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Author: ilonamanc

Australia

Australia

Firstly, a happy new year to all, I hope you’ve all had a great Christmas holiday. We certainly have here in Oz.

We flew in to Melbourne after a long, horrible budget flight down from Japan. I have to admit I didn’t particularly want to come to Australia, I’ve been here before and I wasn’t all that impressed. However, Mitch hadn’t been and wanted to see what it was all about, so I decided to be selfless!
I was already regretting our decision on the flight, when I had a small disagreement with some young Aussies sitting behind me, who continually bashed my seat. After asking them politely to stop, and then hearing them slagging me off to their friend, I asked them, “To excuse me as I had been in Japan for a while, a country where people are respectful and polite, I just wasn’t used to being around rude, inconsiderate heathens. But, I guess it was to be expected as I was traveling to Australia”. Oh dear, not a good start!

Don’t worry things improved and my mind has been changed, I bloody love Australia, we’ve both even said we could live here! Melbourne was a fantastic city, we loved it, which was funny as Mitch sent a text next to a photo of him in the Pit Lane on Melbourne’s F1 track, titled ‘Melbourne, it’s the pits!’ his parents quite literally thought it was, and informed my parents we really didn’t like Melbourne it was the Pits! Mean Mitch never corrected them!

It’s a city with lots to offer, firstly and most importantly good wine, which we’ve waited a long time for……..I don’t think we’ve stopped drinking since we got here! Well, it has been Christmas! It’s a small cosmopolitan city, with nice Victorian, tree lined suburbs, a sweeping coast line, lovely parks, great restaurants and a fantastic climate, (well it was when we were there) what else could one need? Oh, perhaps in under 2 hours you can drive to vineyards, beautiful countryside, winter skiing, or have a relaxing drive down the Great Ocean Road to see wild Koalas. Well, that was our week and it was good.


We had to leave lovely Melbourne and began our road trip to Sydney. Unfortunately, due to time constraints we couldn’t drive up the coast route, so instead went on the long and rather boring Hume Highway, 900 kilometres of straight road across the inland hills. But, don’t feel too sorry for us, we did have a few days break from the driving in a peaceful vineyard.

We sunned ourselves while watching Galahs and many other weird and wonderful birds from our terrace and sampled what the vineyard had to offer. We had to do a bit of wine tasting, to buy some bottles for Christmas, as my parents were joining us, we needed to stock up! Another hard job, but someone’s got to do it! Freda also did a little tasting of her own.

We arrived in Sydney a few days before Christmas, staying on the northern beaches in a little place called Mona Vale. The apartment backed right onto the beach, in a lovely quiet residence.

The next day, I went to pick up my parents from the airport. Needless to say they were pretty tired, and I think slightly dreading the fact that I was taking them back to a small apartment, with a frenzied Freda waiting. She had been counting down the days to their arrival for months. My parents had a day to rest up before Christmas day!

It was a bit odd, being in the sun and on the beach for Christmas. People here don’t really go in for all the decorations and stuff, so it didn’t feel very Christmassy. So, to help things along a bit, we had turkey, Christmas crackers and Christmas pudding. But, it’s really not to be sniffed at, a morning swim in the sea and a laze on the beach, was a perfect way to spend Christmas. Freda was very pleased with her presents from Father Christmas,

and anyone with a good memory may recall that, in Japan, Freda lost some of her prized toys, the dogs, guess who managed to find them and bring them all the way from the north pole? She was over the moon, welcome back Jazz and Salsa and our new arrivals Shelly, Paris and the Doodle twins.

Sydney surprised me too, as last time I only spent time in central Sydney, so I missed the best bits. Obviously this time we had a trip into Sydney itself and got the boat from Manly into the harbour. It is quite a sight, as the ferry turns into Sydney Harbour and you see the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House for the first time.

We also managed to meet up with my second cousins, Ben and Pippa, and their lovely families…….Freda was very happy to have lots of children to play with, 6 boys between the two of them, very impressive.

The rest of the days were spent on Mona Vale beach, and the millions of surrounding beaches.

We left Sydney and went up to the Blue Mountains, where we stayed on a vineyard with the most amazing views. Surprised that we didn’t want to spend New Year with the hordes in Sydney? Personally, I wouldn’t swap natures fireworks for anything. We had the most spectacular view in front of us, beautiful food and good company. It was definitely one to remember.

We did have a bit of a wobble, and some of us nearly didn’t get to see 2017, when we decided to take a walk down to the river! The problem was that the river was a 2 hour walk, up and over lots of hills. Dad had the best idea and turned back after half and hour, the rest of us soldiered on, as Freda wanted a dip in the river. The temperature started to soar above 40 degrees……Mitch kept advising us to turn around, but we marched forth. We made it to the river and had a nice dip, Mitch had to be forced to swim as he was too scared of crocs and snakes lurking beneath.

The problems really started though, when we commenced the long, hot walk back with hardly any water. I hear you, fools! Freda needed to be carried, and Mum started to feel sick and dizzy and was in a bit of trouble. In the end I was very heroic, I realised there was little hope of mum making it back alive, I had to make the call, we either had to leave her behind or go find help. A little whimpering voice came from mum, “please don’t leave me here”, just before Freda then started trying to prize a sweet out of her mouth, shouting at her “open it, open it”…..(at first we thought she was trying to give her a kiss, in her hour of need). However, some hikers had passed by previously and kindly gave us their emergency supply of water and the sweets for mum. After witnessing this sorry scene I decided it was time for me to go forth, in the blistering heat, with no water, braving snakes and deadly spiders, to seek help from my very sensible dad. As I was climbing the last hill, I pictured myself being found, hours later, lying face down in sheeps poo, as the sheep watched me, laughing from under the shade of their tree. I made it back, gasping for water, and we got in the car to rescue the rest of the family, stopping at nothing to save them, all very exciting. Later it all seemed like a bad dream when we were sitting in the hot tub with a glass of fizz and a great view of the Blue Mountains.

The Blue Mountains are stunning, I have a feeling that a lot of people head to the one tourist vista to see the 3 Sisters and then get back to town, missing the serenity and beauty of millions of eucalyptus trees, fantastic sunsets with kangaroos hopping past in the distance, what could be more Australian mate. We loved it. Oh, another highlight for me was when my mum, on New Year’s Eve, instead of drinking a glass of water, picked up a glass with a tea light in it that had just gone out. Instead of water, mum slugged a whole mouthful of wax, it was quite a sight. I wonder if she is the first person to ever have done this, we keep wax out of reach now!

With sad faces we went back to Sydney for our last 2 days in Oz. Staying this time in the southern beaches, in a place called Maroubra. I’d describe it as the Streatham of Sydney, a little rough around the edges but with a fabulous beach so maybe slightly trumps (woooops dirty word) Streatham. We spent a day walking from Bondi beach back to Maroubra, a fantastic cliff top walk, stopping at beaches along the way and gazing in wonder at the relaxed paced life the Sydney folk live.


