RTW Day 14 – Flying Korea’s low cost carrier Jeju Air to cold cold Seoul

So we caught Jeju Air, South Korea’s low cost carrier to Seoul. But first we checked out the Korea Airlines Business Class Lounge. In airports, there are two parts, landside, or before customs, and airside, or after customs. This was the first lounge we’ve been to that was landside, or before customs. Basically an average waiting room. I had purchased a bunch of snacks to take onto the plane, but Kathryn was all waiting to get into the lounge, have a nice breakfast, and re-energise for the trip ahead.

IMG_2434The lounge was about two steps removed from a doctor’s waiting room. You could order instant noodles. I think Kathryn would have preferred the Hamilton National Airport Koru lounge instead. You can tell you’re fancy when you’re judging business class lounges I told Kathryn.

Jeju Air was surprisingly nice. The planes were nice and new, Kathryn had enough leg room for two hours, i.e. her knees weren’t touching the seat in front, we had a spare seat next to us, which when flying economy is like a gift from heaven, and the flight went really quickly.

In Japan, I know enough Japanese to hear words and roughly figure out a basic meaning. In Korea, I know two phrases, hello, and thanks, and I don’t even know them well. This was going to be concerning to me. Kathryn wasn’t too bothered since she doesn’t read Japanese and only speaks a little, so Korean was about the same.

We landed, and caught the A’rex train towards Hongik University, which was where our hostel was located. Once we left the station, wow, we realised it was cold. Proper cold. Coming from Okinawa where it was 24 degrees with a low of 20 degrees, to Seoul with a high of 8 degrees and a low of zero degrees, walking around was quite a shock.

IMG_2438We found our hostel, Chingu Guesthouse Hongdae 2, and it took ages to check in. Turns out the previous manager didn’t actually reserve a private room for us. We could stay in a dorm, and Kathryn considered it, but we really wanted a private room, so emergency Waylon kicked in, and booked a room twice the price in Gangnam. When you’re under pressure, it’s really easy to just pick the easiest option.

Living it up Gundam style, turns out, is actually quite a journey from Hongdae, about 50 minutes. So after one 50 minute train ride from the airport, we caught another 50 minute train ride to Gangnam. From here, we were exhausted, and the hotel was still far away, so we stumbled upon a taxi driver that spoke English, and finally arrived at our studio apartment which was sweet. Happy birthday to me, Osaka for breakfast, Seoul for dinner.

RTW Day 13 – Getting flirted with and a Ferris Wheel of doom at Kansai Airport

Today we made our way from Naha Airport in Okinawa back to Kansai International Airport, the main airport of Osaka Japan.

IMG_2411On reflection, I really enjoyed our time in Okinawa. Turns out it’s a super popular tourist destination with Chinese tourists, they were everywhere. You can typically tell the Chinese from the Japanese because the Chinese are loud, crowding, and opposite in behaviour to the polite quiet Japanese. If China is the loud big brother, then Japan is the shy quiet little brother.

At Naha Airport, there’s a Low Cost Carrier terminal, where Peach and Vanilla Air, two cheap airlines depart from. Terminal is a bit of a hyperbole, it’s actually a shed in the cargo part of the airport, around the corner from the normal part of the airport. Oh but Waylon you might say, you tell such exaggerated tales, well, put it this way, the seats at the terminal were plastic picnic seats. This was not a fancy terminal.

We then made it to Kansai International Airport. The hotel we’re staying at, is the only hotel on the island, and is $135NZD a night, which is nearly the price of a hotel in New Zealand! Probably just goes to show that hotel prices in New Zealand are actually ridiculous, considering on a hotel on a man made airport island is still cheaper than a night at the Novotel in Hamilton.

IMG_2417Anyways, we then caught our last two trains with the Japan Rail Pass, a local train to Rinku Town, a town just across the bridge from the airport. While on the train, a small Asian woman wearing a crop top and showing heaps of midriff, asked me directions to Nagaihigashi. I had no idea where that was, but I told her about the main stations in Osaka, and where she should transfer from. Kathryn and I then talked to her the whole way until our station. She was from Taiwan, and was in Osaka for the first time for a one week holiday. Afterwards, Kathryn said did I notice her flirting with me. I said I had no idea, but she was running her fingers through her hair, talking to me all cute, doing the damsel in distress routine. I was actually more concerned with trying to figure out what station she should get to. I guess it takes a woman to notice if another woman is making the move.

