After eating hotpot out of a toilet bowl, I decided to spend my first night of the new year in Taipei stopping by the local temples and shrines like the natives do. In Japan there is the tradition of hatsumode (初詣), which is the first trip to a Shinto or Buddhist shrine on January 1st. I asked my Japanese friends what they normally wish for, and they said they usually wish for necessary things like good health, success in their career, and happiness in life. I am fortunate to have all of these things, so I usually wish for more adventures and exciting encounters. Essentially, I wish to never grow bored or complacent in life. I want to keep exploring the world and advancing at a steady place. Though I will admit, a little love would be nice too!
The majority of Taiwan residents observe the Chinese New Year which occurs later in the month (this year it starts on January 5th, 2020). However, I noticed there were a lot of people here that still visited to the shrines in order to pay their respects. I have mentioned before here that I am not particularly a religious person; I believe we are all our own gods and what we perceive the world as is our customs or religion. Despite this, I enjoy visiting temples and shrines all over Asia. You get a sense of peace and clarity from being outside a temple versus crammed in a western church. I enjoy seeing the intricate architecture and learning about the culture as well. That is why you will see me at a lot of shrines despite me being an atheist–I enjoy immersing myself in culture as much as possible. And in order to fully grasp a culture, you must start at its origin.
Songshan Ciyou Temple
Songshan Ciyou Temple was by far my favorite temple in central Taipei. I loved how the lighting captured the beautiful illustrations on the temple walls at night, and there were multiple floors that you could climb and see different deities. The temple is dedicated to Mazu who is the goddess of the sea despite it being located near the heart of the city. Many people pray for her divine protection and it is a great place to witness Taiwanese tradition:
I loved the unique carvings of the pillars and the beautiful gold statues inside. I was really overcome with awe since this was my first time ever exploring a temple in Taiwan. The temple even had a tiny mascot! It felt a lot like exploring a temple in Japan, but it had a slightly different atmosphere. I spent quite a long time here soaking in the culture and trying to read what I could about its history. It really is an amazing place to see!
Conveniently located next to this temple is the Raohe Street Market. This is a great first street market experience as well because it is one of the biggest in Taipei! I found a lot of interesting foods there like stinky tofu fries, dinosaur hamburgers, fried squid with mayonnaise… the list goes on and on. I have been to a number of night markets in Asia already, but I like seeing the unique foods and characteristics each one has!
Confucius Temple was the 2nd temple I visited during my stay in Taipei. I came here during the morning of January 2nd and was surprised to see people dancing and doing yoga here! It reminded me a lot of what I had seen in Vietnam actually. This temple had a more open feel than others that I have been to in Asia and is really worth visiting.
As many people know, Confucius was one of the most influential teachers in Chinese philosophy. I took a number of Asian studies classes in university and actually agree with some of his theories; such as we should make education widely available and cultivate ourselves. The quote: “If you want to change the world, first change yourself” is a good example of Confucian theory. I try to practice this when I travel abroad so I can improve my life and [ideally] the lives of others. I believe that change is something that usually comes with dedication and time much like the ancient sage does.
The most interesting part of this temple is there is actual a chariot driving simulation game you can play in one of the chambers! This is the first time I had ever seen anything like this at a religious ground, and I fully support the use of interactive technology:
Dalongdong Baoan Temple
Right next to the Confucius Temple is the Taiwanese folk religion temple Dalongdong Baoan. It is dedicated to the Taoist saint Baosheng Dadi who sadly I do not know much about. However, I loved the aesthetic of the temple. It had an outdoor garden and a beautiful dragon statue that spits water into a pond full of koi fish:
Right around the corner is street lined with palm trees, lanterns, and tiny shops. Even in January this town had an extremely tropical vibe to it that made me happy to be here! I will be writing more about Taiwanese culture in my future posts. Please look forward to reading them.
After spending the whole week of Christmas partying in Tokyo (I saw Trekkie Trax perform 3 times and also met Mall Grab who was on tour from London), I took the first flight to Taipei on new year’s day to begin my aesthetic adventures in Taiwan! I spent January 1st – January 9th exploring the country from top to bottom; climbing mountains, clubbing with friends, and trying the most interesting food I could find… Which lead me to this famous toilet restaurant chain in Taiwan and many other amazing things that I’m excited to write about!
Why travel out of Japan after New Year’s Eve?
Since most companies in Japan start their holiday on the last Friday of December (which was the 27th this year), it is actually cheaper to fly during the first week of the new year. I bought my roundtrip ticket through Scoot airlines for $250. Because I had been out drinking all night at Japan’s largest club, ageHa, I went to the wrong terminal twice but fortunately found my way there after some time. The airport employees were giving out free sake shots in the departure lobby to celebrate the beginning of the new year. Ironically the person that handed me one had also traveled to Michigan (my quaint hometown) and spoke almost fluent English. Already this year was off to a crazy start!
