Cherry Blossoms in Japan!

We finally made it to Japan! Lexi and I visited with our family last Summer, and I’ve been looking forward to coming back for the cherry blossoms ever since my last visit. It’s world famous for being an amazing event, drawing tourists from around the globe. Well now I can say that it is definitely worth all of the publicity, the blossoms are absolutely gorgeous and I’m very glad that I put this on my trip!

We had the advantage of arriving into a city that we already knew, so getting everywhere is much simpler than in the rest of our trip. On our first day we went over to the museum of emerging technology here in Tokyo. It was fun to see the usual sorts of things in a science museum, but there was also a special exhibit on the history of video games and their development. It was so cool to see every console and handheld back as far as the Atari, and to see hundreds of people gathered around old arcade games and consoles playing famous classics.


The next day, we went to the Shinjuku-Gyoen park for our first cherry blossom viewing. The giant park was hosting thousands of people out taking photos of the blossoms and having days in the park with their families. The trees were beautiful, there were over a thousand trees scattered around and contributing to the magnificent event. We’ve visited a couple of parks now, and the everywhere people are taking photos and enjoying the gorgeous annual event.


再见 China!

Our time in China has finally come to a close! It’s been an amazing trip here, and even just the last couple of days have been full of new experiences and cool activities. We went to the famous Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the Olympic Park, the Temple of the Heavens park, the National Museum of China, and of course more delicious food.

Tiananmen Square was quite impressive, apparently the “largest city center square in the world.” The largest square goes to the Red Square in Russia, but over here they’ve got the largest city center square. Or so our guide said. There wasn’t a lot to see there actually, the square is surrounded by imposing government buildings and museums, and there is a large stone column in the middle. Apart from that, it’s just a massive empty square, and we couldn’t even find the spot of the famous tank man (unsurprisingly, there is no marker for it). We moved on pretty quickly to the Forbidden City, where we joined some 10,000 of our closest friends in pushing through the ancient buildings. The tourist site was absolutely packed, but that just made it even more similar to the scenes from Mulan! It was cool to see the famous site, but after seeing so many ancient Chinese buildings it actually wasn’t all that different. And we couldn’t go into any of the buildings or see anything up close, so it was really just cool for the history and not as much for what it is today.

After the Forbidden City, we went over to the Summer Palace which is today a very large park. Three quarters of the park are water, specifically a large man-made lake with an average depth of just 1.5 meters. The park is quite beautiful, however, and has many old structures with various bits of history and significance. We walked around for a while, then went on to get some pictures of the Bird’s Nest stadium at the Olympic Park and called it for the evening.

Then we had our last day in Beijing! We first went to see the Temple of the Heavens park, which was a beautiful public park full of locals playing games and dancing. We spent a few hours out, then said goodbye to my mother and aunt as they began a long journey back to the States, and we went to the National Museum to learn more about ancient China and see some beautiful ancient decorations and artworks. We finished out the trip with an amazing dinner where we got to watch the chefs prepare all of the food and we met other travelers in Beijing. Now I’m getting everything together for a trip to Tokyo tomorrow, and so I say goodbye China and I hope to see you again someday!


Terracotta Warriors and the Great Wall!

Between Xi’an and Beijing, it’s been an incredibly busy few days. As I finally get time to put all of it down into a post, it’s hard to narrow it all down! We’ve been to the Terracotta Warriors, a Han Dynasty tomb, a traditional Buddhist pagoda, an exhibit of ancient Chinese characters etched into stone, the Great Wall of China, and we rode a bullet train. A whole lot of activity throughout this remarkable country.

We left Guilin for the city of Xi’an and met up with a new tour guide for our next few days. She took us right away to an ancient Han dynasty tomb, where we learned about different burial rituals and saw some ancient clay dolls and burial pits. Apparently tombs are all over the city of Xi’an, and archaeologists are hesitant to dig them up for fear of ruining the contents of the tombs. This meant we couldn’t see the inside of the actual tomb, just the burial pits nearby.

The next day we went to the famous terracotta warriors, and they certainly lived up to all of my expectations. Thousands of warriors fill a massive hall around a group of burial pits, half of which still haven’t been dug up. The warriors used to have bright paints on them, but they faded within a week of exposure to the air, so archaeologists are leaving many of the warriors underground until they have a better way of preserving them. In addition to seeing the thousands of reassembled warriors in their pits, we also saw people working on reassembling and restoring other warriors from the shards in the pits, which was pretty cool. The warriors stand between 5’6 and 6’3, much larger than life considering they were made over 2100 years ago. Overall, it was absolutely incredible and it alone would be worth a trip to Xi’an.

