Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Koh Tao - Diver's Paradise

Koh Tao (Turtle Island) is a small, happy, little island in southern Thailand whose only dream in life is to provide a peaceful home for the people who like to explore its surrounding waters. This is a dream which Koh Tao is fulfilling beautifully! In the past two days I was able to explore some beautiful underwater cities during the day, and relax in our quiet beachside bungalow at night. Tara, unfortunately, got a bad case of seasickness on our boat trip from the mainland, and spent the first day recovering and avoiding the water! Today she was at least able to sit by the shore and read while I napped after my early morning dives.
Anyway, hope she's feeling better tomorrow because we're off on another boat to Koh Samui where we will spend the next 4 nights (including Christmas Eve and Christmas night).

Hope everyone is enjoying their holidays now!


Friday, December 19, 2008

Ringside at Muay Thai

A few notes from "The City of Angels" (known to non-Thai people as "Bangkok"):

Last night I had a ringside seat at a Muay Thai match (that's Thai kickboxing); literally close enough to be sprayed with the sweat of the boxers. From the starting some clarinet-like instrument begins playing and bongo drums are pounded, creating a heart-pounding atmosphere. The crowd is electrified with excitement, and cheers loudly with each landed blow; louder still for 3 successive hits. I was surprised to see that many of the boxers were only about 12 years old!
I did take some video of the event, but unfortunately I won't be able to upload my videos to the blog until I'm back in Canada.

Tom yum kung (spicy Thai soup) will burn a hole through you like the fires of hell.

There sure are a lot of lady boys here!

My internet time is up!


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Saigon - Siem Reap - Bangkok


I have been waiting for new pictures to make a post, but we have had trouble uploading pictures to the internet. Unfortunately still no pictures today, but I promise the AMAZING sights of Angkor Wat coming soon. Here is what we've done since the last entry:

After leaving Mui Ne in Vietnam we spent a few days in Saigon (which has been renamed Ho Chi Minh City after their famous communist leader). The city was dirty, noisy, and so full of motorcycles that you couldn't see the roads. We spent a few days there anyway because we met up with some other friendly people, but when we left we knew that we wouldn't miss Saigon.

We toured the CaoDai temple one day, which is a very interesting religion based in Vietnam. It is formed from many different religions, believing that all religions are formed of the same origin. Here are some images I pulled off the internet:
This is the temple that we visited.

Inside the temple the image of a single eyeball is everywhere, representing the all-seeing eye of God.

Inside we were able to observe the CaoDai people in prayer. At the back of the temple very atonal music was played and young women sang prayers as rows of these seated people sat quietly in prayer. The different coloured uniforms represent different religions.

Later on the same day we visited the CuChi tunnels, where Vietnamese (or "Viet Kong") guerilla soldiers escaped American bombing. There they had a firing range where one of our friends fired an AK-47 rifle.
I think the CaoDai temple and CuChi tunnels are close together so they were included on a single sightseeing tour, but it was an odd combination.

From Saigon we took a long tiring bus ride (about 14 hours including a few breaks) all the way to Siem Reap, the city closest to the famous Angkor Wat temples. I can't describe it, so you'll have to wait for the pictures.
I was pleasantly surprised to find AMAZING food in Cambodia - spicy coconut soups, curries, pumpkin puddings, and more. In fact, I think we had the BEST food that we've eaten so far on this trip, but sadly we were only in Cambodia for a few days.

Next we hopped another long bus ride to Bangkok. While Cambodia impressed me with its food, it proved to be hopeless in the bus department. We spent hours on a hot, cramped, old school bus with backpacks piled on every extra seat. After our lunch break we drove for about 1 minute before getting having to stop and have a flat tire replaced. The roads were dusty, bumpy, and awful, but at last we made it to the Thai border. Mercifully after passing through customs we were loaded into a spacious, comfortable, air-conditioned van on the Thai side, and transported for several hours more into Bangkok.

