife in Taiwan

Since no trip to a foreign country is complete without experiencing its nightlife, I decided to check out a few unique cocktail bars and venues in Taipei and Taichung while I was traveling in Taiwan earlier this year.  Through going to music events in Tokyo, I was fortunate to have met my friend Hojo who not only manages tours and bookings for foreign artists, but also curates in own events in Taiwan with CUSTOMS and DJs music that transcends genres (see Hojo’s SoundCloud for reference).  In Asia it’s generally easy to find bars and spots to socialize, but the scene I found here far exceeded my expectations.

At Taiwan’s venues, particularly at FINAL, the entrance fee is affordable, the cocktails and music are top-notch, and you can actually sit down with people and socialize.  A big issue with some venues in Tokyo is that they are too crowded, and although I am a club enthusiast I sometimes find it hard to relax even when I really enjoy the music.  People in Tokyo have a tendency to seek stimulation (and I am guilty as charged), but it’s very easy to get drained from the steady flow of events.  However, in Taiwan I never had that issue.  Each night I went out I was able to find the perfect atmosphere for whatever mood I was in, meet a lot of new friends, and make awesome memories that make me want to come back here in the future.

The Fucking Place (操場)

The very first bar I went to in Taipei was called The Fucking Place.  This place became a meme when Trekkie Trax toured here because one of their members got legendarily lit, so it’s been on my bucket list for quite a long time.  This bar is close to a lot of clubs in Taipei, so it makes the ideal pregaming spot.  But why the name, you ask?  Hojo explains it all in his Tweet below:

True to its name, Fucking Place’s atmosphere is cozy and welcoming.  They have a large selection of hard liquors and you can ask for your own favorite cocktail combination too.  I drank whiskey mixed with milk and reached the perfect level of drunk among good people.

The upstairs of the bar is also worth checking out because it has a mini gallery that will perhaps expand in the future:

FINAL

By far one of the best venues I’ve experienced in Asia is FINAL in Taipei.  I was at here 3 different nights during my 12 day stay in Taiwan because each night had a diverse variety of music.  This club has always been on my radar because a number of my favorite artists from Japan (including Carpainter and Onjuicy) have performed here, and Hojo also runs his own events here.  Each night I connected with different friends from around the world so I would say the scene here is very international and friendly.

By chance, Night Tempo and Neon City Records were doing a large show here on the first Friday of 2020 during my trip, so I was extremely lucky to see them here.  I have been following Night Tempo since college and attended his first HMV show in Tokyo, but recently haven’t been able to attend his events in Japan because they sell out extremely fast.  Fortunately I was able to get door tickets here and catch his amazing 2 hour performance while catching up with my friends in Taiwan.

Night Tempo’s style has really changed from sampling old Japanese songs to producing Showa era idol music and recently working with famous vocalists like Anri and Mariya Takeuchi.  He played at Fuji Rock last year in addition to touring many Asian countries and America as well.  I have met some of my best friends through his music, so I always try to catch his events whenever I can:

The very next day, Hojo hosted CUSTOMS featuring IVVVO who I met, and other aspiring international artists with a lot of talent.  As I have heard from my friends who previously attended CUSTOMS events in the US, this one was nothing short of amazing.  Each artist played whatever style of music they wanted, and no one could predict what was coming next so it was fun.  One of my favorite moments was captured below:

I would recommend FINAL to everyone because it plays and caters to all tastes of music.  The scene is here is one of the best I’ve come across in Asia and I look forward to seeing who else performs here.

The Cave

While I was in Taiching, I decided to check out this bar called The Cave because it was the other venue in Taiwan where Night Tempo toured.  I came here on a weekday so no live performer was playing, but I really appreciated the ambient atmosphere and the carefully mixed cocktails the bartender crafted for me.  I ordered one that looked like cotton candy and was coated with honey, and another delicious cherry one that was both delicious and high in alcohol content.  This was one of the best bars that I have been to in Taiwan, and I highly recommend it to everyone.  It was very cozy but perfect for the mood that I was in.

Afterwards, I decided to go on a walk to the nearby Taichung Park Pavilion.  I really appreciated the vibe of the neon lights and how bright the pavilion shone at night (I think it looks prettier at night than during the day).  Additionally I ran into so many cute dogs that were being walked here, so it was a real delight.