So, I’m an Australia convert, together with my dad who also wasn’t so keen. And not just the county, but the people, I’ve come a long way from the flight in. Tell me where in England would you meet people in your apartment block, who on the same day they lend you their car, invite you to their bbq as well and it just feels as though you’ve been friends for a lifetime? It happened, I love the Aussies honest and open approach to life. So, we’ve had a great time, it’s been a good start to the long and winding road we have yet to travel with my parents! On to New Zealand. But hopefully we may be back ; )

Hokkaido

Hokkaido

We arrived in the far north of Japan in snowy Sapporo and made our way to another Japanese Airbnb, not much to say about that, another plastic bathroom! So, we needed things to do in a town that hasn’t got all that much going on and also we needed to limit the time spent outside (minus 3 with a hoodie for a coat wasn’t the best)! We found a good option, there was a chocolate factory in Sapporo, Freda’s dream.

It was a strange place, a bit Japansese Willy Wonker, we made some cookies which was great, until I got sick of Freda cutting every one of them out of the centre of the dough, which I then had to roll out again and again.

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Mitch made his own, I helped my three year old and then they both had a bag of cookies! What did I have? Nothing, just a hoodie to keep me warm! After cookie making we needed lunch quickly, so we weren’t outside for long, we entered the nearest supermarket. As we scoffed our nasty breaded goods in the supermarket waiting area, we were stared at by disgusted Japanese. Oh well, at least they had their coats!

We went back to our warm, but cramped, apartment and devoured a few of our cookies before heading out to one of our favourites, the conveyor belt sushi. This one was quite special, although at first upsetting, “where’s the conveyor belt freda cries” then we see that the food is delivered by either a Bullet Train, racing car or another mode of transport I forget.

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The only problem we faced here, was that things we hadn’t ordered on our table-side Tablet kept brumming over to us (as Freda would say) and we hadn’t any way to explain to the staff that we hadn’t order them!

The snow continued and the next day of our exciting sightseeing tour was the Sapporo Beer Museum.

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Although each of these sights may only take a few hours, we have come to the conclusion that there is no point doing more than one a day, as Freda just can’t cope with the excitement! However, she was a bit unsure about what the beer museum had to offer her. But, of course there was plenty of things for her to destroy and climb on, so she was happy! In true Japanese style, even after Freda had pulled down half the Christmas decorations in reception, a member of staff still came rushing over to give her a present. Sapporo beer is made in Sapporo and is a very nice beer, we tasted a few of their offerings, checked out a bit of brewing history and then went for lunch in an all you can eat, beer, BBQ biergarten thingy. Only problem is that I don’t like all you can eat lamb, so Freda also doesn’t…….leaving just Mitch to tuck in! Well, he managed very well on his own!

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We couldn’t leave Sapporo without stopping by the Sapporo Clock Tower, which is referenced as one of the most disappointing tourist attractions in Japan. I liked it, but it was too cold, so we set about heading back to our Airbnb.

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We were then met by an ingenious method of getting around, especially for the likes of us not dressed for the weather, Sapporo has a collection of very long, heated underground tunnels linking up stations and various shopping centres. We had wondered where the rest of the residents were, until we found them all underground…….very clever, but hey this is Japan, so I wasn’t surprised.

Unfortunately, not all of our days traveling can yield so much fun. The next day, Freda and I were not on top form, so we had a very quiet day shopping the 100 Yen shops. Yes SHOPS, I’m addicted! We bought lots of bits and bobs and then had an arts’n’crafts afternoon making Christmas decorations for Aus, while stuffing our face with our cookies.

Freda has utterly surpassed herself in Japan with what she will eat. We no longer have to worry if we can find anything on the menu for her, she will (almost) try anything. That night we wanted to try a Sapporo favourite, curry soup. Freda looked at me, “I’m not sure I will like that mummy” she said. “You’ll be fine” I said, and she was, she loved it!! The good thing about Japan is that they always think of everything, the curry comes at a spice level you choose, Freda chose zero!

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Next day we were off to Niseko for our skiing holiday! I know it seems frivolous, but come on, even travellers need a holiday! Unfortunately it started warming up as we left Sapporo for the mountains and the snow was rapidly retreating, so we were a little worried! I wont bore you through each day of skiing in detail, as I’m sure you’re not all that interested, but after a shaky first day, it didn’t stop snowing and by our last day we were waist deep in the most amazingly dry powder snow I have ever experienced.

Freda had ski lessons which she loved.

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Which subsequently meant that Mitch and I had 5 days off from parenting duties, which was amazing. I know it’s mean, but it has been nearly 3 months, 24 hours a day, so we all needed a break! And it doesn’t get much better than this!

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After a very barren period of meeting anyone we could communicate with, Freda was overjoyed (and us) with the amount of people who spoke English in the resort. It was the largest amount of westerners we have seen since Heathrow, although mostly Australians……not sure they count! We stayed in a lovely place, The Kimamaya boutique hotel, no plastic bathrooms here. Freda seemed to fall head over heals in love with the hotel manager. Every morning, without fail, she would say to us, in her new Ali’G voice she seems to have adopted, “I’m gonna say hello t’me friend” it was very cute, although maybe not so much for the manager as she proceeded to spin around and around on her back, around the front desk, doing a sort of break dance, until she was moved along.

Freda spent her birthday in the resort, turning 4.

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She’s very pleased she is now so big and claimed to have grown overnight, which may be the case as she does seem massive, although maybe the sheer amount of food she is putting away is the cause!

She had a great teenager moment…….when she asked Mitch about her presents, he said “you may get one or two” Freda looked at him in utter disgust, and shouted slowly, “ONE, is as good as NONE!!” I was horrified but had to look away as I couldn’t stop laughing. Anyway she was made up, as she had lots of presents…..the 100 Yen shop delivered once again! Peter and Miki at the hotel threw her a little party, with a cake, which she ate half of.

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When asked what birthday lunch she wanted she said, “Mama, me like some Ramen” what a girl! We went sledging, built a snow man and had a nice time. Although her day was little slim on children, she seemed to have a good day.

So, our last few weeks in Japan have been great. We left the snow and flew back to Toyko, very sad to leave our winter wonderland behind. We then set about gettind our last sniff of culture before we go to Australia.

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Whilst having lunch, Mitch noticed that the flight he booked was leaving a day earlier than expected! After a quick panic, changing around accommodation and maybe a small  argument (as this is the second time on this trip Mitch has booked a flight on the wrong day), we cut our losses, went up the Skytree and said goodbye to Tokyo and Japan. I know, terrible cheesy picture, but there’s never any of the three of us!

