Small in Japan

Instead of “Big in Japan” like the 1984 song goes by Alphaville, I felt rather small in Japan because of  the enormous city Japan’s capital Tokyo is. This was my end point of my summer Asia trip that I started in Mandalay Myanmar.

Why did I just visited Tokyo ?
Because my time was up and so was my budget for the summer.
Tokyo was great place to end my trip and if ever I go back to Japan to visit some other places I will stay in Tokyo again for a few days cause I really liked walking around over there which hasn’t been the case with every city I’ve been to (Manila).

I’m pretty satisfied about the things that I covered in 3 days of my visit.

First things first

I landed at Narita airport which is about 1 hour away from Central Tokyo and the best way is to take the metroline or train, It’s also affordable to take the bus and once you in the centre of Tokyo to just continue by metroline to your final destination within Tokyo.
However next time I visit Tokyo I will fly to the airport that’s much closer to the city which is Haneda airport. The day I had to leave Tokyo when my vacation came to an end, I took the metro to the airport, it was 1 hour ride during rush hour, I was packed like a sardine in the metro car and this for about 45 minutes. I got to experience what the locals experience everyday when going home from their daily jobs.
I’ve been many times in fully packed metro cars in Brussels aswell but this time it was in Japan and how though it’s similar it’s different. Japanese people are more quit, have discipline not to push and everybody is occupied with something, mostly with their cellphones playing these advanced games or reading stuff all in their own little world.

Anyhow taking the metro or tube as some call it, can take you anywhere in the city. Once you got it all figured out how to get around it becomes easy. So that’s what I did, I got myself a “Suica” card which allows you to use all the metrolines, as not all the lines belong to the same company. Also it allows you to pay with it in shops if you go buy a snack or a pepsi for example. Also vending machine accept Suica cards. You put money on the Suica cards by going to a Suica card machine at the stations and you put the card on the machine, you insert cash money and then that amount loads into your card and you ready to use it.

I stayed in a hostel in Asakusa, a part of town in Tokyo where there are a lot of little restaurants and shops and easy to walk from here to Akihabara which to me was the place I wanted to be in Tokyo. The Anime and Game industry’s main spot in Tokyo.
I didn’t watch as much anime as I watched Disney cartoons for example but I did watch Dragon Ball Z sometimes and as for the game industry, I owned more than one Sega console when I was a kid in the 90ies, when it was all between Sega and Nintendo, when playstation still had to be invented. I had a Sega master system 2 and a Mega Drive 2, of which the last one was released in the US as the Sega Genesis.
In Europe and Japan the console was called the Mega drive.
Sega was in some countries in Europe more popular than Nintendo and some of their consoles and games where ahead of time. I also like Nintendo because I had a game boy, which was the first popular portable gaming device that you could take anywhere with you, the games where on a green screen, no other color but green as for Sega in those days they had the Game Gear which was also a portable device only bigger, bit more heavy but the games where all in color; as I said Sega was ahead in most things they put out on the market but that came with a higher cost so most people chose the Game boy.
However Sega will always be my favorite console, the first time I got into video games playing with characters that became later iconic and world famous. Offcourse I’m talking about Sonic the Hedgehog and Tails the fox.

Akihabara

one of the many Sega stores

Selfie with the Sega brand sign

Sonic the Hedgehog

Dragon Ball Z Son Goku

I like that in Akihabara you have these Sega stores where you can still find these retro games for these retro consoles from the 90ies and that smaller versions of these consoles and replicas of the original once are still for sale. Very rare games can still be found, so I felt like a kid in a candy store when I saw all these nostalgic games back, I found even games that I once use to own. Enough about games and Sega, there is more than that in Tokyo.

Just like in Seoul South Korea there are some Temples and Palaces that you can visit in Tokyo such as the Zojoji Temple, the Imperial Palace and the Sensoji Temple which is Tokyo’s oldest temple. This Buddhist temple goes back to the 7th century and is one of the most visited temples in Japan.
There are also towers in Tokyo from where you can have a nice view over the city such as the Tokyo Tower which is close to the Zojoji Temple or the Sky Tower which stands out and can be seen from different parts in the city as it’s so high in the sky. Well I guess they don’t call it for nothing the sky Tower. This is why with all these big buildings I felt rather small in Japan than big lol.