At Rinku Town I decided and forced Kathryn into catching a massive 85m tall Ferris Wheel. I’m not sure why I’m so obsessed with Ferris Wheels, I think it’s because they don’t exist in New Zealand. Well this Ferris Wheel was at night, in the carpark overlooking Kansai Airport. Since it’s by the sea, there was a strong wind on the ground that I thought little of. Turns out, 85m in the air, the strong wind was now more of a gust. Obviously, this Ferris Wheel is designed for this, and the wind would not be a bother, but because there were holes in the compartment, all you could hear the whole time was a roaring sound of wind passing through, and the slight shudder and groaning of metal as we continued on the 13 minute hell ride.

Interesting, on the way down I felt a lot calmer, even though technically if I fell even from 20m, then you’re going to have a bad time. I think it was the wind.

RTW Day 12 – First time driving in Japan to Churaumi Aquarium in Okinawa

Today was the day we achieved the whole purpose of the side trip to Okinawa, visiting the Churaumi Aquarium. This was the largest aquarium in the world until 2005, so it’s a pretty awesome place, but first…

IMG_2383We had to drive there.

This was the first time I’d ever driven overseas before, and to say that Kathryn was apprehensive, is a bit like saying that Apollo suffered a bit of bother. While she was giving out the nervous vibe, I was pretty excited. In reality, driving in Japan is the same as driving in New Zealand. You drive on the left, all the cars in New Zealand are from Japan, and with GPS, you can’t really get lost.

So I only got lost once. Took the wrong turn. The GPS tells you about five times about the turn, and I took one turn one traffic light too early. No dramas. Kathryn was stressed, but she played it cool. Only about $50 to rent a car for the day, which is good value.

We made it to the aquarium, and we were starving, so we decided to have a buffet lunch for $15 each. You’ll notice the mistake we made, which was around the word buffet. I think buffet is a universal word for a disappointing experience. Name a buffet that’s been awesome. Exactly. Well continuing in the tradition, this was also pretty average. I had Okinawan Pork which was like a garlic pork. T’was OK.

IMG_2408We finally finally entered the aquarium. Cutting to the chase, the Whale Sharks in the main tank were amazing, as were the Manta Rays. Words and pictures and videos don’t really describe being there in person. A bit like when you see home pictures of people scuba diving, the photos of fish always look average compared to seeing it in person. Sorry. You’ll just have to use your imagination.

The aquarium is massive, and contains all the normal exhibits with other fish and crabs and things. Didn’t see a section dedicated to Jellyfish which makes me very happy. No one likes Jellyfish.

We then headed outside to see the free exhibits, which were the manatees, turtles, dolphins, and a beach. There was a false Killer Whale, which is a type of dolphin that Kathryn is absolutely in love with. I actually didn’t see her for about 15 minutes while she just watched this false Killer Whale. The Wholphin we saw in Hawaii is the offspring of mixing a False Killer Whale and a normal Dolphin.

We finally rounded out the day checking out Emerald Beach. This is one of the top 100 beaches in Japan, and looks very beautiful. So nice that you could swim in it. And in November, the water was pretty warm. There were big signs though saying “No Swimming”. Turns out there were six types of venomous animals in the sea that could really ruin your day. Some you can suck the venom out, others, you squeeze it out. This wouldn’t happen in New Zealand!

 

RTW Day 11 – Flying Peach to Okinawa

So today was the first of many low cost carrier flights we’re taking on this trip. Today’s one was from Kansai Airport to Naha, the capital of Okinawa.

IMG_2350We caught a couple of trains from Fukuoka, to Kansai International Airport, the airport of Osaka. One of the recurring problems Kathryn and I have is to do with being certain when travelling. I have a bad habit of appearing more certain about things, such as where stations are, or what to say, or what we’re eating, than I actually am. This annoys Kathryn to no end. In return, I think I’m more accepting of not knowing things. I give it a go, and sometimes I’m right, and sometimes I’m wrong.¬†We’re working on aligning our expectations!

I know no one wants to read about the dramas of a couple of people travelling, but let’s be honest, it’s not all awesome Instagram shots of awesome people in awesome locations, most of the time it’s waiting, or catching stinky local buses, or wondering if you’ve got enough change to buy a chocolate.

We arrived at Kansai Airport super early, like 5 hours early. Well ya’know, just in case. It’s a pretty big airport, with about 40 shops which we walked around. There’s two terminals, Terminal 1, the normal developed terminal, and Terminal 2, the low cost carrier terminal. This is about a 10 minute bus ride away to the back part of the airport. There’s only one airline that departs from Terminal 2, Peach.

IMG_2356I like Peach, I think they’ve got pizazz. Does anyone say that any more? Kathryn hates them like she hates Jetstar. Low cost carriers are easy to figure out – follow their rules. That’s it. Peach has a couple of rules, no more than two carry on bags, and no more than 10kg. They have scales at the line to check in. Easy. We were going to risk it, but then we saw lots of foreigners putting on their jackets and stuffing them full of books and other heavy things. Deciding we didn’t want to do that, we purchased another bag, and stuffed all the heavy things into there. We purchased some checked-in luggage for $17 each way, and we were sorted. Considering the flights were only $50 each way for a 2 hour flight, there’s a good reason people use low cost carriers.