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It’s been a great trip, and I think we are all going to miss Japan a lot. The alien nature of Japan has now become very familiar to us, we have grown to love and accept the oddities and quirks. We even managed to get a lot of the unexplainable explained by our hotel manager, and it all made sense, seriously the Japanese have thought of everything, and when you realise why, its hard to think why isn’t everyone doing this? The Japanese make this country what it is. I’m not sure there are that many places I’ve ever been to, that are shaped, so entirely, by the people and their nature. I don’t think any of us will ever forget our time here and I hope one day we can come back.

 

Tokyo

Tokyo

We were in need of a nice rest, it’s been good to stay in one place for a week and put our feet up a bit, it’s hard work travelling.

First day here it snowed and was damn cold. We both felt it was time Freda did some kids stuff, so I found that there was a toy museum on our subway line. It was horrible getting there, wet, freezing cold snow, but thank goodness for the 100 Yen shop, where we kitted ourselves out with winter warmers! Not the best quality, as I’m sure you can imagine, but just about did the trick! When we got to the Toy Museum, we had a bit of a disaster as it was shut! Every parents nightmare, when their child is soooo excited. Good trick I used was to blame it on her……….if she had only given me more than 1 minute this morning, I may have had chance to look at the opening times! So, reluctantly she took responsibility, and luckily for me, there was the Tokyo Fire Musuem just around the corner……

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unfortunately, it was free for a reason! Anyway, we took pity on her and Freda got a fire truck to make up for the very disappointing day, a toy one!

So, again feeling guilty we tried the next day to do something child friendly. We went on a massive ferris wheel, great for all as we could see Mt. Fuji.

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It’s such a symbol of Japan, it feels very special when you get to see its majestic, conical shape appearing in the distance. Mitch insisted on an all glass pod, which was quite scary. See if you can spot it! Freda refers to every Ferris wheel she sees, as the London Eye, this one was the Tokyo London Eye.

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We then mooched around the dock lands area, which had a few great sites, like a huge transformer and a mini Statue of Liberty!!

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One of the reasons for visiting this area, was to go to a play centre for Freda. Mitch got the pleasure of taking her there, we made sure this time it was open and I enjoyed a spot of shopping. Not that I can buy anything, as we haven’t got any room in our bags! So, I mainly enjoyed another 100 Yen shop! I know it’s sad, but don’t cast judgement till you’ve been in one…..much better than our versions and when everything in Japan is so expensive, it’s amazing what you can get for 70p! On the way back, we stopped by a Christmas light show, which was fun and conveyor belt sushi, a firm favourite now, a) because it a cheap, b) a quick eat, c) no Japanese is required as you order on a tablet or take off the belt. This one also had bullet trains delivering your food, so made it extra special!!

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By day 3 of Tokyo, after a bit of rest and a few quietish days, Freda seemed to have recovered from our rail journeys, so we thought it was time to get back in the sight seeing saddle! We went into central Tokyo and took a look at the Imperial Palace……not that exciting, I’m afraid to say. We had a good bowl of noodles and as it was a clear day we wanted another ‘Mt. Fuji fix’, so made our way to the Government Buildings, renowned for their good view and being free, which is very unusual in Japan! Unfortunately on the subway, we read that the Government Buildings are shut at the weekend, but luckily for us the Toy Museum was not, so we went there. A result for Freda, and I have to say it was a really good Museum.

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We have definitely had our style cramped while in Tokyo, Freda was so tired after all the excitement from playing (she’s been used to walking around Temples!) this is her on the way home!

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So another day was spent doing very little. She needed more rest as we were taking her to Disneyland the day after for an early birthday present, she gets in free before she turns 4, son it seemed silly to wait until her birthday!

Freda was back on form for Disneyland and of course had a fantastic time!

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I don’t know what it’s like anywhere else on the planet, but it was consumerism gone mad! The Japanese must have had to have taken out another mortgage to afford all the merchandise they bought. Everyone was dripping with all things Disney, literally covered from head to toe. People were obsessed, as soon as we arrived there was an hours queue to have a picture with a person dressed up as Mickey Mouse. Freda wanted to get a picture, so I told her to stand as close as she could before we got moved on!

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What Mitch and I found hard to believe was that adults were there without children, queuing (for example) well over 30 minutes for a kids game that splats imaginary paint on a screen……..Freda quite liked it, but come on! With Minnie Mouse ears on, hundreds of Disney toys hanging off every available space on their body, there were lots of crazy sights to be seen! People set-up camp in the freezing cold on the parade routes, hours before each commenced, but it was quite easy to see it all if you walked up just when it was passing by……..utter madness!! Anyway, I’m sure there are Disney fans amongst you, but it’s wasn’t for me. Check out the girls in the bottom left! img_4394

Freda went on every ride we could get on, she didn’t seem to care about how scary it was or what it did, her favourite thing was the haunted house. However, space mountain, a very fast roller coaster in the dark, was maybe a little too much for her. But, she’s already asking when we can go again, “maybe in 30 years when you have your own children” I said to her “will you come mummy?” she said “no!”. Although I did enjoy a few rides, I can’t lie.

So, finally a day with no child activities today. I dragged them to the National Museum, to see beautiful works of Japanese art, with all the old lady’s…….much more my thing!

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We’re flying up north tomorrow to Sapporo, where our 100 Yen purchases will really be put to the test. We’ve been told it’s snowing up there and after a few days we’re off into the mountains to go skiing. Don’t worry though, we’re hiring clothes for skiing so I’m not sending Freda out in her 70 pence gloves and hat. Well maybe the hat!

Before I go, I need to give a mention to my editor in chief, Mitch Sharpe, who wants praise for making sure this blog goes out in a well organised, spell-checked, readable and grammatically correct manner. Thanks Mitch, but I’m sure most people know I’ve not written this alone, as I can’t spell for shit! You’re a great help and inspiration to all. You’re amazing, we all love you.

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A master at work!

South West Japan by train

South West Japan by train

So, our Japan rail pass ran out today, we’ve arrived in Toyko ready to put our feet up after a hard 3 weeks of non-stop travelling, 4000km to be precise! I set Mitch the task to work it out! We have covered as much as we felt was possible for poor little Freda, which was quite a lot. We are celebrating a job well done with a nice bit of wine in our very average, but comfortable Toyko apartment.

Anyone who looks at our route or who knows Japan will think we were mental as we’ve been back and forth like maniacs! But the route we took was fully centred around the availability of accommodation, which was at times limited to the dregs! Once again, booking in advance in Japan is definitely recommended! Anyway, it all went swimmingly, mainly due to the fact that the Japanese rock and have built the best transport system in the world. Apart from their slow trains, which are well, disappointingly slow! But those fast ones, well I’m gonna miss ’em!