Round4

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We all know the lyrics to this one.

On my very last night in Taipei, I went to a small lounge called Round4 recommended by Hojo.  Since it was a weeknight it wasn’t very crowded, but the bartenders gave us the best hospitality.  A bartender named Jimmy came out and talked to us, and also made special coffee cocktails that I’ll never forget.  I really like it when the bartenders make an effort to connect with their visitors, so this is a place I’d like to drink at again because it has good vibes.

Which raises the question…

Will I return to Taiwan in the future?

Since it’s right next door to Japan, I would say there is a very high chance that I will return.  I had a phenomenal time both experiencing the night life and spending time with nature in this country.  There will be a music festival held at a temple this year that I am considering coming back for.  Once the dates are decided, I may buy another plane ticket depending on my schedule.  The life of a traveler who also loves clubbing is never complacent.

Exploring Kuala Lumpur: Temples, Caves, and Chinatown

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The city of Kuala Lumpur comes alive at night.

Malaysia is a country where you can find an abundance of places such as remote beaches, penthouses with infinity pools, markets, skyscrapers, temples, and more amazing architecture.  I loved the diversity that the city of Kuala Lumpur had to offer.  Though the center of the city is quite fancy, the country itself is actually very affordable to travel in, making it a popular destination for backpackers.  I traveled here via bus for three days after exploring Singapore, and was extremely happy with all the sights I was able to see.

I recommend staying at least three days in KL to make sure you have time to see everything.  Much of the city is reachable on foot or via train, but since it was cheap I used the Grab app to call taxis around the city.  With the tropical weather, delicious food, and affordable accommodations, you really can’t go wrong traveling here!  Here are the places that I definitely recommend seeing:

Petaling Street & Chinatown

The Chinatown district of KL is always very lively and has a ton of cultural aspects to enjoy.  When exploring a new country, my strategy is always to usually start with the local market to see what the downtown area was like.  That is why I chose to come here early in the day, though most places are usually open until around 11pm or later.  The market on Petaling Street had an array of knockoff handbags and interesting items.  I managed to score a seemingly authentic-looking Ted Baker bag for less than $50.  Prices here are open to negotiation, and I recommend that you look around!

If you’re not into shopping. there is still a lot to see around this area because it’s very close to KL’s central transit station.  I explored the local Sri Mahamariamman Temple, which is the oldest Hindu temple in the city.  I also got some local street food that tasted amazing!  I recommend that you try the local fried rice dishes and curry here.

I also tried “ABC Ice”, which is a very unique Malaysian spin on shaved ice:

The top of it tasted like traditional shaved ice you find in Japan–it was topped with condensed milk which made it extremely sweet and delicious.  However, at the bottom it was filled with jelly cubes, sweet beans, and this mysterious green noodle sweet I had never tasted before!  It was refreshing, but the texture of the toppings they placed at the bottom as a bit too much for me…  However, I was happy that I tried it!

The Batu Caves

The Batu Caves is a beautiful area with rainbow stairs leading to a limestone cave with temples inside.  There are actually a total of five caves, but the central ones with the golden statue of Lord Murugan are the most frequented.  Though the hill looks steep, it actually only takes approximately 8 minutes to climb.  The caves are extremely gorgeous, and this trip is a relaxing escape from the city that only takes approximately 30 minutes to reach.  I enjoyed sipping on some fresh coconut juice while going on this short hike.  To reach the Dark Cave, it is required you book a tour, but you can see the majority of the area without one.

Petronas Towers

The Petronas Towers are an iconic landmark of KL and are currently the tallest twin towers in the world.  At night they light up and you can find groups of people gathered around them because they are in the heart of the city.  When you first enter them, you will find an upscale shopping district called Suria KLCC.  However, on the 41st and 42nd floor, you will find the skybridge that connects the two towers.  You can go up to the top and take some stunning photos.  This is an ingenious design because it saves a ton of time walking through here rather than from one building to the other.  This very well could be the future of architecture!