Despite what you may have read in the news, there doesn't seem to be any trouble here at the moment. There are many tourists, and people are going about business as usual.
"Business as usual" in Bangkok is a crazy 24-hour circus of intriguing characters. Should make for some fun in the next few days!


Sunday, November 30, 2008

Leaving Mui Ne?

It has been about 2 weeks since we came to Mui Ne, Vietnam. Twice we have have booked bus tickets to leave and twice we have canceled them because... why leave? It is beautiful here, the people are friendly, and the food is cheap and great, especially at "The Popular Restaurant".
There are two main businesses in this town: fish sauce and surfing sports.

The windsurfing is SO GOOD here that this man came all the way from Holland just to enjoy windsurfing in this spot while his friends back home endure the freezing rain and snow.

OH, and a special note for the Japanese readers: Wilco (pictured above) has NEVER heard of CASTELLA! Tara and I were shocked! Castella, the famous Dutch sponge cake of Nagasaki, in fact seems to be a JAPANESE sponge cake. We were SO surprised by this that we had to find other people from the Netherlands and ask them about castella, but in fact NONE OF THEM have EVER heard of castella cake!

The other big attraction in Mui Ne is this emerging desert. One day we hired a jeep and driver to take us to these sand dunes. They made for some fun pictures!

Tara decided to use the wide open spaces to practice ballet.

Of course I prefer soccer to ballet. This little boy was happy to have somebody to play with!

The coast stretches for many kilometres of beautiful beach. It's not very crowded, and as you can see here, windsurfing is very popular.

Or you can sit back and take a nap.

Tara on the balcony of one of the hotels we've stayed at in Mui Ne. The beach is right there behind the palm trees. This hotel is also conveniently located next to our favourite restaurant where a whole grilled fish is 50 000 Vietnamese Dong, or around $3 US. Mmmmm...
At this restaurant you may not always get exactly what you ordered, but the food is so good and cheap that we never care. One night we ordered lemon rum drinks, and thought that they tasted very different than usual. When we asked for the bill:
"4 rum and cokes... 80 000"
"Oh, but we ordered lemon rum... that should be 60 000."
"Yes, but we made rum and coke! 80 000."
I laughed and paid for the rum and cokes.

So, in summary, Mui Ne has been so enjoyable that we've kind of lost track of time. Tara and I have both taken some windsurfing lessons, wee have met a lot of nice people here, and we've been relaxing, enjoying great food, and mostly sunny weather. However, for the past few days the wind has died down, and the sun has been hiding, so it may be time to move on and see what fun the next town holds for us.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

From the Windy Coast

Hello from Mui Ne, Vietnam. We have been moving down the coast of Vietnam at a casual pace, enjoying the different activities and atmospheres of the little towns along the way. In Hoi An we made a visit to a tailor where we had suits and dresses made to our liking. We were able to pick out the design and material ourselves and the products look great for a very reasonable price.

In Nha Trang we got our first real taste of a beach town, and I took up diving as a new hobby. Nha Trang is crowded with backpackers, and there are plenty of restaurants and bars to keep them all satisfied at night. In fact there are so many restaurants competing for the backpacker business that the price of beer during "Happy Hour" went as low as 7000 Vietnamese Dong, or 42 cents (US), and restaurant staff walk around the city handing out flyers and trying to attract your business.

We're now in Mui Ne, a much smaller, quieter, coastal town with one main street... and that's it! In Mui Ne everyone's crazy about windsurfing or kitesurfing. On a good day the sky above the beach looks as though it's filled with a flock of seagulls. Tara and I both took a windsurfing lesson which resulted in some serious sunburns. The first couple hours were spent getting on and off the board, but we were eager to try again this morning. Unfortunately the wind was SO strong today that we opted for sitting by the beach instead - the wind and waves weren't very forgiving of beginners. If the wind is calmer tomorrow we'll have another chance to windsurf before taking the bus to the next stop: Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City as it's now known.

Pictures of tailored suits, scuba gear, and our picturesque spot in Mui Ne coming soon.