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Hiroshima

We both wanted to go, most people seem to feel the need……I’m not sure why, I guess for me I felt it was important to have a chance to learn about, and to contemplate, the devastation that man can cause. It was a trip of two halves, the city itself is not a beauty and on every corner there is a reminder of what happened in 1945. It was eerie thinking of the whole city being burnt to the ground.

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This was one of the few remaining buildings in the whole city to remain after the bomb, it stands just below where the A-bomb exploded, it was left standing as a memorial. I think it’s too unimaginable and horrific for anyone to really get their head around what happened! But, the Peace Gardens and museum with photos, memorials and artifacts, pictures of a city before and after, gave an insight into what can only be described as pure hell. Visiting Hiroshima, on a positive note gives you hope to see this counties desire for global peace. A torch burns in the centre of the Peace Garden that will only be put out when the last nuclear weapon is decommissioned. Hiroshima is a city that shows the power of the human spirit and the dignity and grace of the Japansese. Once again, poor old Freda is learning a few things a little too early, but she was able refrain from climbing on everything that moved and I whisked her past anything too horrendous for her little eyes to see, which was also a relief for me! So let’s give peace a chance and move on to more uplifting stuff!

Miyajima

After spending the morning at the memorial, we headed an hour out of Hiroshima, to the lovely island of Miyajima. Though it would be a bit more lovely if it wasn’t full of tourists and deers who would eat your granny if you put her on a plate! The pesky little deers ate our map, right out of Mitchs hand!

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I rescued the info guide, but the map was fully digested! They then got fed up with Freda trying to stoke them and tried to head-but her, luckily she sweept from harms way by an amazingly quick mother! The island has an impressive shrine in the water and amazing cablecar ride. Unfortunately  we went on the weekend, so we spent most the time in a queue, but hey its not like we have anything better to be doing!!

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Bulleting back to Kyoto, we stopped at Himeji, which boasts a rather lovely castle, Freda enjoyed a spot of fighting with a samurai.

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Kyoto

Known for 17 Unescos World heritage sites and around 1600 Buddhist temples, it’s got it all going on. You can wander among bamboo groves, take in Temples you can only imagine in your dreams, discover your art of zen in beautiful gardens, see geishas tottering about, walk down philophers walks and emerge yourself in the true japan.

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Yes it was lovely, the only problem was we had to share it with a hundred other tourists (carefully cropped from my shots) as they all fought for the perfect picture of serenity in Japan!

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Of course its touristy for a reason, it was amazing, but 3 days was enough and we needed to get more use out of our Rail Passes, so we got back on the Bullet!

Osaka, Okayama and Kurashiki

We slowly made our way to Fukuoka, back past Hiroshima, with overnight stops at Okayama and Kurashiki. We stopped briefly at the third biggest city in Japan, Osaka, to take Freda to the aquarium, and like with all things in Japan was big and amazing.

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In Okayama we stayed in a very nice house out of the town, they had some bikes so did a long ride out into the countryside around temples, shrines, pagodas and other lovely things.

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Just down the road a couple of days later we stayed in a place called Kurashiki, lovely town with old canals and great cakes! They also had the largest Koi Carp you have ever seen……I think due to the fact they sell food to kids on the side of the canal and if Freda’s anything to go by, they like feeding them, the poor things could hardly move!

Fukuoka and Sumo

So, we again boarded our favourite mode of transport and sped past Hiroshima and on to Fukuoka. Our only reason for travelling an insane distance to a city that held little interest was to see Sumo! Oh yeah, we couldn’t pass up on that! I mean who doesn’t want to see a bunch of overweight guys, wearing pants and charging at each other like prized bulls!

Each day of the tournament starts at 8am, and normally with Mitch liking to get value for money, we would have headed there in the morning! But, knowing that the best sumos were on at the end of the day and that the wrestling can be a bit of a drawn out procedure, we opted to only go for the last few hours. Well, what can you say, its bloody weird, only in Japan!

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It consisted of mainly ceremony, lots of warming up, sumos slapping themselves a lot! They looked like they were ready, then no, a bit of armpit wiping, slapping again and talc throwing, then they are finally ready, blink and you might miss it! It’s good, it’s funny and very entertaining, but the actual bout only lasts a few seconds! Then you’re waiting again for the next one with the same warm-up regime. Freda and I had the privilege to see a Sumo warming up back stage, being slapped about by his friend while in his pants, they are not so nice close up, I may have scarred my daughter for life, but she did seem to enjoy it!

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Our time in Fukuoka was up, we had to head back to Tokyo before our Rail Passes ran out. We didn’t know it, but we’d walk over a patch of road, Mitch became obsessed with it a week before on the news, it was amazing to see how quickly it was relaid, we didn’t even notice a week later, check it out! Imagine us fixing a road that quickly, it takes 5 years to fill in a pot hole in London!

We had a stop over in Nara, a nice little town with more cheeky deer, luckily this time you could buy them some biscuits, which Freda had to be instructed not to eat, so we managed to keep our possessions!

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So thats it Rail Pass time is up! It was fun, while it lasted.

 

Japan

Japan

The Japanese Alps

We’ve been in Japan for 2 weeks and it has taken me a while to get round to the blog. For various reasons, but mainly we’ve been on the go constantly, the Wifi is rubbish and we’ve had to desperately look for accommodation on the internet each and every night! Tip, anyone fancying a trip to Japan, book everthing thing in advance!!

Well, we have at last settled in to this faboulous country, what a place! A country of contradictions, oddities and some of the friendliest people on earth. An Asian country so far removed from Asia, it really is a little world in its own right.

We touched down in Tokyo and left briskly, after buying hats and scarves, the cold was a little bit of a shock……we are to return towards the end of our time in Japan! The little I saw, I loved, and I’m looking forward to going back. We decided to head out to the Japanese Alps, and have spent the last 8 days whisking around the mountains, taking in castles, amazing zen gardens, stunning views, snow, mountain lakes and beautiful Autumnal trees.

At the beginning of our time in Japan, I think we had a little South East Asia come-down, going from one of the cheapest places to travel in the world, where you can live like royalty for very little, to the most eye-wateringly expensive place I’ve ever been (and we live in London!). From what I can see no one lives like royalty, life is simple, efficient, luxuries are scarce and everyone seems quite content. What I’ve learnt to love most about the country is its peacefulness. The people are serene, very well turned-out, polite and magnificently orderly, even the pre-school kids!

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Freda stands out like a sore thumb with her crass, disruptive, manic behaviour, sorry Freda! But, even though she’s the only person constantly moving, shouting, rolling about on the floor, people seem to love her. People rush up and give her presents as they welcome us to their country……little origami cranes, stickers and sweets, she’s in heaven!