The Tokyo Tower with the Zojoji Temple in front

The Imperial Palace

The Sensoji Temple

The Sensoji Pagoda

Sensoji Temple

Japanese rituals at the Temples

The Shibuya crossing is the famous pedestrian crossing that I have seen many times in tv commercials or programs about Japan , it’s a scrambled pedestrian crossing on an intersection close to Shibuya station. It’s fun the cross the intersection by crossing in the middle of the road taking the central crossing between the 3 other crossings or to watch it from above while people are doing it. you can go to the 7th floor of the Magnet building and have a great view from above. I did it during the daytime but you can also come here at night. It’s a better view here than from the Starbucks. Also in the Starbucks it can be sometimes to crowded, while on the rooftop of the Magnet building it never gets to crowded cause you are only allowed to be there for about 15 minutes, but that’s enough to take your photos and enjoy the view of people crossing the street a few times.

Shibuya crossing

View from the Magnet building

Shibuya crossing

Another place I walked to was Ryogoku, where the Sumo wrestling arena stands.
Along the streets there where some small statues of Sumo wrestlers.
There was no wrestling going on unfortunately, but I did got to see a small museum with attributes that are being used in this Japanese sport.

Wrestling arena in Ryogoku

Statue of Sumo wrestler

Statue of Sumo wrestler

Many things to see in Tokyo alone, so 3 days was not enough but I’m satisfied with the places I’ve been to and it’s a place to definitely come back to.

 

 

Seoul is Cool !

Seoul the capital of South Korea is a rising destination among tourists and backpackers. This city is a place where I felt like I knew the place even though I never been here before. It felt like at home right away and as a city it’s really easy to explore.
The best thing is to get a metro card so you can get around the city more easy.

It’s a very big city and my longest metro ride was about 30 minutes from Insadong where my hostel was to Gangnam. The Han River splits the city in two but with the metro you can get everywhere very fast.

Gangnam Seoul, big South Korean flag

Huge billboards

one of the smaller side streets, full with shops, karaoke bars and restaurants

One of the places that I visited was Gangnam and just like in the famous song of Psy “Gangnam style” it has its own style. People are dressed up differently than in the rest of the city, you see the rich with their big sports cars, the billboards and fancy shops. It was nice to wander around a bit but other than that it’s nothing special, so I didn’t stay to long and took the next metroline towards one of the nicest temple complexes of Seoul the Bonguensa temple.

Buddha statue at Bonguensa Temple

Bonguensa Temple Complex

Daewoong-Jeon Main Buddha Hall with Swastika

Close to my hostel in Insadong, about 5 minutes walk stands the big Gyeongbokgung Palace which is a 14th Century Royal Palace of the Joseon Dynasty.
The Gwanghwamun is the impressive main gate and in front of it you have the Gwangwhamun square with statues of Admiral Yi Sun-Sin and of King Sejong on his throne.

Gwanghwamun gate

King Sejong on his throne

Admiral Yi Sun-Sin statue

Locals wearing traditional clothes looking at the Gyeonghoeru Pavilion

Here I am with a local, him in traditional clothes and me casual in front of the  Heungnyemun gate

Korean girls dressed up in traditional clothes taking pictures for their instagram

The Palace is the largest one in Korea and inside the Gyeongbokgung complex, there are 2 museums, the National Palace Museum of Korea and the National Folk Museum.
Next to it stands the five-story big Pagoda that you can see from a far distance when entering the temple.
Another impressive gate within the complex is the 2nd gate or the Heungnyemun gate, I found some locals who were dressed up in traditional clothes to have a picture together before that gate. The locals really like to dress up in traditional clothes when visiting their temples and some tourists like to do the same and therefore hire these traditional costumes in nearby shops to make themselves look nice in pictures I guess.
I respect the Korean culture and I think Koreans look better in their traditional clothes than Westerners do.

Entrance of National Folk Museum of Korea

Inside the museum

Korean style

In the museum you can see the different Korean costumes that exists in the country. Every region has its own style

Gyeongbokgung Pagoda

Other places to check out in Seoul

Bukchon Hanok Village

This place in Seoul shows how Korean villages looked about hundred years ago, narrow streets with traditional Korean houses known as Hanok. There are signs in the streets but also at doors and gates of the houses to ask the visiting tourists to be silent not to disturb the people who live here.

 

silence please

exploring the narrow streets in Bukchon Hanok

one of the many narrow streets

Typical Korean Hanok village house

 

The Seoul Olympic Park

The Olympic games in Seoul go back already to 1988, but Seoul would be a great city to host the Olympics again if you ask me.
The World Peace gate is the most stunning gate of the Olympic games, very colorful with underneath it the eternal olympic flame.
I walked around at the Flagpole plaza and the olympic park who still has about 6 stadions of the 1988 games. Some remarkable monument was the giant thumb.