Bukit Bintang

Bukit Bintang is the main bar street of KL, and there’s a lot of adventures to be had here!  Though I only had two nights to explore it, I came across this upscale Asian bistro called Opium that I really enjoyed.  They had a ton of Asian cuisine (Thai, Maylasian, Japanese, Vietnamese), as well as some fascinating cocktails.  I tried the spiced rum and coffee cocktails.  Though they were a bit pricey, just two of them got me pretty tipsy.

I then briefly popped into the club called Zion (Sieg Zion)!  The pro was that it was free, the con was that it played mainly American hiphop music with no variety, but I was bought a handful of drinks by locals so it was a night well spent.  The club was big enough to dance, and I’m curious to know what the music selection is like on other nights.

Final Thoughts

Though this might not be the first trip on your itinerary, as someone who’s lived in Asia for a while, I can definitely say traveling here is like a breath of fresh air.  The country is extremely safe, and I enjoyed experiencing the culture of the people that live here.  It feels familiar because everyone speaks English, but also extremely foreign at the same time.  The biggest culture shock for me was that people eat rice with their bare hands!  However, people were extremely polite and kind to me, and it reminded me of Thailand at times.  Please consider taking a trip here.

 

A Steamy Weekend Getaway: Takasaki WOAL & Kusatsu Onsen

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As a free-spirited traveler, I go wherever the wind blows me.  Upon returning to Tokyo from Thailand, I learned that my friends at Trekkie Trax were playing a show at an underground club in Takasaki called WOAL, so immediately I started planning my weekend trip there. I had been through this area before on my way to Niigata for Fuji Rock this summer, but have never gotten off to explore the area, so this was definitely on my bucket list.

Takasaki, the city of luck, is located about 2 hours from Tokyo in Gunma prefecture and is known for its dumplings, daruma dolls, and hotsprings.  The easiest way to get there is by the Joetsu Shinkansen, so I took the very last one from Omiya Station equipped with umeshu and Strong Zeroes to pregame for this all night show (that lasted from 10pm – 5am).  I decided I would stay at a net cafe called Link’s Cafe (for the sole fact that I love Zelda) then immediately go to Kusatsu Onsen when I woke up because that was the cheapest move.  Though there are many onsen scattered around Gunma, Kusatsu is by far the most famous and prettiest!

The atmosphere of WOAL was very friendly and inviting.  It was about an 8 minute walk from the station, but very easy to locate.  As I descended the stairs, I was immediately lost in a world of vibrant rotating neon lights and a boastful sound system.  The bar was conveniently located near the entryway, and by chance I met all of Trekkie Trax there as soon as I walked in!  I was so happy I could make it to their first show of the year, which was located outside of Tokyo (a rare event)!

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it’s a spirtual thing. a body thing. a soul thing. A lo-fi image of my favorite DJ from Trekkie Trax: Carpainter playing in Takasaki, Japan.

At the time I arrived, a Gunma native DJ called Amps was playing.  He is a longtime member of Trekkie Trax and I’ve heard him play juke sets in Tokyo before, but due to the chaos of Tokyo clubs, I had never really got to know him before.  It was wonderful to hear him play in his element.  An example of some of his tracks can be found below, or on his Soundcloud:

Each DJ had one hour to play, and it was great because the club wasn’t very crowded so there was a lot of room to dance!  I had a chance to get to talk to each artist, meet some of the Takasaki locals, and also became friends with one of the resident DJs called Momo who kindly bought me a tequila shot.  I liked this event because all of the artists played the music they wanted and didn’t try to please the crowd.  Everyone here came for the music and it was a great atmosphere.

This whole night felt like a dream to me because in the middle of Carpainter’s set, Andrew brought out a tray of tequila shots, Seimei brought out pizza, and Momo and I were dancing at the very front in this sea of neon lights and banging techno music, so it all just felt unreal.  Tokyo club events like this are usually very crowded and sometimes noisy, but I was able to lose myself completely within the music here at WOAL which is why I love traveling for these smaller shows.  The feeling that I felt here, I will never forget!

