Right. I apologise in advance for the exceeding hyperness of this blog. I'm not drunk I promise. I just frigging love this city. Also, I apologise for any grammatical or spelling errors - I am using a Japanese keyboard that has somehow been set to French, and my touch-typing skills are proving... cumbersome.
Anyway, I suppose I should start at the beginning, which is the city of fabled sin itself, Bangkok. It ended up being cheaper to book flights from London to Bangkok return, and then Bangkok to Tokyo return than doing it all in one, and Bangkok is one of those cities that you just have to see, even though at this present time Thailand isn't on the top of my hit-list. So I rolled off the plane at 7am Thai time on Sunday, after a pretty good flight (new Star Trek film on the entertainment system an obvious win, as was three seats entirely to myself to stretch over), queued up for immigration twice (the necessary form had been handed out to everyone else whilst I was comatose on the plane, I later discovered), and then encountered every flyers' worst nightmare..... no luggage.
Fortunately, in my backpack
I had all my valuables. Unfortunately, I had absolutely no change of clothing or any toiletries except my toothbrush. I was wearing baggy jeans and hiking boots. It was 30 degrees.
Luckily, I am a positive (pragmatic?) person, so after reporting the loss to the baggage handlers who (praise be to Thor) spoke English, I decided to set off and enjoy my day in Bangkok in defiance of the powers that be (TPTB) who so clearly wanted to ruin my fun.
Bangkok was quite a surprise actually. I expected it to be like Indian cities - loud, polluted, congested, dirty and most of all, full of hustlers. Well, it was loud, polluted and congested, but in the same way that London is, not Delhi. Also, NOT ONE SINGLE TIME in the entire 24 hours did someone ask me for money, try to sell me anything, or sexually harass me in any way. Clearly my super-awesome, mirrored GI aviators are doing the trick. Either that or my jeans had been so obviously ripped and mended so many times that I looked like I didn't have any money to give.
Bangkok is also surprisingly modern. I caught the bus into
An epilectic's nightmare
town and took a trip on the skyway - an elevated train ride through part of the city that looked weirdly like Canary Wharf - then wandered through the packed market alleys of Chinatown and chilled out at the Buddish temple of Wat Pho (4 storey high reclining gold Buddha). However, by this time I was literally dead on my feet, and decided to screw proper jetlag prevention proceedures and rent a scummy hotel room for three hours to pass out in. (Interesting titbit for you, fact-fans - if you fall asleep whilst writing in a journal, you start writing what you are dreaming. Somewhat unintelligably it's true, but nonetheless).
In the evening, feeling revived, if bedbug-bitten, I bit the bullet and headed it over to the Khao San Road. Now, to those of you who don't know, the Khao San Road is the original backpacker mecca, the place where every Westerner ends up on their first few nights in Thailand, the ultimate cliche, the street of sin, the sickness that infects us all, and the scourge of the self-respecting 'serious' backpacker world. (Can you tell I read Alex Garland when I was young and impressionable?)
you want to know a secret? I really liked it. Yes, it was a massive cliche, with its crowd of Essex boys and girls with dreaded hair and henna tattoos, but it was affectionately tacky, and a lot of fun. Getting a bit gentrified now though - Burger King, MacDonalds, even a frickin iphone store. I kid ye not. Not sure about the whole Thai bride thing though - many of the girls were exquisite looking, but scarily prepubescant to my eyes at least. Anyways, had a couple of beers with a girl from Bristol uni who I'd been on the plane with, caught the bus back to the airport, where the bag was still incommunicamdo, and spent a very very uncomfortable night curled up on the floor in a corner of the airport.
Spent the flight to Tokyo sleeping, unsurprisingly. Arrived there at 3pm Tuesday, and immediately got that jolt of absolute excitement which I'd been missing in Bangkok, and at the absence of which I'd been slightly worried. So efficient! And the woman on the baggage counter was lovely about my missing bag, and took me through customs herself, and the woman on the train ticket counter
The urban jungle
came out herself and showed me how to buy a ticket when she saw me in a corner digging out the LP to try and find the correct Japanese phrase. Indeed, that's one myth I can debunk straight away. The Japanese I have encountered thus far are the most friendly, helpful people I've ever met, and loads of them speak English. I know this is the capital, and thus likely to be more cosmopolitan, but even so. You only have to be looking at a map with a puzzled expression for about 30 seconds before someone comes to help you. On my first evening one woman walked entirely out of her way to TAKE me to my hostel.
So what with with baggage handling issues and the long train ride into town, I didn't get to my hostel and check in until after dark. (It gets dark really early here - about 6.30pm - not sure if they have daylight saving time?) Also, by this time, three days after I had left home, I pretty much just wanted a shower. I hope you'll understand if I say I didn't do very much that night except wander round Asakusa (the
Yes, they are men. Either Japanese women have very strange taste in blokes or there is a massive amount of repressed lesbians in Tokyo. I don't know which senario depresses me more...
district where I am staying) trying to find somewhere that sold shampoo and deoderant.