We started our trip on the edge of the Alps in Nagoya, a large port city at the bottom of the mountains, not really visited by many tourists but interesting none the less. We had our first Tatami room, basically beds on the floor, which we have gradually begun to get used to. I also realised that our bathroom in Tokyo was not going to be the worst bathroom of our travels, but rather a normality, see below.

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We went to the zoo, Mitch was a dab hand at zoo keeping.

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We checked out the botanical gardens and took in our first Japanese castle, finding out quickly that most are reconstructions, having been destroyed in the various wars. But we were not disappointed for long, there are also lots of surviving ones.

Getting around Japan is a dream, the transport here is mind blowing. We bought rail passes for the first 3 weeks, although incredibly expensive, they are allowing us to see so much and at speeds on the Bullet trains that you can hardly get your head around. No distance is too far when you have a Shinkansen going there. We all love them, especially Mitch and I as Freda gets to go on her iPad and we hear nothing out of her for an hour or two!

After Nagoya, we caught another train up to Kanazawa, the gateway to the Japanese Alps. Here we saw our first glimpse of the Japanese Autumn in full swing, Aki. All the trees gradually go red, sweeping their way down the country and we’ve been lucky enough to have been following them.

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In Kanazawa we got a taste of old Japan, wandering around the former geisha and samurai districts, beautiful zen gardens and a great castle (although another reconstruction…..don’t get me wrong they’re nice, but I was looking forward to seeing an original soon).

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We left Kanazawa and set of off on the Alpen Route, which consisted of nearly every type of transport you can imagine to get over the Alps. The scenery was beautiful and Freda loved seeing snow, although this felt a bit odd after having been in Vietnam only a few days before.

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Freda had a small meltdown on a ‘no talking bus’, as she realised that she had left some of her few and very prized toys on one of the previous forms of transport. We think it was the tram, but hard to say! Needless to say it was quite embarrassing in the silence as she cried her little heart out, I had to shut her up with one of the many sweets we have accrued from kind old people. But, she did get to stand on top of a very big dam! Luckily Mitch didn’t drop her over, but I was getting a little anxious!

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The tears dried up and we finally arrived at our next destination, Matsumoto. We were all feeling the loss of the small dogs (Jazz, Tuffy, Hotdog 1 and 2, and Salsa, see bath shot above for dogs in happier times) so we headed sombrely off to bed. The next morning brought us a beautiful, original castle, which brightened the mood. Freda climbed all the way to the top, a pretty mean feat as some of the steps were nearly as big as her.

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I love Japanese food, but it can be a little intimidating due to obvious reasons, i.e. you can’t read the menu or understand what anyone says. We are gradually becoming better at daring to just enter restaurants and grab food wherever we can, and Matsumoto was definitely a turning point. We’ve now stopped worrying what might happen when inside and what Freda might like etc. With this in mind, I’m learning to love picture menus and can even abide the plastic models of food plates in the windows, amazing!

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Anyway, I have to say we are now dap hand at eating in Japan with a 3 year old……thankfully it’s not only our favourite past time, but seems to be Japans as well! We are all getting on well with the food, Freda is obsessed by ramen and miso soup, Mitch and I by gyozo (dumpling)…..and as I type this, he’s frying some up!

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We had our first (and only) luxurious night in a hotel, which initially was a massive disappointment, but after a bit of moaning (you can’t complain in Japan, people are too nice), we were upgraded to a Japanese style suite, which was very nice indeed. We then got all Kill Bill, in our Jinbei, after discovering wine is cheaper than beer (and just about palatable!).

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The next day, we took a bus across the Alps. It started snowing and was magical, although bloody freezing……..our summer clothes leave a lot to be desired in the cold!

Next stop Takayama, lovely old town, bit touristy, but you can see why. The city boasts lines of beautiful crafted houses, wonderful temples and yummy Hida beef. The Japanese have some very tasty cows!

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We spent the day wandering around the old town, walking between wooden, serene hillside temples that are a world away from all the gold bling of Asia.

Afterwards we left the stunning tranquility of the Alps, on a magnificent train journey down the mountains and made our way to Hiroshima, for a somber few days.

 

Vietnam

Vietnam

We’ve had a brief but very enjoyable visit to Vietnam. We got a bus to take us to Ha Tien, which is the closest town to the border with Cambodia. After a painful, long and hot exchange at the border, (no fault of ours, some other wombats had failed to get a Visa, so we all had to wait while they sorted it out), we then lost a pen, while filling in our forms and having our temperature taken, to a border agency guy, who was desperate to get hold of our Bangkok Oriental Residence pen! Mitch said it wasn’t worth the fight, I was quite upset! Anyway, we got on a boat that took us over to Phou Quoc, a Vietnamese island off the coast of Cambodia, but only accesible via Vietnam. The boat was horrendous, TV screens blasted out what can only be described as the Vietnamese X-Factor, the problem was the video wouldn’t play and kept skipping…..I think we had the same song on repeat, full blast, for most of the hour and a half journey, thank god that’s all it was!

We were kicking ourselves as we neared the island, we had booked ourselves into a remote AirBnB cottage and had no address, no Vietnamese money and no way of letting the host know we were arriving late (and at which Port)! When we got off the boat to the usual chaos, we were so relieved to be picked out from the hordes by our lovely host, Ly. She guessed the right Port and the time and luckily there is never anyone also traveling around with a 3 year old, so we are quite noticeable. However, things got a little complicated when we were told that the road to our cottage was un-passable to vehicles, so we could go only so far before having to walk the rest. This would also mean we couldn’t really leave the place for a week. Deciding that this would be no bad thing, Freda needed some rest and this would prevent us from trying to see any more of the island, what then followed was not a pleasant journey to the house, but when we made it covered in mud, hot and hungry, we were all very happy with what we found.

We spent the rest of the week here, making sand castles, collecting shells and doing very little……

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with only a few minor events;

a) the first full day when the toilet blocked and sewage started coming up through the bathroom floor tiles! Not the best, but after a lot of attempts by Ly, her brother and other random men, it seemed little could be done. We worked out that flushing only when absolutely necessary sorted out the issue! Unfortunately, all 3 of us had bad tummies in the first few days, but that’s maybe a little too much info!

b) the vast array of wildlife that chose to occupy our cottage with us……..our favourite was the largest gecko I’ve shared a house with,

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least favourite was the mouse who jumped out of the kitchen cupboard over my shoulder, he jumped meters…..it was quite impressive, or maybe the small gecko that decided to wake us all up about 5am with its screeching. After this week though, we feel we have become quite accustomed to living with nature. On the last night Mitch and I swept up a massive invasion of thousands of marching ants tracking right through the middle of the house. They had come in completely unnoticed while we watched the first three episodes of Designated Survivor with Kiefer Sutherland, very good by the way if you’ve not watched it yet, one of Netflix’s!

c) we decided to get a taxi to another beach, which is meant to be the best on the island, hoping the road had improved! It had not, it took a long time to get out of that one!