Our last day in Xi’an, we said goodbye to our guide and left via bullet train for Beijing. As we left, the air pollution was so bad in Xi’an that we could see a gray haze everywhere we looked, and couldn’t see more than maybe 100 meters. It was unreal, I’ve never seen anything like it. I thought Beijing would be worse, but we lucked out and the air quality is better here than it’s been in weeks! We got to bed early on arrival, and got up early to go hike along the Great Wall! On our way there, we stopped by the restored section of the wall so we could see what it used to look like and see it covered in tourists. We continued our drive along the countryside and saw various ancient ruined sections of the wall, abandoned along mountaintops in the country. Thanks to fortuitously clean air, we could see for miles from the mountaintops we hiked along, seeing sweeping views of the mountainous Chinese countryside and the Great Wall extending out before us and behind us. It was an awesome experience.

We have a couple more days in Beijing to see the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, then we’re off to Japan!

(Also, I had always thought that Chinese people didn’t know about the protests in Tiananmen because of censorship, but I talked to my guide at length about it and apparently most people know and consider it an embarrassing part of their history. So I thought that was interesting.)


Trip to Guilin, Longsheng, and Yangshuo!

It’s been a busy few days since my mother and aunt joined us in China! We left Shanghai for Guilin and immediately started up north to the town of Longsheng to see some of the Chinese countryside. I had imagined that China was really all city, because Shanghai goes on for as far as the eye can see (which is, admittedly, not very far with the haze there) and there are many other famously giant cities in China. However, the countryside is expansive, gorgeous, and completely unique. Limestone pillars and hills rise up all around the roads to Longsheng from Guilin, and on arrival we walked around through some amazing terraced hills. The locals farm rice, chili peppers, and tobacco on the terraces, and it’s very cool to see them all down the mountainsides. Unfortunately I can’t include photos just yet, but a few years ago they were the subject of a National Geographic magazine (so you know they’re good).
We spent a day around Longsheng walking through the terraces and villages in the area. Afterwards, we made our way back to Guilin city to spend a couple of days there. We visited an old town market and wharf on the Li River, and visited a famous cave that was thoroughly developed for tourism. It had lots of really cool and interesting formations, but in some areas the cave was completely scraped clean of stalactites and stalagmites to form massive smooth caverns for tour groups to congregate in. So it was cool and interesting, but didn’t feel very “authentic”.
After Guilin, we took a long boat ride down the Li River to Yangshuo. The ride down the river was beautiful and provided another opportunity to see the gorgeous countryside and limestone formations. The river is constantly winding through massive pillars or mountains, and they go on for as far as you can see in any direction. When we arrived in Yangshuo we rented bikes and biked over to one famous formation in particular, Moon Hill. It’s an incredible limestone archway on top of a rather steep hill, so the approach was tough but very worth it. I can’t wait to be able to post photos again, because the arch and views from the top were pretty unreal.


First Days in China!

After a few days in China I’ve started to figure out how the internet work here enough to post a new entry to the blog. Sadly, WordPress seems to be slowed or partially blocked, so I can’t post with photos for a while (it also seems Flickr was blocked recently). I can still put up text entries though, so they’ll just have to do.Our first few days here were spent in Shanghai, which is a really cool city. I landed around 10:30 PM and thought the city was in a blackout, as everything except for the street lights was black from the sky. I recently learned, however, that the skyline lights just go out around 10PM. So there’s a beautiful skyline from 7-9ish, then things start to turn off, and by 10 the city is blacked out (not that there isn’t any power. People could turn on lights if they wanted to, but generally the skyscrapers are empty and dark).

The city is actually very nice, though perhaps a bit hazy. There are pedestrian streets full of shops and people, nice gardens, and a very pretty skyline. There’s a promenade along the river with a good view of the skyline, and it seems to be a popular wedding photo spot. We’ve seen probably 3-4 wedding couples taking pictures there every day.
China is taking some getting used to, as Google (and all of it’s services like YouTube) is blocked, Facebook is blocked (so Instagram is out too), Twitter is blocked, and the list goes on. It’s weird to have my internet traffic filtered and it definitely takes some adjustment. The climate is also very different up here than it was down in Thailand, Cambodia, and Singapore, though it’s nice to not be sweating every time I go outdoors. Overall it’s a very new place, and I still have plenty of time left here to see what it’s like!