Naha Airport in Okinawa also has two terminals, the normal terminal, and what appears to be an old shed, which they all the LCC Terminal. It’s so cheap, instead of having a conveyor belt for luggage, it’s just a guy who drops your bag in a spot.

We then caught a monorail (exciting!) to Naha to stay in our hotel. This hotel was only $112 for two nights, which is actually silly cheap. And what we got was awesome. A big double bed, a massive room, good size bathroom, free breakfast, working air conditioning, it’s really amazing, and great value.

We walked to the nearest convenience store, and the warm wind was blowing, just like Hawaii. The people were relaxed, I saw a couple of Hawaiian t-shirts.

I like Okinawa already.

RTW Day 10 – Nagasaki isn’t suck-y!

We were going to spend the day in Huis Ten Bosch, but after spending 4 hours there last night, we’d had enough. So in a change of itinerary, we decided to head to a couple of hours south on the local train to Nagasaki, a nice city, that just happened to be the site of the second nuclear bomb attack.

IMG_2329Local trains are slow, but are really nice to get the vibe of a place. We caught the train on the Sunday, yet it was filled with teenagers in their school uniforms. You know it’s hard core when they’re off to school on a Sunday. There was a group of old women next to us, gossiping about all the sights. There was an old lady behind us looking like she was talking into a Bluetooth headset, except she didn’t have one. That was weird.

Finally, we made it to Nagasaki. The main reason we came here was to check out the sights related to the Nuclear attack, such as the Nagasaki Peace Park, the Hypocenter, and the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. But on reflection, it’s a bit unfair to tar the city with just that one incident. It was basically the only port open to foreigners back when Japan was sealed off from the world, so it has a big western influence in the architecture. It’s surrounded by beautiful hills on three sides, and makes for a really nice city to explore. I guess what I’m trying to say is after being to Nagasaki, this place isn’t defined by the fact it had a Nuclear bomb dropped on it.

The Nagasaki Peace Park was dedicated to the people who were killed or injured from the nuclear blast. 70% of the people were women, children, and elderly, and the way those people died was horrific. The statue has one finger pointing towards the sky and the atom bomb, and the other hand is searching for peace. It’s a very sombre and poignant place. While Kathryn and I were quiet and respectful, we did encounter a gaggle of Chinese tourists who were loud and jovial. Kathryn thought harshly towards them, but I suggested that they might have had a different context to the bomb, that this was something that ended the war against the Japanese for them, something they suffered greatly from.

IMG_2331We then went past the Hypocenter, which was the exact spot the bomb was dropped. Nagasaki wasn’t the original target, it was Kokura. It just so happened that when the plane was over Kokura it was cloudy, so they decided to aim at the secondary target, Nagasaki.

We then walked to the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. This was a pretty sombre and sad museum that showed horrors that happened. There was one fragment which was a skeleton of a hand fused into a glass bottle. Just awful stuff. The images of people basically on fire were terrible. And the stories of the survivors drinking the oily water because they were so thirty were just heart wrenching:

Desperately thirsty, I went to draw water but found an oil-like substance floating all over it. People told me that the oil had rained down from the sky… But I wanted a drink so badly that I gulped the water down just as it was.

We then headed to the station to do some exploring. Nagasaki and the area around it appear famous for their Mandarins, or Mikan, so I bought bags full of them for cheap!

We then caught the Kamome, or Seagull, train from Nagasaki to Hakata Station, in Fukuoka. While on the train, the guy next to us was reading softcore pornography, then decided he’d had enough of that, and switched to his laptop so he could view some hardcore pornography.

RTW Day 9 – The fake Amsterdam – Huis Ten Bosch

IMG_2265Today we left Shin-Osaka bound for the south of Japan, a weird amusement park called Huis Ten Bosch. We caught the Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka to a place called Shin-Tosu, which was a new Shinkansen station literally in the middle of nowhere. Most of the time the Shinkansen stations have massive department stores attached to them, this had nothing. We then transferred to the Limited Express Huis Ten Bosch, which is a train specifically designed to transport people to Huis Ten Bosch. Best thing about the train, you can see the driver and the front of the train, which is awesome.

We walked to our hotel, Hotel Nikko Huis Ten Bosch. At $140 a night, this was our most expensive hotel room in Japan. The room itself was massive, with two big single beds. Strangely, there was no internet. Most Japanese hotel rooms only have wired internet, and a tiny amount have wireless. In fact, the best internet we’ve had on the trip was the first couple of nights at a hostel!