Though Tokyo is an awesome destination for partying during or before New Year’s Eve, usually the first 2 weeks of January are pretty quiet. Most of my Japanese friends go to their hometowns to spend time with family during the new year’s holiday, so my timing with this trip was perfect. I had the chance to experience a lot of inspiring music events and also say goodbye to everyone I care about before I departed. This left me in a good state of mind for the things that were yet to come. Taiwan is not affected by the new year because most people observe the Chinese New Year (later in January). My friend informed me not to come here during this time because most things will be closed.
Waking up in Taipei
After my 4 hour flight, I awoke in Taipei with only a mild hangover. The first thing I noticed was how much warmer it was here than in Tokyo (I only needed a light jacket as opposed to a winter coat). I also realized that although I don’t know any Mandarin Chinese (which is widely spoken here), I could still recognize a lot of the characters and figure out what certain places were from my kanji studies. There is a lot of English support around the city as well. The metro is easy to use (you can purchase a refillable card or single trip tokens), and it honestly feels a lot like Tokyo with less crowds and annoying tourists. I felt relaxed during most of my trip which is rare for me (usually I am always in a rush or on the go).
Eating Hotpot out of a Toilet Bowl
As per tradition, I always dine at the most meme-worthy restaurants my first night in any new country I visit (take the Unicorn Cafe in Thailand, for example). Taiwan is no exception, so I decided to try the Modern Toilet Restaurant near Ximen Station. Ximen is near the main Taipei Station and has a ton of trendy shops, claw machine games, tea shops, and delicious street food so I recommend checking it out. It was the perfect first destination for me.
Promising “Crappy Food” and “Shitty Service”, the Modern Toilet did not disappoint:
It’s amazing how popular this restaurant is between tourist and locals alike. With the lively atmosphere, toilet bowl seats, and hilariously themed menu items that you can share with your friends, I can see exactly why it is. I had to wait 10 minutes to get in, but the staff were extremely friendly and accommodating (despite advertising shitty service). Most of the dishes they have on the menu are hotpot, but there are a number of à la carte and dessert menu items as well. I settled with the vegetarian hotpot and the chocolate shaved ice.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the hotpot since I’ve had some of the best nabe in Fukuoka, Japan, and this simply couldn’t compare. The ingredients were fresh and service was good but the taste just wasn’t as delicious as how they make it in Japan (and other Asian countries). I was informed by my native Taiwan friends that this isn’t the first place you should try hotpot, but it is worth coming here for the experience.
The shaved ice, on the other hand, was beyond delicious. They topped it with condensed milk, Oreos, marshmallows, cornflakes, and a scoop of chocolate ice cream so I actually enjoyed this more than Japan’s shaved ice (which is just ice with a light flavored syrup). For a themed restaurant, the portion sizes were quite large and affordable so I would recommend coming here for the humor and meme factor. I’ve seen poop-shaped food in other countries, but eating out of a toilet bowl takes it to a whole different level.
Looking for more stinky food?
If you haven’t yet gotten your fill yet, hop on over to the nearby night market and try some stinky tofu! It really isn’t that bad considering you just ate hot pot and chocolate ice cream out of a toilet bowl. I promise.
Look forward to the rest of my Taiwan article series and have a happy new year!
After kicking off the New Year on a junk boat in Hong Kong, my crew and I decided to sail to Macau and spend the first day of 2018 in an incredible new place we had never been before. Macau is a unique country because it has a mix of Chinese and Portuguese culture, and the island has both fancy gold casinos and traditional temples attracting a lot of different travelers. It truly feels like an adventure when you ride past a concrete capitalist jungle resembling the Vegas Strip and into the heart of the city where historic ruins lay waiting to be discovered.
Traveling to Macau from Hong Kong is very easy, all you need to do is get off at Shueng Wan Station and catch a ferry that runs every 15 minutes for $25. The boat ride is only an hour long and is very pleasant. There is also an international airport on the island. When we arrived, we decided to hire a taxi for 4 hours and split the price between the three of us rather than use a bus. I can’t remember the exact price as I was a new traveler, but I remember it wasn’t that expensive and was overall worth it for the convenience.
The two images above demonstrate the stark contrast of architecture in Macau. From gold-tiled casinos to traditional temples, there is no shortage of exciting things to see here. We first stopped at the Colosseum at the Fisherman’s Wharf, which is very similar to hotels in Las Vegas! You can walk through the Colosseum and also go to the nearby casinos if you are interested. This is an obvious tourist trap, but I was on one of my first international trips so I’ll admit that I was impressed.
Next we drove to the Ruins of St. Paul’s, which is actually a replica of the real church but looks completely real! Next we wandered to the nearby Monte Fort and hiked to the very top. You can see a beautiful view of Macau’s skyline and also take pictures of the canons that were used to protect it. After that we were in the mood for food so we walked down to the market and I ordered some really interesting ramen noodles with fish balls. They were surprisingly sweet and delicious!