What’s funny is the vibration caused from the speakers makes the toilet paper in the restroom fall to the floor, and it’s become somewhat of a meme in the Japan music scene online:

Feeling completely mindblown and fulfilled, the next morning I took the local JR train to Naganohara Kusatsuguchi Station, then took a bus to Kusatsu Onsen and was amazed at this beautiful natural hotspring in the middle of the village:

Much like Takasaki, the atmosphere of this town was friendly and very inviting.  Dozens of street vendors were giving free samples of tea, dumplings, and local sake.  Though there was snow on the ground, the steam from the local onsen was enough to keep me farm.  Feeling hungry, I decided to wander around and find some food first.  There are dumpling shops everywhere, so I decided to try the black sesame ones.  I also found an udon shop called Matsumoto, and tried the udon and mushrooms that Kusatsu is very famous for in tempura form:

After feeling full, I wandered to Sainokawara Park and paid 600 yen to go inside the natural hotspring.  The water was very tepid, but it relaxed my muscles and made my body feel amazing.  I highly recommend this onsen for day trippers, because it is very affordable for those who cannot afford an inn.  Additionally, you can feel very in-tune with nature by sitting on the rocks and watching the moon rise.  Witnessing amazing music followed by bathing in an onsen is the perfect feeling!

Scattered throughout the town, there are many free footbaths that you can use!  Additionally, a friend of mine runs a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) called Hotel Miyuki Annex, so I would recommend staying there, because they are local and quite affordable (my friend is Japanese but speaks nearly perfect English).  At night, the town becomes illuminated and beautiful!  Another recommendation I have is coming during winter, because I think the water in other seasons would be too hot for most people otherwise.  I only stayed here for the day, but most people stay here overnight.  Most of the town you can access on foot, and there are an endless amount of hotsprings for you to try!

Before I took one of the final buses back to civilization, I stopped at a local liquor shop.  They had amazing grape liquor as well as amusing sake and award-winning beer, so I picked up a couple souvenirs for my friends.  You really can’t go wrong with the food and drinks here!

I am now back in Tokyo, but I will never forget the vivid memories I have from this trip.  The people of Gunma treated me with extreme kindness, and the views of the mountains, steamy hotsprings, and neon lights are permanently etched within my mind!  I am grateful I had this as my first trip of 2019!

The Most Insane Trip Itinerary to Thailand for NYE 2019

From December 29th – January 7th, I will be going on an absolutely insane solo trip to Thailand to kick off 2019.  This trip will have psychopath levels of traveling, but after spending many hours in the office and being exhausted from partying until sunrise, this will be a much needed-break.

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Image Credit: iStock

This will be the 8th country I have traveled to this year.  Since the start of 2018, I have traveled to Hong Kong, Macau, Korea (two times), Japan, America, Vietnam, and soon Thailand.  I rarely get nervous about traveling by myself, but sometimes I fear the potential flight or ferry delays the weather could cause.  Regardless, in the case that I do miss a flight or a ferry, I am more than happy to spend an extra day on the beach as most Asian countries are very accommodating to foreigners who respect their culture.  I am excited to try new food, meet people of different cultures from all over the world, and gain new insight and ideas from the experiences I have.

I used to be a very introverted gamer, but now that I’ve gained confidence in myself I like traveling to new countries because it feels like I’m starting a new save file in real life.  Going to a new country is like being born again because everything is so different and by the end of each trip, I feel fulfilled and ready to work harder towards my goals.  My planned itinerary (so far) is listed below:

Tokyo bassline party on Dec 28th (#RIP1228) → Narita Airport (international flight is around 11am on the 29th) → Bangkok → Full Moon Rave Island for NYE (Koh Phangan) → Koh Samui → Koh Tan → Phuket → Phi Phi Islands → James Bond Island (overrated, but I want to take my own pictures here) → Chiang Mai → Chiang Rai → Bangkok ↺ Tokyo (on January 7th).

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Image Credit: iStock

My friends that have been to Thailand have already told me that this is too much to fit in for the 10 days I am here, but I am a highly motivated person who doesn’t sleep a lot and likes to see and experience as many things as possible, so I feel like this is the perfect challenge for me.  There is no better feeling than the satisfaction that comes with pulling off a crazy trip like this.