IMG_2279We then headed to Huis Ten Bosch. Kathryn thought that it would be free, which makes very little sense to me, considering that even going to a temple shrine costs money in Japan, everything has a price here. Because we entered at 5pm, we got an evening ticket for $40 each.

Huis Ten Bosch was designed to be a full size replica of Amsterdam buildings for Japanese people who didn’t wanted to spend all their money going to actual Amsterdam. So it’s all a bit of a caricature of Amsterdam, but in classic Japanese style, so very clean, very polite, very orderly. Probably not the same as real Amsterdam at all, except in the actual buildings.

As night fell, we headed towards the Palace Huis Ten Bosch. This is a massive mansion, that then decided to do a night lights show using Japanese punk music. It was very surreal.

 

There were a few attractions in the park that you could enter. We entered a Haunted House, which wasn’t really Kathryn’s thing. It was a super dark movie theatre, where you listened to a creepy horror story, which was pitch black, except for the occasional flash of something scary on the screen. Kathryn didn’t respond well to this, and I found it to be scary, though the scare factor was somewhat diminished by the fact it was all in Japanese, and I didn’t understand any of it except the occasional scream, or screech sound.

We then wandered around the theme park, in much the same way that you wander around Disneyland once you’ve been on all the rides. We ended up walking for 4 hours, which is quite a bit of walking around a fake Amsterdam. It said online that there would be fireworks at 8.42pm, so we hung out in the rain waiting for 8.42pm to come, and then lo and behold, there were no fireworks. Never trust anything written online, including this blog.

RTW Day 8 – Kyoto temples, gates, chicken, and station

In a slight change of itinerary from our original plan, we decided to head to Kyoto today. It really was an easy decision considering we didn’t really like the hotel in Osaka we booked. We walked the 30 minutes to Osaka Station. Confusingly, there are at least three railway stations in the middle of Osaka all next to each other, JR Osaka Station, Umeda Station for trains, and Umeda Station for the subway. Easy. We caught the local train bound for Shin-Osaka Station, then the Shinkansen bound for Kyoto.

IMG_2236Kathryn watches a YouTube vlogger called Alli Speed (used to be Alli Trippy, formerly married to Charles Trippy), who recently visited Kyoto, and recommended going to the Fox Shrine, or Fushimi Inari, and so we did. From Kyoto Station, we caught the local train to Inari Station, and saw the temple.

Fushimi Inari is famous for Torii, or red gates. Japanese companies donate these gates with their names on them to the shrine in exchange for good luck in business. Or something like that, I’m a little bit rough in my story telling. It’s a nice walk through the gates, and very peaceful compared to Tokyo and Osaka. When you’re constantly surrounded by people like ants, in the train stations, the subway stations, the department stores, it’s really nice to be in a place that’s relatively still, calm, quiet, and peaceful. I’m not suggesting we live there, but sometimes it’s nice to take a time out.

IMG_2245We then caught a couple of subways to the next destination, Nanzen-ji Temple, once again, on Alli’s recommendation. We found it to be lovely and peaceful, with perfectly sculptured gardens. The rock gardens are a personal favourite of Kathryn and mine, the way they look like rocks in a river, with the water flowing around them is very peaceful. Monks go out every day and rake the currents around the rocks, without leaving footprints, which is very impressive.

From here, we’d had our fill of nature, so decided to head back to Kyoto Station. But first, it was time for lunch. We saw a little cafe, and sat down. Turns out there were two sections, and we sat in the smoking section. A smoking section, in a cafe! This was literally disgusting. This isn’t just standing downwind of one person smoking at a bus stop. Not even the same as hanging out with the smokers outside of D4. This was a cafe filled with people smoking, and that smoke wasn’t going anywhere fast. We had some pizza, spaghetti, and other things, but we left in a hurry, so quickly that Kathryn didn’t even finish her meal.

IMG_2252All major city train stations are massive, but Kyoto Station’s architecture is really awesome. As you come up through the subway, the space opens up into this massive covered area, with an open air roof 10 stories above you, and escalators taking you up a terraced space.

From Kyoto, I intended to show Kathryn how easy it was to reach our local subway station. Just catch the Shinkasen to Shin-Osaka Station, transfer on the subway line to Umeda Station, walk to Higashi-Umeda Station, then transfer on another subway line to Minami Morimachi station.

Yeah, it sucked, and had lots of transfers. Really, the area of Osaka we picked didn’t have too much going for it. When you’re used to public transport being on your doorstep and taking you anywhere, walking for 20 minutes to a subway station gets pretty tiring.