Sunday, November 02, 2008

3 Weeks in Review

2 days on a ship
2 days on a train
2 days sick in bed, and
2 days of rain...

But that only accounts for 12 days of the past 3 weeks, so let me fill you in on some of the other adventures since we left Japan. As some of you know, our departure was delayed by 1 week. We left Japan via Osaka port on the morning of October 10th.

The good ship Su Zhou Hao was our home for the next 2 nights. For the first day (travelling in between the islands of Japan) the water was very calm, and the ride was enjoyable. Unfortunately the second day was on open waters, and much rougher. Around 80% of the passengers - including Tara!- spent the second day feeling pretty sick.

But at last we arrived in Shanghai, safe and sound! The experience of arriving on a ship is really different than coming into an airport. Instead of flying over the city and landing in a vast, remote, parking lot we entered directly into the heart of Shanghai. In the background here is some of Shanghai's famous architecture.

Our friend Brahm met us at the port, and was infinitely helpful in getting us started in China. He taught us how to catch a taxi, and most importantly to ALWAYS COUNT YOUR MONEY when shopping! It seems that shop keepers in China have a habit of "accidentally" giving you less change than you should get. Anyway, thanks again, Brahm!

This is a view looking down inside one of Shanghai's tallest buildings. There is a LOT of construction ongoing in Shanghai, and bigger and stranger buildings are being built every day.

We spent a few days with Brahm and friends in the Shanghai area, but we weren't so thrilled with Shanghai city and decided to move on to Beijing. The train took 10 hours and cost less than $50. Beijing is packed with things for tourists to do, and we entertained ourselves there for several days. My 3 highlights were definitely: hiking on The Great Wall, eating Peking Duck, and watching an acrobatic performance.

Are we there yet?


We hiked for 10 km on an older stretch of the Great Wall. The scenery was breathtaking, as was the hike. I think Tara was a bit scared of the heights in some parts, but she was tough and kept going!
Naturally, I kept my cool.

We also spent a day wandering through Tianenman Square and the Forbidden City. These were interesting to see, but they didn't impress us nearly as much as the wall or the acrobats!

I have some good video footage of the performance which I will try to post on here soon. It will be easier than explaining the tricks they did. For now, take my word that these are some talented people!

From Beijing we caught a train down to Hanoi and we have been here for about 6 days now. Unfortunately it has been raining heavily for the past 2 days, and prior to that I was sick for 2 days (presumably food poisoning), so we haven't really done much here yet. But during the middle two days we visited the beautiful Ha Long Bay area, did some kayaking and enjoyed an afternoon on the beach. We enjoyed the beach so much that on Monday we will head down the coast of Vietnam in search of some sun and sand.

I hope you are all well.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Postcard from The Great Wall

Dear Friends,
I'm writing today from Beijing, and I'm having a GREAT time!

Highlight of the trip thus far: a 10 km hike on The Great Wall.
We were lucky enough to have perfect weather for our trek, and could fully enjoy the breathtaking scenery. Yesterday we spent the afternoon at the "Lama Temple" (associated with the Tibetan monks) - that's "Lama" as in Dalai Lama, not the woolly animals.
In the evening we watched a mesmerizing acrobatics performance. More photos and videos to come soon. I hope everyone is well.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008


We have made it to Shanghai for those who did not already know!
Above is a link to some pictures from the boat and our first day here.

Other than being sea sick for most of the 51 hour voyage, and getting scammed our first day in Shanghai, things are going good! Brahm has been pointing us in the right directions and giving us food and many many tips so mostly we have him to thank!
It seems to be the concensus that we will only stay here a few days before moving on to Hanoi....China is proving to be a bit more of a culture shock than we expected and we are both craving some relaxing beach time!

Anyways, check out the pictures and we will keep everyone posted on where we head next!