More of Singapore!

We’ve spent a few more days in Singapore, and the city is really amazing. Apart from being terribly hot everyday, it’s an incredible place. The subway system is pervasive (and air conditioned), the giant malls are fun to walk around (and they’re air conditioned), and I haven’t felt unsafe anywhere I’ve been.


In an area with 50-60 bikes, the city was surprised enough by a single theft to put up this sign. And they solved the single theft.

Singapore doesn’t have many big landmarks or attractions to come and see, so there hasn’t been any pressure to hurry over to anything or go to any must-see attractions. Over the past few days I’ve been to Orchard Rd, a street lined with malls that range from four floors underground to six floors above ground, span entire city blocks, and are mostly interconnected underground (meaning you can walk through the city without ever going out into the heat). It’s unlike anything I’ve seen before. There are certainly malls elsewhere, but nothing quite like the interconnected super-malls of Orchard Rd.

Other than giant malls, I’ve been to various parks and gardens around the city. Singapore is apparently known for its orchids, and the orchid exhibit at the botanical garden was quite beautiful. I’ve also come to see the climate of Singapore is pretty painful. The heat is brutal (being basically on the equator), and it seems to occasionally spontaneously erupt into fantastic downpours. This can make visiting things like outdoor gardens a bit frustrating, but still very worth it for all they have to offer.

Apart from gardens and giant malls, we’ve also visited a temple with Buddha relics (a giant tooth that apparently belonged to a buddha at some time), a concert hall (with a free clarinet and piano performance), and a war memorial.

Lexi and I also got around to visiting a climbing gym here. We went to the largest gym in Singapore, and it was a lot of fun! Other climbers were very nice, the bouldering wall was fun, and it was good to finally get back to exercising something other than my legs after about a week of just walking endlessly.



Goodbye Thailand, Hello Singapore!

Today was our second day in Singapore (though our first day was a travel day, so it hardly counts), and so far this city is amazing. It’s clean, beautiful, expansive public transportation, a great skyline and coast, and there’s English everywhere. What more could I ask for?

The first big thing we’ve done so far in this city was visit the Gardens by the Bay. It’s a large public park by the water that includes a handful of free gardens, a skybridge through some fake trees with various plants coating their sides (see below), and two indoor gardens. Everything was beautiful and the indoor gardens were air conditioned (which was amazing, air conditioning is so nice when you’re in a city that’s basically on the equator).


After the gardens, we walked around by the water and over to the Marina Barrage, which was a wall separating the sea from a reservoir and had a park built on top of it. We walked around the area, got Indian food nearby, and waited around for sunset. There is a light show in the gardens at 7:45 every night, so we went over and sat around waiting for the event. It was actually a fun show, basically it’s just 15 minutes of Broadway music with lots of the fake trees lighting up in time. So it was strange, but fun.

Overall the city is looking incredible so far, and we have a few more days to get to know it better and explore!


Bioluminescent Plankton and (Surprise) More Climbing!

Thailand continues to surprise us with more to see and more to do, even when we’re only staying in the Southern side of the country! Today we went back to Railay and Tonsai to climb again, meeting up with our friend on the island and setting out around 10:30. We got to our first wall, but it was packed with guides and the tide wasn’t in our favor. We moved on to Phra Nang beach and looked at some walls, and met a traveling Frenchman who was looking for climbing partners. He joined up with us for the day and showed us to some climbing areas he’d been wanting to visit.

We ended up having a great day of climbing, visiting new walls, climbing different styles, and generally seeing some beautiful overlooks from the tops of the climbs we checked out. It might be our last day climbing in Thailand, and it has been a ton of fun so far! I’m definitely glad that we came out here to try it out.

We climbed until sunset, and then went back to return our gear in Tonsai. Then we quickly crossed the entire island and went back into Phra Nang cave to disturb the dark waters off the coast of Railay. We were rewarded for our decision to wade and trip our ways back through Phra Nang, as we saw little blue sparkles in the dark water that was crashing into the stone below us. We climbed down, turned off our flashlights, and waded out into the water. It was a pretty amazing experience to see all of the little blue lights pop up as we moved around through the water. We played around with the plankton for a few minutes, and then hurried back to Railay to catch a boat back.