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We did get there in the end, the beach was very nice,

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but unfortunately for some reason I spent the majority of the day being sick, maybe too many mice and cockroaches had been crawling on me in the cottage!

We took the rough with the smooth and this place was worth it, the island is beautiful and our host Ly was so unbelievably kind, a little too much, it made both Mitch and I feel very uncomfortable in our typically British way, not being able to let anybody do anything for us. It was really great though for all of us just to hang out for a week spending our days walking down the beach, just us and the fishermen. Ly, our host was friends with the owners of a small resort with a pool so we trekked down there most days,

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sometimes the tide was a little too high so it wasn’t so much of a beach walk but a sea walk. Mitch had just nearly stepped on a very large snake, so he was a little grumpy.

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Few firsts for Freda here, she found a passion for coconut tree climbing…so we had to stop at most of them.

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…and I know it will be frowned upon, but don’t worry it was only a little way and was due to the fact no cars could get all the way to our house, Freda’s first ride on a moped, she loved it!

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We were all sad to leave, although I’m not going to miss that pesky mouse. We even devised many home made traps but couldn’t get the bloody thing!

Next stop Ho Chi Minh City, a quick and rather unpleasant plane ride, mainly because the plane was just painted white and looked a little grubby! I know you might say, “what’s the probelm hey?” but it kind of seemed like they thought the plane was so old and crappy, that they couldn’t even be bothered to brand it! Anyway, we made it and we’ve had two days here and I have to say I really like HCMC! Mitch reks its his favourite major SE Asia city, and I might agree. Although not beautiful at all, it is very pleasant to spend time in. We had a great view of the sprawling city from the roof of our apartment building.

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We had a walk around Saigon, taking in the sights from the massive Ben Thanh Market to the amazing Reunification Palace, where the American/Vietnam war came to end on the 30th April 1975. An amazingly preserved building, as if times stood still in the 70s, the history is so recent you can almost feel it in the walls, it’s very eerie.

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Afterwards, every parents dream(!), we stumbled upon 3 Playgrounds in a row, all while having a nice stroll through some of the parks. So, that was most of the afternoon done, thanks Freda! I would like to have stayed longer, I love the food here and the city has a lot to offer.

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But it was not to be as we had to head off to Japan, very excited and a tad nervous. We have started to feel quite at home here in South East Asia, and I have no idea what we have in store for us in Japan?

Bye bye Indo-China, we’re going to miss you!

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Phnom Penh and the Cambodian coast

Phnom Penh and the Cambodian coast

Phnom Penh 

The capical city of Cambodia, is an interesting and bustling city. As we were only there for two days, we thought we’d just do some of the main sights before we went down to the coast. We set-off for the Royal Palace in the morning, which was shut, apparently due to the impending visit of the Chinese president. So with nothing else to do, we went on to see a rather disappointing Wat and then forced Paula to visit an undesirable playground. Freda was very happy, even though most things were broken! Not the best start to Phnom Penh, we decided to go our separate ways, so Mitch and Paula could go to the Killing Fields. We’ve dragged Freda to most things but we felt this was definitely not appropriate. I managed to get Freda out of the worlds worst playground before she did herself an injury and we then spent the afternoon occupying ourselves. Mitch and Paula came back from their trip pretty somber, but glad they went, so they could learn some more about the atrocities that happened under the rule of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge.

Next day we tried our luck again with the Royal Palace, but this time we found ourselves in amongst an orderly group of school children and the military lining the route to the Royal Palace. As we reached the gates of the Palace, obviously we still wanted to check if it was open, we were briskly escorted away…….seems we had gate crashed a very organised welcome party lining the Chinese presidents route to the palace. Slightly unnerved by the armed military and balaclarved special forces, we retreated to the relative safety of the Cambodia National museum, where we fed the fish among statues from the Khmer empire. We found out later that a process of street-cleaning had occurrred in the days running up the visit, sweeping up all degenerates and the like (“Phnom Penh beautification”), we felt honoured to be included! We ended the day on a ridiculously massive boat, for just the four of us, for a sunset cruise on the Mighty Mekong again!

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On the recommendation from my parents, we then had a quick drink at the Foreign Correspondents Club, a cool bar steeped in history, where Foreign journalists documented the war, from the safety of a beer (or cocktail).

Koh Rong

We got on a bus and then a boat to the beautiful island of Koh Rong.

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While waiting for the boat in Sihanoukville, I was hounded by sellers on the beach offering any beauty service you could want! I opted to have a pedicure, but got more than I bargained for with 3 women grabbing anything that could be preened, one even started to thread my legs. We made a hasty retreat to our boat!

The island of Koh Rong is a world away from the seedy tourist trap of Sihanoukville.

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We relaxed on our beautiful beach and all shared a bungalow, which was cosy. All of this was under the careful watch of our amazing host Robbie, who provided us with a lantern ceremony spectacle…….it was a ‘have to be there’ moment as “You look wonderful tonight” was blasted out while the guests all took turns to send a lantern into the sky. This has been one of my favourite moments of travelling so far!

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Freda had another first in the calm waters of Koh Rong and learnt to snorkel, after I thought there’s no way a 3 year old can snorkel, but they really surprise you, she was actually quite good! We had mixed feelings about leaving the island, its beauty and serenity was unusual in Cambodia, but we had had enough of the humidity and cold showers. So we made our way to the main land, which took 30 mins on the way there and 2 and a half hours on the way back! Not a nice journey at all.

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As it was Paula’s last few days we booked a nice hotel, with a swimming pool on the beach…….we were all happy until they did our washing. Although lots of our clothes got ruined we did manage to make 150 quid out of them, lucky Mitch shopped at Reiss for his shorts (7 years ago)! Freda enjoyed riding the massive unicorn!

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We took a boat out to do a bit of snorkelling, as Freda is now an avid snorkeller and thought we were going to hang at a nice secluded beach for lunch. Now, I’m not sure if I mentioned, but there are a few problems that have blighted our time in SE Asia. Those being the endless development and the Chinese, I think maybe these go hand in hand!! So, on this deserted beach was also a Chinese tour party, a sight that we are now used to seeing, but this time we saw a little too much of the Chinese! The male partipants of the party all changed into their swim suits on the top deck, while the Chinese ladies on the deck below couldn’t see, we had a full view from our boat of all the tackle, and there was a lot!! So, the beach was not so great……there was lots of rubbish, which is also a massive problem here. This has made us really think about our use of plastics, as that’s what’s mainly washed up on beaches everywhere in Asia and there they stay, it’s a real shame. Upside, our boat guy did us some nice BBQ fish and then we got on our way.