Love Tara

Friday, October 10, 2008


Well, it`s finally all happening. As many of you know the big travel plans have been delayed by one week, but now with our Chinese visas secured there`s nothing left to do but get on the slow boat to China tomorrow morning. How slow is a slow boat to China, you ask? Well, it takes approximately 50 hours!  

Last night in Japan
Two tired travellers get off the subway somewhere near Osaka port. They wander towards the area map hoping to find HOTEL A BEST marked there. Before the map can even be read a man comes up to offer help. He calls the hotel for them, he asks the station staff for directions, and he guides them to the correct street where he hails a taxi for them. Helpful beyond comparison right to the very end.
Thank you people of Japan.

And now from the clean comfort of Hotel A Best there`s nothing to do but wait for our ship to come in.  By the way, the last supper ended up being... a bento on the bullet train. Classic!


A message to everyone who has contributed to my life in Japan:




Friday, September 12, 2008

A la Mode

When Tara was approached in a bar by a group of fashion students one night, and invited to be a model in their school show she was excited at the opportunity, but had no idea what she had really agreed to. What initially sounded like an amature fun project turned out to be a fairly MAJOR event, as advertised on the website below (and all over Nagoya).


Upon entering the performance area it became obvious that this was no small time school show. In fact the venue was the same gymnasium where the national sumo tournament is held. A variety of design-related displays were scattered around the arena, and a small stage was brightly light in the middle.
We explored the booths for awhile before finding our seats for the show.

Tara appears!
She was easy to spot, being the only foreigner in the group of 6 models. The models circled the stage before chairs were brought on stage and they were seated to have their hair and make-up done.
Since this was a student group it was part of their project to perform under pressure.

They only had a few minutes to complete their work on the models - so this portion looked like the fashion show equivalent of an F1 pit stop.

This is Tara's patented "Yes, I'm aware that I look good, thank you."-look. Look out Zoolander!

The crew exited the stage, and the newly decorated models strutted their stuff.

"Good thing they gave me this fan, 'cause I'm damn hot!"

The crew rejoins the models on stage for a round of cheers and bows.

Off-stage a few lucky girls got their pictures taken with Tara before she was whisked off to the shower room.

Later we went home.
And that's the story of how I picked up a model at a fashion show.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Ok - I know I have been lazy lately with the blog, but its partly due to how busy we have been and partly due to my frustration with bloggers inability to actually POST anything I make. So here's hoping this one works!

We are down to only 2 months left in Japan, and this means Sayonara Parties, packing, good-byes, and last minute adventures we haven't gotten around to yet. In other word - Unimaginatively BUSY. So here are some of the recent goings on:

We have officially booked a hotel in Beijing, and found a friend to stay with in Shanghai. We have also booked out BOAT from Osaka to Shanghai, meaning that other than trains, the entire China portion of our trip is set! Yatta!!

We have cancelled out Hiroshima trip in mid-August but still have Mt. Fuji and a trip to Tokyo. The trip to Tokyo wasn't a plan until this weekend, when after buying my NEW CAMERA!!!!....I WON 2 tickets to Tokyo Disney...haha. So to Tokyo we will go!

At the end of August I am going to be in a Fashion Show (!!!!) in Nagoya, which is turning out to be a pretty big affair. With practices every weekend and a TV broadcast of the show I am thinking its a bigger deal than they originally led me to believe..!! I must say, the costuming is pretty wicked though!!! There will be video and pictures of this for sure!!

Anyways we will continue to keep everyone updated of our last months in Japan and I PROMISE there will be more pics then you can handle!! I was itching to try out my new camera so Ian and I went to the park today to experiment. Enjoy!!
Love Tara!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Golden Week in Kyushu Part 3: Hell and Burial

Here are a few more pictures from waaaaaay back on Spring Vacation, when we travelled to Kyushu. You last saw us hiking in the volcanic mountains after which we proceeded to Beppu, a town famous for its "hells" - natural hot springs that are too hot to swim in!