Here are the current things that I am planning to do (gathered from my research so far):

December 28th: (RIP Party in Tokyo)

The night of the 28th will be the ultimate pre-New Years celebration for me, because my friends are throwing a UK Garage and bassline party in central Tokyo called #RIP1228.  My friend Carpainter, who is UK Garage and techno artist in Tokyo, is headlining, and I am also excited to Genick perform, who is young and upcoming bassline/garage artist there.  The party will go from around midnight ~ 5am, so immediately after it finishes I will be taking a train to Narita International Airport to board my flight at 11am.  Though I will be very tired, I am thankful for this final opportunity to say goodbye to all of my Japanese friends for a while:

December 29th – 31st: Bangkok

After hopefully getting some rest during the flight, I will arrive to Bangkok around 4pm and begin my adventure around the city!  The first stop I wish to make straight from the airport is the infamous Unicorn Cafe.  A quick Google search comes up with hilarious results:

lol

The next day (30th), I plan on waking up early and doing some running around the city.  The Totoro Cafe (May’s Garden House) is where I want to have lunch, and I also want to try some sticky mango rice somewhere!   As for sightseeing, currently the Airplane Graveyard, the Grand Palace, and Wat Arun are at the top of my list.  If there is time, I will also check out the Sathorn Unique Tower (which is an abandoned skyscraper you can climb) and the Contemporary Art Museum.  It is likely I will not have time for all of these things, but I will be sure to make the most of my experience!  On the morning of the 31st, I will be making my way to my next destination: Koh Phangan.

There is also a hilarious bar I found online called “Krystal Club Thonglor 25” where I wish to drink out of the crystal skull flasks that they have on their website.  Too funny.  Hunting for aesthetic things and having unforgettable memories is what I’m after (even if they are somewhat tacky)!

The next day (December 30th), I plan on waking up early and doing some running around the city.  The Totoro Cafe (May’s Garden House) is where I want to have lunch, and I also want to try some sticky mango rice somewhere!   As for sightseeing, currently the Airplane Graveyard, the Grand Palace, and Wat Arun are at the top of my list.  If there is time, I will also check out the Sathorn Unique Tower (which is an abandoned skyscraper you can climb) and the Contemporary Art Museum.  It is likely I will not have time for all of these things, but I will be sure to make the most of my experience!  On the morning of the 31st, I will be making my way to my next destination: Koh Phangan.

31st – 1st: Koh Phangan

Ah, the infamous full moon rave island!  As an avid partier, this is one place I cannot ignore.  I have read mixed reviews of these parties being overrated and overcrowded, but I’m from Tokyo so that is nothing new to me.  The biggest con of going here for NYE is most accommodations are overpriced, and the cheap hostels require a 4-5 night stay (which is too long for an island that is relatively small in my opinion), so I am just going to enjoy the party for the evening and take the first ferry back.

I am taking a bus from Bangkok booked from 12go Asia at 6am on December 31st, then taking a ferry to arrive at Koh Phangan around 4pm.  That will give me just enough time to get food, maybe go for a swim, and start barhopping.  The only thing I’m worried about is storing my luggage, but hopefully I will find a locker or will be able to bribe a hostel to let me store my suitcase there.

If you’ve watched the comedic Travels with My Father on Netflix, there is an episode where the son takes his father to Koh Phangan where his father stares at his son in disbelief as he dances (quite hilariously) through the drunk hoards of people and mingles with the locals.  After drinking out of a bucket of alcohol with his son, he then proceeds to read ‘Reporting on Hitler’ with noise-reducing headphones.

Your reaction to the full moon parties will either be one or the other from other blogs I’ve read (I’m hoping I can enjoy it as much as the son).  If not, I will perhaps nurse a cheap bottle of wine and try to camp on the beach, or just go swimming somewhere in Haad Beach until sunrise.  I am not very worried about staying out all night, because in Japan, Korea, and other European countries, parties go well on past 6am.  I am going to try my best to enjoy the time with the people I have around me, because that is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in life.

After ringing in the new year with random strangers who become my friends, I will take a ferry to Koh Samui (which looks more beautiful than this island) to start my new year!

January 1st – January 3rd: Koh Samui

Happy new year!  The first thing I’m doing when I get to my bungalow hut (hopefully it’s the pink one) in Koh Samui is sleeping.  This will be the day that I likely sleep the most, but as soon as I wake up I am going for a dip in Lamai Beach.  The location of my beach hut is ideal because I am very close to both Lamai and Silver Beach, that are two of the most beautiful in Koh Samui.  Afterwards, I wish to see the Grandfather’s Grandmother’s Rocks for hilarious photo opportunities, and maybe grab some Cafe 69 near the Bophut’s fisherman village for lunch to top it off (haha, puns)!