You can walk from this area to Portuguese Street and spend hours seeing the shops and parks nearby! We did a mix of activities including lighting incense at a temple, trying free samples at the food stalls, then looping around this area until dusk because there was so much to see. On our last stop, we went to Macau Tower where you can go bungee jumping and skywalking! This tower holds the Guinness World Record for “Highest Commercial Bungy Jump” in the world. Unfortunately since it was New Year’s Day there was a long wait for bungee jumping, so we did skywalking instead (Luke would be proud).
Though it wasn’t bungee jumping, it was actually quite the thrill! Our guide spoke perfect English and made sure everyone was comfortable before we started walking the perimeter of the tower. She would instruct us to try different movements and took photos of us while we enjoyed the beautiful skyline and the sensation of being 731.6 ft in the air. Though it was only for a few minutes, it felt like forever and was a really neat experience.
By the time we finished, it was night time so we decided to head back to Hong Kong from the port! You can see Macau in a day if you make use of the buses or a taxi, but I recommend staying for a few days if you can. I had a lot more fun here than in Vegas in comparison, and my money went a long way.
I never thought I’d be sailing through the Kowloon district of Hong Kong at midnight on a rickety junk boat with my former housemate and his girlfriend, but this was yet another exotic adventure I had somehow stumbled into! At this time in my life, I had lived in Japan for 2 years and intended to stay there forever. I had seen most of the major islands and cities in Japan, so my good friend Li Bai, who I originally met in a Tokyo sharehouse, invited my to come to Hong Kong for something new. He had lived in Tokyo for 3 months and China for about a year, and said Hong Kong was one of the craziest places he had ever been to. I took his word, but I still was a little nervous back then!
Now I would leap at an opportunity to go to a new country, but initially I had mixed feelings about traveling outside of Japan. This was mainly because I was so comfortable with my daily life in Tokyo and didn’t want to leave, plus I wasn’t sure if I could navigate in another foreign country without knowing its native tongue. It actually took a lot of convincing on Li Bai’s end, but he assured me if I loved Tokyo I would enjoy Hong Kong and all it had to offer. After some time I decided this would be the best opportunity to see Hong Kong since both of my friends spoke Chinese and could guide me get around. It was also the chance to see a whole new country and learn about its culture with people I was close with, so in retrospect I’m quite glad I took the opportunity.
I stayed in Hong Kong for a total of 4 days in a cheap hostel in Kowloon called Rainbow Lodge HK. Li Bai recommend staying in Kowloon Town because it has a lot of history, and it is cheaper than the newer luxurious parts of the city. Formerly called “The City of Anarchy”, Kowloon was known as walled city that was home to many imperial soldiers during the Sung Dynasty. The city had a culture of its own as it refused to be colonized and was once one of the most densely populated areas of the world. Though it was infamous for crime back in the day, now it is fully safe and historic.
Like Tokyo, Hong Kong is a bright and vivid city with a lot of neon lights, street vendors, and shopping. The train system is very cohesive and you can get around the island with ease. The biggest difference I noticed was Hong Kong was a lot more westernized; English was widely spoken and manners were a lot looser. At the night markets you could barter to get lower prices which I did with the help of my Chinese-speaking friends. This is concept is actually common in Asian countries, but not in Japan. I also really enjoyed the warm weather. Tokyo and Korea are much colder in the winter, so I felt like I was in the tropics the whole time I was here.
One interesting point I noticed is that people often lay down cardboard boxes in the street and have little picnics in them! I think it’s a very clever idea because it easily brings people together:
The streets of Hong Kong are really fun to wander because they are super condensed and beautiful murals are everywhere to be found. I arrived before my friends, so I took to opportunity to explore the city on foot. I saw a lot of unique murals and architecture, as well as graffiti. My favorite was a green Slime from Dragon Quest was some kind of insignia on its forehead, not to mention the mysterious door with eyes. The polar bear butt sculpture near my hostel was extremely charming too.
My friends from China arrived around 8pm and that’s when the party finally started! It felt so good to catch up with them because it had been over a year since we last had seen one another. We first barhopped around Kowloon and found a Mexican place with giant mixed drinks and tequila which we feasted on after the long flight. We also bought a bottle of wine and drank on the streets while walking to the Victoria harbor. Honestly, we got along so well like no time had passed at all!
Around 11pm we boarded a traditional Chinese ship with a vivid sail called a junkboat. Junkboats resemble pirate ships and were used to transport cargo back in the day (not actual junk). We booked the NYE fireworks tour through Aqua Luna online, and it included an all you can eat buffet and an hour of smooth sailing around the harbor. Though it was somewhat of a tourist activity, it was extremely fun! This was honestly one of the most enjoyable NYEs of my life because I had made it all the way here to Hong Kong, a place I never thought I’d travel to in my life. I’ll never forget the incredible neon hue the sky turned once the clock stuck midnight!
At the end of the little sailing expedition, we were all tired so we decided to turn in for the night. But this was just the first day! The next day we decided to sail to another exciting place! Look forward to the next blog of my Hong Kong series: Setting Sail for Macau.
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.
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).
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:
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:
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.
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.
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!
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:
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!