The next morning, however, I was up bright and early and ready to explore the city. My first stop was Akihabara - the geek town of Tokyo. Wandered round these crazy electronic stores that sold absolutely everything that you can plug into a wall, and also many things that you can't, and went manga hunting in the big comic shops. Now for those of you over the age of 30 back home, manga and anime are Japanese animation. Anime is video, and manga is comic books. They have a particular visual style that you might recognise from 'Pokemon', 'Yugi-oh' or 'Spirited Away'. With me? It's huuuuge in Japan. Anyway, indulging myself in this as one may, obviously the ultimate quest was to find the fabled manga porn whispered about across the world.
What I actually found was lesbian nurse anime DVDs. This possibly made my life complete, let's be honest. Wanted to bring some back home for you guys, but sadly it was about 20 quid.
From there, jaw still agape, I had my very first real Japanese sushi in my very first
Japanese sushi bar (yummy), headed over to the gardens of the Imperial Palace (kind of like a Japanese Central Park in the middle of the city) for a wander, saw the controversial shrine that commemorates (amongst others) the war criminals of the Second World War, and then caught the subway to Shibuya.
As I'm sure you can imagine, I was pretty tired by now, but Shibuya revived me. It was AMAZING. The intersection there is apparently the most photographed crossroads in the world - think Picadilly, then magnify by 30. When the lights turn green, the whole crossroads becomes a swarming mass of humanity, kind of like that scene in the Matrix when they're in the simulation with the woman in the red dress.... you know the one I mean. More than that the streets were filled, FILLED, with the young, the beautiful, and the apparently well off. All looking absolutely amazing with these completely off-the-wall clothes and hair, all of them in 7 inch stilettos. I even saw a guy in a leopard skin cape and a trilby. People watching heaven. I wandered around for hours, dazzled by the lights, the signs and the people. It was districts
Home of the young, the beautiful, and the completely crazy...
like this for which I had DECIDED this time around to bring NICE clothes and to not look like a complete scruff..... and what was I wearing? Baggy ripped jeans, a t-shirt which has definitely seen better days, and hiking boots. Not only that, but I had been wearing them for 4 days straight, in a temperature of 26 degrees. Oh, and I had my usual stinking cold from the plane, meaning I was trailing tissues like Gywneth at the Oscars. What a way to improve one's self confidence.
This morning I woke up at 11am. I haven't slept that late in months, but after days of interupted sleep and 12 hours on my feet yesterday, it probably shows I needed it. From ther, the day just kept getting better and better. First I rang the Thai baggage agency to find that my bag was due into Japan this evening, and that they would forward it onto my hotel (clean clothes tomorrow - serious whoos!) Oh, and that they'd found it in Heathrow (grumble grumble stupid bloody England grumble). Also my cold seemed to be much better, which I'm sure everyone in my hostel dorm will be profoundly grateful
The Cosplay Kids
Three of the more eccentric outfits. Wanted to take more photos but I didn't know if people would be offended!
for. I went and sucessfully got tickets for a sumo tournament for my last night in Japan, then headed over to Roppongi, a super modern district with these crazy all-inclusive 'life malls'.
The focus of the day though, was Shinjuko. I hung out in a Starbucks people watching the light couple of hours until nightfall (the only time to see it) and then headed over. Soho on LSD is about the only way I can describe it. It's the red light district and also the skyscraper central in Tokyo (I doubt it's a coincidence that the two are so close together somehow), and the resulting flashing lights, crazy costumes, and melting pot of peculiar 80s tunes would give an epilectic flashback episodes for decades. It was unbelievably awesome. There was a blow-up Obama doll the the entrance to one :ahem: 'companion house'; what looked like a gyrating pudsey bear in another.... I'd love to go out there sometime (aforementioned appearance plus lack of companionship at this particular point precluded the possibility this time around). As it was I gaped, walked around, and then just sat on a bench looking at the clothes. Unfortunately this led one massage parlour worker
From the river. Modern, no?
to think I was just screwing up my courage to enter, and thus asked me "what I was interested in". I, panicking and speaking in my usual eastern European broken English that I seem to do it foreign countries, replied: "No, no, not interesting in doing, just WATCHING". Then I realised that was possibly the worst thing I could have possibly said and fled the scene.
Now, should someone some distant day want to get me up the aisle, despite my convictions, all they would have to do is book me a table at the restaurant on the 45th floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Buildings in Tokyo, and take me there at night. I would be powerless to say no. This is where I headed after my little scene above - absolutely stunning 360 views of the city, lights stretching as far as the eye can see, and frankly, something I doubt I will ever forget. And believe it or not, it was actually free!
Tomorrow I am off temple gazing on a day-trip to Nikko, before I return to Tokyo for my very first night in a capsule hotel...
Photos are coming as soon as I
get my camera cord.
Bangkok - the airport. I do not recommend this.
Tokyo - Khaosan Tokyo Asakusa Annex. 2000Y a night for a bed in a mixed 10 person dorm. Includes free internet, laundry facilities, communal living room with DVDs etc, kitchen. The original Khaosan hostel is listed on the LP - the annex is new and therefore cheaper - have a look on their website for the up-to-date situation. Location is 5 mins from Asakusa station.
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