If I have energy, The Secret Buddha Garden and the Na Mueang Waterful look like wonderful destinations for the adventure-loving me.  If I can find a moonlit bar somewhere near the pier then that is likely where I will end my night, else I will just take a bottle of wine back to my hut and prepare for the next activity: The Pink Dolphin Tour.

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Image Credit: International Packages (I will hopefully have my own original images soon)!

When I realized pink dolphins were real, I knew I absolutely had to see them!!  Everyone in my life knows that I love things that are pink, aesthetic, and awesome, so this tour will be the ideal adventure for me.  I am so stoked to see these dolphins and go scuba diving near one of the islands where they live.  I am excited to travel to Koh Tan by speedboat to get some nice pictures of them and then enjoy some snorkeling.  What a way to kick off 2019!

Continuing this crazy quest, at 8:15 on January 3rd, I will be flying to Phuket for more shenanigans!

January 3rd – January 5th: Phuket

People tell me that Phuket is overrated and “polluted” with expats, but I don’t think that’s true at all.  I don’t mind going on tours with other people because I usually meet someone I enjoy talking with, and if not, I can just listen to my favorite music and stare at the aesthetic scenery so that makes me content.  Phuket has some amazing beaches.  I am staying at a hotel on the coast of Patong Beach because I am interested in experiencing the nightlife, but the southern beaches such as Karon and Yanui are very remote and perfect for those getaway vacations.  However, I am not trying to “getaway” in Phuket–I am staying in the central area because I want to experience the main attractions and nightlife.

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Image Credit: iStock

Upon arriving, I will first be exploring the Upside Down House, then going to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary to feed and hopefully take care of these precious animals.  I read online that they have been harmed by people riding them as a tourist attraction, and that going to this sanctuary is a good way to interact with them without hurting them.  I am excited to do things listed on the Afternoon Visit itinerary such as bathe and walk in the jungle with them!  I am not sure what to expect, but regardless, it looks like an amazing time!

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Image Credit: iStock

The next day (January 4th), I have 3 activities planned: The Tiger Kingdom, a tour to James Bond Island through Phuket Sail Tours during the sunset hours, and finally a dazzling night at the theme park Phuket Fantasea!  I am going to be absolutely exhausted by the end of the night, but I will get to experience so much wildlife and swim at so many beaches so I’m absolutely stoked for this!

On January 5th, I booked a tour to the Phi Phi Islands through Voyagin because it was fair-priced and included a lot of destinations that I wanted to see.  Although there are a lot of options available, I am most looking forward to exploring Viking Cave, swimming in Maya Bay, and witnessing the monkeys on Monkey Beach.  Regardless of if I am by myself, I already know that I’m going to have a great time!

At 7:20pm, I will be leaving and heading to Chiang Mai for the final, and perhaps most aesthetic part of this tour!

January 5th – January 7th: Chiang Mai

While I was in Vietnam, a bartender at the Unicorn Pub was telling me about a temple that had golden toilets.  For aesthetic purpose, I had to seek this temple out.  The name of this temple is Wat Rong Koon, and its intricate design is absolutely breathtaking:

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Image Credit: KKDay

I have booked the Package B Tour through KKDay and am so excited to learn more about it!  During this tour, I will be going to a hotspring, visiting this glistening temple, going to the Black House museum of architecture, and ending my trip by seeing the traditional lifestyle of the Chiang Rai Hilltribe village people.

At the end of the tour, I have requested to be dropped off directly at the Chiang Mai airport, and then will fly back to Bangkok to catch my overnight flight back to Tokyo.  I have put around 30+ hours of research into this trip and have booked all of my flights and tours about 2 months in advance, so I am absolutely thrilled to finally go to Thailand!

In the case of poor weather or flight delays, I am hoping I can quickly think on my feet and find alternative activities to do.  I love beaches, photography, night markets, and going to bars, so I expect to have the time of my life while I’m here.  I am excited to open my heart and mind to a brand new culture so I can continue to grow and connect with others.

Look forward to hearing from me soon!  I want to share my experience with everyone!