 

Seoul 1988 Olympic Park

World Peace Gate

me with the Olympic rings

thumb monument

Olympic gymnastics arena

Flagpole Plaza

Olympic Park pound with Seoul skyline

 

Changdeokgung Palace

This was the residence of the Royal family back in the 17th Century and it’s got a secret garden that you can visit for additional charge, as this is not included in the ticket price for the Palace. The garden is accessible at fixed hours, that’s the reason why I didn’t go.
I wandered around in the Palace complex and there was enough for my eyes to stare at, like for example the Injeongjeon Hall.

 

Main Gate of the Changdeokgung Palace

Injeongjeon Hall

Korean family picture

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manila a traffic nightmare

Manila is a crazy place, not my favorite city and just like Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi, traffic is killing this city and pollution almost killed me. There were moments I had a hard time breathing when walking on a bridge, with traffic going in both ways. Where as in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh city you still see traffic moving, in Manila at many places it’s just a stand still situation.
My decision to come to the Philippines and to stop in the capital was just to tick off another country in Asia on my Asian trip. I was in Brunei and wanted to fly to Seoul in South Korea but I saw that it would be a lot cheaper if I would fly to Manila first and fly from there to Seoul. So I might as well stay 2 days in Manila, so I did and I’m happy I didn’t stay longer cause there is not so much things to visit. The places worth seeing in Manila you can tick off in a day, just like I did and the 2nd day, I just spend my time at the Greenbelt mall, cause there was nothing else to do. It made me think about my last day in Panama City where I also killed time at the mall, and I’m not a fan of shopping or walking around in malls, cause in my own country I never go to one.

The places that are worth visiting in Manila such as Intramuros and Rizal park are both in walking distance. I walked from Intramuros to Rizal Park, after crossing roads full of traffic like I was crossing a highway, insane.
Completely different from places like Boracay or Palawan where most people go if they visit the Philippines, the beautiful islands, but then again these Paradise looking Islands are nice places to go with your girlfriend, but if you are single like me it’s not really a place to hang out that’s my personal opinion, just laying on the beach and swimming around in the clear blue water is maybe nice but I’m not really a beach person that’s why I got bored in Belize and had to get out of the islands and do some excursion on the mainland. Will I ever go back to the Philippines to enjoy the beautiful nature and do some Island hopping like some Filipino friends recommended me ? Maybe, who knows but I doubt it.

The Manila Cathedral in Roma Plaza

Where to stay ?

The hostels and hotels where most tourists and backpackers stay would be in Makati, a city on its own in the big Manila metropolis. Here are all the bars and good quality restaurants, malls are in walking distance and it’s one of the safest places in Manila.
It’s  far from the sightseeing places like Intramuros and Rizal Park which are all situated in the old Manila, and to take a cab or even a public bus or jeepneys, forget it, it will take more than an hour to get 8km further that’s how bad traffic is in this city.

jeepneys is the way to get around cheeply but it’s not very comfortable

So how did I get to old Manila ?

The best way is to take the ferry boat on the Pasig river. From Makati I crossed the bridge to Hulo where I took the Ferry at Hulo terminal station. 30 minutes on the ferry where I could enjoy the different views on the city. The only time you can’t take pictures is during the 5 minutes that the boat is passing the Presidents house, the captain of the boat will warn you to put your camera away and tell you when you can film or take pictures again.
I got off at Escolta station. It’s near China town, but I wasn’t interested in going there, it looked a bit dodgy and besides I have been in many Chinatowns around the world already such as LA, San Francisco, London and offcourse China itself, so it was an easy decision for me to skip it.
I crossed the Jones Bridge and by going straight eventually I got to the old city walls of the old Manila.

Pasig River Ferry

Rizal Monument at Rizal Park

Rizal Park

Here I was at Intramuros, walking on the city walls, that dates back from Spanish Colonial times, when Spain ruled the Philippines. The Walled City was constructed by the Spanish imperialists to defend the city from foreign invaders. The Spanish got involved in a war with the British and they lost. I made a stop at the Gallery of Presidents and took a picture of the current president of the Philippines, mister Duterte before going towards the Santiago Fortress. Once I entered the Fortress, there was a small statue of José Rizal at the inner court. Rizal who’s the national hero of the Philippines led the resistance against Spanish rule for what later became a revolution towards independence.

José Rizal at Fort Santiago

Rizal Park is a tribute to José Rizal and there is another statue of him guarded and surrounded by Philippino flags. It’s nice to have a park like this in the middle of this crazy city where it’s hard to find a calm place.

Intramuros entrance gate

The old city Walls of old Manila Intramuros

Canons for defence

Canons lined up on the Intramuros

Fort Santiago Main Gate

Fort Santiago

Gallery of all the presidents of the Philippines from the past and present

president Duterte