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The ride back was a little choppy, I think Paula was a bit worried we were gonna sink, and Freda was nearly sick!

The next day we went to the National Park just up the road. A National Park is not quite the same as at home out here, as if you have enough money you can build whatever you want in it, if you don’t you aren’t allowed near it. So this was a bit of a mixed bag, although we did get to see some rare and amazing birds of prey, which was nice.

We said a sad goodbye to Paula, it has been amazing having her with us, and we carried on down the coast to Kampot and then to Kep.

Kampot and Kep

Kampot was a strange place, descended on by French expats, known as the French coffee house. It rained a lot, we did very little and Mitch drank some coffee! We did however downgrade to a hostel to try our hand at real backerpackering, but felt that two nights of that was enough! Freda, as always, was very happy though.

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We set off to Kep, which is just down the road. We hired a tuk tuk to take us into the countryside on the way, so as to see a cave and the secret lake (that is known by everyone)! But, it was really beautiful and really nice to see a very different rural side to Cambodia.

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We stopped at a Pepper Farm, anyone who doesn’t know Kampot Pepper is the best pepper in the world. It was interesting to see how it’s grown. We bought some and I have to say it’s very nice, tastes just like pepper!

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On to Kep which was nice, lots of crabs, although apparently they are massively over-fished and you shouldn’t eat them here, but I only read that after we had tucked into a few on the beach, oops!

So, it’s time for us to leave Cambodia and spend our last week of South East Asia in Vietnam. Its been great, a real eye opener, not easy, or always enjoyable, but I feel we’ve got to experience a country, overcoming a difficult past and moving with hope into the future. Its been humbling to talk to people with very little and realise all round the world, no matter where we live, we all have the same issues and the desires, there are little differences in our makeup. Some of us are just lucky to be born in a country that has progressed further, but very slowly I hope they will too, one day managing to overthrow the corruption and then lessen their poverty, as they deserve it. Such lovely people with infectious smiles, that’s what I will take with me.

Siem Reap

Siem Reap

We all jumped in a tuk tuk to greet Paula, it was really lovely to see her. After giving Paula a small amount of time to recuperate after her epic flight, we then dragged her to the local museum that focussed on the history of the Temples and Angkor Wat! We decided to let her go have a proper lie down after she fell asleep in the museum!

The next day, Mitch set out to go and look for a friendly tuk tuk driver to take us around the Temples, he came back with the fantastic Mr Be. We decided to start with the small Temples, known as the Roluos Temples. They are the oldest collection of Temples in the area and were very beautiful.

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Mr Be then suggested we went to take a look at a local floating village, Kampong Phluk, so he dropped us at the dock and we then got in a boat for an hour. The village rested on the edge of Tonle Sap lake and was completely water-locked. All the buildings including the schools, shops, restaurants were all on stilts and the only way around was by boat. We were surprised at first to see very young children driving the boats, but soon saw why.

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We left our first day of Templing and then headed for a few drinks down Pub Streat, awful place!!

Mr Be promptly arrived the day after at 8.30 and we headed off. Today’s Temples were extremely impressive and some of my favourites, I don’t think either words or pictures can do them justice. Built around the late 12th centry Angor Thom was the last capital city of the Khmer Empire.

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What an Empire it must of been. They are probably the most awe inspiring structures built by man that I have ever seen (apart from Mitch in his pink poncho)! They are incredibly decrepit but remain beautiful, with thousands of intricate carvings still visible while other temples have trees eating away at them.

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We were very lucky to have a great driver who seemed to be able to keep us away from the hordes of Chinese tourists and sometimes it felt like we had the Temples all to ourselves.

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Freda lasted exceptionally well and really enjoyed clambering over all the ruins, although towards the end of the day, we needed to resort to ice cream bribery. Early to bed that night ready for our 5am start!

We and the rest of Siem Reap headed out in a procession of tuk tuks in the dark in search of a magical sunrise over Angkor Wat. We found a quiet spot to watch the light gradually reveal the 5 famous towers. Unfortunately, due to a bit too much cloud coverage, there was little sun to be seen, but we were happy just to watch Angkor Wat emerge in the beautiful dawn light.

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(Although it was slightly ruined by the most irritating American woman, on a mission to take the perfect shot, brashly shouting about her ISO and the Exposure of her camera. Bloody Americans always pop up and ruin the most peaceful of scenes!) Anyway she moved on and peace was restored. We then took our time exploring the Temple, the best preserved and still used in the area. It was of course impressive, but I felt it slightly lacked the atmosphere and charm of the crumbling ruins from the previous day (Bayon, Ta Prohm etc.).

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We then headed out on a final circuit of Temples, we had no idea how many more we saw, but Freda quickly tired and had had enough. She was bribed around the last few with the promise of a piece of dried mango after each Temple. When we ran out of mango, it was time for  home, to be honest I think by then we had all had enough.

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Back at the hotel, we forced Freda to have an afternoon nap! It’s a dirty word in our family, but after some strong words she gave in and we all got some well deserved rest before we went out for a late night at the circus. Phare, the Cambodians Cirque du Soleil, is a charity that provides education and employment to young Cambodian artists. We all really enjoyed it, although it was quite dark and depicted Cambodias bloody and cruel history. Thankfully this went over Freda’s head!

We had one last day before we flew out, but now templed out we decided to take it easy and took some recommendations on the sights to see from Mr Be! Maybe not the best idea, as we first of all ended up in a very over priced outlet with shop assistants following us about in their dozens. We hastily left, which was tricky as it was bucketing it down and being happy to escape the first recommended attraction, we were then taken to the Cambodia War Museum! We gave it the benefit of doubt, thinking it would be a good educational activity, and we were all in the need to brush up on the more recent parts of Cambodian history. However, we got more than we bargained for with our macabre guide. It’s hard to describe the experience, but it was definitely unsuitable for children and very uncomfortable for adults. As we walked around tanks, guns, land-mines, anti-aircraft machinery, RPGs, pictures of a war too horrific to contemplate, we were given graphic detail of the life our guide had experienced. Unfortunately, he told us little about Cambodias history, the war, the reasons around it, but instead focused on the fact he had “died 13 times”, was known as the Cat on TripAdvisor and the last time he died was a few years ago when mid-way through a tour a hornets nest fell on him. He died this time for 8 hours (!), but when he came back to life the good news was that his Type 2 diabetes and Arthritis had miraculously cleared up……this story was told to us maybe 5 times over the tour. I had to disappear when he started to show us scars from the stings and he got out his prosphetic leg, having lost his left leg due to a land mine. Mitch and Paula were then treated to burns from a bazooka, shrapnel embedded in his arms and Mitch was brave enough to fondle the ball bearings lodged in his leg after another land mine incident. Paula and I were struggling to hold our composure, but we were all in for a final surprise as we walked past one of the old tanks……almost theatrically as thunder rumbled above, he told us of the bones of his dead buddy which were still in there from when he was killed in battle……again only Mitch went for a closer peek. Luckily it all seemed to go over Freda’s head.