Due to naturally occuring minerals in the water these steaming hot ponds come in a really cool range of colours - vibrant blue, turquoise, milky white, or blood red. It's a very touristy place though and a lot of the 'hells' have been done up with cheesy and sometimes morally questionable side attractions (particularly one featuring a variety of animals in miserably insufficient habitats). But the 'hells' themselves are an interesting site to see.

To get around to all of the hells we joined a full-on Japanese tour group! We didn't understand much at all of the information but at least the guide took our (and all other members's) picture next to this sign which says "Sea Hell" - so named for its blue colour.

Of course every tourist town needs a mascott, and when your biggest attraction is "hell" the natural mascott choice is a giant red devil with a spiked club. This guy really isn't cute enough to impress the Japanese girls but I made friends with him handily.

Now there's a cute little devil!

I packed light for this trip, so it's a good thing this walk-in steam cleaner was available. It cleans your clothing as you pass by! Is there anything Japan can't do more efficiently than everyone else???

Then Tara got lost in the steam.
Actually I lied it doesn't clean your clothes, but the sign in the top left claims benefits for your throat. A popular local food is hell-steamed eggs. There are so many uses for steam!

Hands down the most wickedly misleading name of anywhere I've visited. Come on, who imagines a peaceful Japanese garden when they hear the name "BLOOD HELL!!!"

Hmm....let me guess... they've started growin people in an attempt to solve Japan's population problem?

Nope, they've just buried Ian. In hot sands! (Yes everything in this part of Japan is hot and spews steam from every crevice). This was a bit expensive I think (around $10 for 15 minutes), considering that you're paying to be buried in dirt, but I did it anyway for the sake of a unique experience.
After changing into another too-short-housecoat I laid down in the sand and was fully covered. The sensation is almost like being anesthetized as your body feels imobilized and you sense warmth pulse through you. It feels quite relaxing for about 8 minutes, and then you begin to sweat, it soon becomes unbearably hot.

Humorous anecdote: You had to take a number and wait your turn to be buried in this giant sandbox. After waiting for a good while and hearing numbers all around mine being called I went to the front desk to check if there had been a mistake. There had, and I caught them just in time because they had just begun the final burial of the day. Of course there were many apologies and I was rushed into an empty sandbox all by myself, which is why I appear in this picture as the most prominent pharaoh with my many disciples behind me for support in the next world... (BLOOD HELL???).

Anyway, that more or less wraps up our Spring vacation. After returning from that Meaghan joined our party for a few weeks, and I believe there are some entertaining pictures from our misadventures that I shall post on here soon.

Recently we've been making a lot of preparations for THE BIG TRIP which will commence OCTOBER 3RD when we depart from Japan. Other than that we've been doing a lot of sweating since it is hot as Blood Hell here right now.

I hope everyone is enjoying the summer!


Friday, July 11, 2008

Go Team!


(back, from left): Yoshiyasu, Mitsu, Ian, Kris, Yuuta, (front) Jarrad, Asakura, Miwa, Kouji, Balmore, Tara.

I may have mentioned that I started playing soccer (actually a mini version of soccer) earlier this year. We have been playing fairly regularly, and now have our own team uniforms!
Last weekend we rented the field for another practice session and fortunately it was NOT rained out (the previous week the field was flooded). Tara came out to show us up with her years of childhood soccer training. The un-uniformed guys just came out to practice with us, but our regular tournament squad is in red (Yoshiyasu is our goal keeper in blue).

Right... not much else to say here, just look at the picture and tell us how cool we look please.
Also, I have tried to add the remaining pictures from our spring vacation, but haven't been able to upload the pictures.

I hope everyone is well!

MORE Unlucky Strikes!

More football this past (very humid) Sunday night. We rented the field and practiced for next weekend's tournament. Unfortunately one of our star players, Kris, is going to be climbing Fuji-san next weekend. I hope Eriko can score a few goals for us!

(back) Oba, Miwa (front) Koji, Eriko, Ian

(back) Eriko, Mitsu, Piers, Kris, Ian, Miwa
(front) Koji, Asakura, Oba