During our short time in Cambodia we have gained a small insight into the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge, part of the history that has shaped this country. The people here though are amazing in their courage and determination…..it’s a bloody hard place to live.

But on a brighter note, Mitch has discovered Angkor Beer and has added to his beer tshirt colection!!

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And Freda has learnt to swim, check out her Vlog!

After Siem Reap, we headed off to the capital Phnom Penh on a late night flight. This may have slightly broken Freda…..on the plane as it approached 11.30, she decided to watch the same few seconds of a kids progamme over and over laughing each time maniacally, luckily for all the flight was only 30 minutes!!!

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang

 Our time spent in Luang Prabang was lovely, we decided to stay there 8 days and kick back. With its’ French Indochinese architecture, Buddhist temples and a magical atmosphere, it made for a wonderful place to relax and sample a small part of Laos. The town, declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995, rests between the banks of the Mekong and the Nan Khong rivers. It has a sleepy, laid back feel, which we all really enjoyed after the hustle and bustle of Chiang Mai.

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We ate some of the best food we have had so far, we loved the quiet and relaxed night market and watching hundreds of vivid orange clothed monks wander around, due to its vast array of glittering Wats.  Freda seems fascinated by the monks and Buddha, I think mainly due to the golden bling and the offerings given to Buddha. To be honest, I think she is quite jealous when she stands at a Shrine for ages eyeing up the fizzy drinks and snacks that have been laid out, enquiring if they are for Buddha (or her)?

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One thing we didn’t like, however, was because our hotel was just out of town, we had to walk across the old bridge to get into town, I’m not sure old is the word I would use……….

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After a day or so of lazing by the pool, we set off for a trip to the Kuang Si waterfall. It’s about an hour out of town and a magnificent sight. As we are in the rainy season, there was a lot of water! We had a swim in the most sedate area of the falls, which was very refreshing but a tad too cold/scary for little Freda…….I think she was put off when she was told that there were little fishes in the river that nibbled your feet, which they did and it was a little off-putting. At the waterfall there was a rescue centre for Moon bears, an eye opener to the horrific practices  these bears suffer…….anyone interested, take a look at the website! http://freethebears.org

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After a bumpy journey back to town, we decided to jump on one of the many boats offering a sunset cruise. It seemed like a popular pastime  watching the sunset, so I decided to make it my mission to see one every night! That combined with a sundowner turned out do be a very nice way to kill an hour……

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We then borrowed some bikes from the hotel for a few days and biked around the surrounding areas, stumbling across the local textiles area and a public swimming pool/bar with some little slides, so Freda was very happy, with the slides not so much the textiles!

 

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We then decided as we’d been having such a tough time, we needed to treat ourself to a nice massage……so we headed to a spa for Mitch and I to be walked on, pulled into moves I don’t think Mitch thought he could get into and had our bones cracked. All the while, Freda sat on a bed in between us watching her iPad and occasionally looking up and laughing at the sight!

On the hotels recommendation, we decided to go to Tad Sae waterfall. It was closer than the other waterfall, just a 20 minute drive away, so we went on a tuktuk! This then turned up with a puncture so the guy proceeded to drive all over town to get his tyre changed, spare pumped up, collect money from various places, then the last straw being to fill up with petrol just before the fall. We arrived an hour and a half later! We then jumped on a very thin boat to the falls, which was quite a worry with a child like Freda…..but, anyway it was a lovely waterfall so worth the effort in the end.

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We then jumped on a flight down to Siem Reap to meet up with my friend the goat, which we were all very excited about!

It was a short stay in Laos, we would have loved to have seen more, but the small bit of the country we did see was beautiful and incredibly enchanting.

 

 

 

 

Slow boat down the Mekong

Slow boat down the Mekong

Mitch and I were unsure if we could survive 2 consecutive days of 8 hour boat journeys with Freda, either she would go bonkers and topple overboard or we would go mad and throw her overboard! Pleased to report though that neither happened and the scenery was breathtaking, it was relaxing (unbelievable I know as Freda was on board) and has been one of our favourite things so far!

In order to get to the Mekong we left Chiang Rai with a small hangover (too many beers by the banks of the Kok!) and jumped on a small sweaty local bus. Mitch was lucky enough to get two seats to himself, while Freda and me shared, she took up one and a half and my bum cheek got the other half, for 2 hours! These buses were not built for massive Western bums me thinks!

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We were heading to Chiang Khong, a charmless border town where we had to spend the night. We booked ourselves on a 2 day slow boat to Luang Prabang in Laos, so we were picked up early doors and then made our way across the border to Laos and to our Boat. There’s a public boat that takes the same time, but is just a floating bus with over 150 people crammed on or the other option is a speed boat that only takes 6 hours for the whole journey, but you need to wear a crash helmet because, well they crash……..but we were informed that only 2 tourists have died recently!!

We decided to pay a little more and go with Mekong Smile Cruise and we were definitely smiling when we found out that we had a whole boat to share with just 4 others and the crew.

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We had a great guide, nice spacious boat, great food and all in all were all very happy. Only downside was when we stopped on the first day to look around an indigenous village…….not only was it blistering hot, you really got the feeling these people didn’t want you gawping at them which was fair enough. It was a bit like taking a tour group around a deprived area in South London so everyone can take pictures of poor people. Luckily after this awkward experience, we left the tribes-people to eat the crickets their 5 year olds had found on the riverbank and came back to our boat for a rather lovely lunch with the cool breeze blowing in our hair. (The whole thing felt a bit wrong).

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Then we pushed on through to the over night stop in Pakbeng…….nothing much to report here apart from we had an amazing view over the Mekong from our hotel room and Freda saw the biggest spider she has ever seen and hasn’t stopped talking about it since!

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Day 2

Much of the same, admiring amazing scenery from the peaceful pace of our boat. We were a bit disheartened though when our Guide said we were going to stop at another village en-route. But luckily this time it was a different experience, the tribe that lived here were Hmong and seemed much welcoming to us Farangs. Instead of just looking at poverty and hardship, we felt privileged to have an opportunity to view the community and traditions. Freda’s was a big hit, especially with the older women, the oldest lady of the town was desperate for Freda to hold her hand. Freda was having none of it though until I bribed her with a packet of gummy bears and she leapt at the opportunity to make an old lady’s day! Anything for a shameless photo opp!

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Back on the boat we slowly meandered on to Luang Prabang. Freda was amazing, with the help of the iPad, there wasn’t one moan on our very long slow boat journey down the Mekong. Although now in Loas she has been driving us completely mad!

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