30.12.11

The wind in my face

Summer has finally reached us in Sydney! It's been pretty dismal since my return from Japan, with cold, drizzly rain every few days, followed by the dreaded humidity. But the sun was back today, warming my face and blinding my eyes. The sun makes me think of motorcycling - it is the season and I'm a motorcyclist. (or some would say that I was, I sold the bike just before my trip to Japan, due to lack of use and lack of funds, well the funds were better used in my travel fund!) But stay with me on this train of thought, I'm nearly there - motorcycling makes me remember my favourite part of my trip through Vietnam. That was my time spent on the back of a Minsk. What is a Minsk you ask? It is a German designed, Russian made, war era 125cc 2-stroke motorcycle (if my memory serves me correctly). It has a kick start, a gearbox that requires erm, deciciveness, and a maximum speed of about 60km/h. But let me tell you, it is a whole lot of fun to ride, especially on the roads of Vietnam, which are always full of surprises.

I had always intended to spend some time on a motorbike in Vietnam - my riding friends were always asking me if I was going to do something like the guys on Top Gear. But the trip rolled around and I hadn't really organised anything (I'm really not much of a planner, which is possibly surprising given my profession) so I just hoped something would come up.

My adventure started when I stumbled across Hoi An Motorbike Adventures, a motorbike touring outfit based in Hoi An, Vietnam. This Australian owned business run tours across Vietnam with English-speaking guides, and locals work in the office and spin the spanners. I decided to go on a half day tour around Hoi An. Our guide was a lovely Dutch girl with perfect English, and there were about 8 of us on tour, mostly from Australia coincidentally (or maybe not such a coincidence, there's a lot of Aussies in Vietnam!) and then a couple of drivers/mechanics for those who didn't wish to ride. The ride was a lovely cruise through the villages around Hoi An, with plentiful stops to soak up the scenery and talk, plus an opportunity to meet some locals at a little cafe (and drink the best Vietnamese beverage, iced coffee with condensed milk, try it, trust me). Most of all it was such fun to be riding, with the wind in my face - motorcyclists liken it to how a dog sticks its head out of the car window!

It is a stunning part of Vietnam, the photos hardly do it justice.

Hoi An rice paddies  Hoi An river crossing
Hoi An Half day tour rice paddies
Hoi An Half day tour groupHoi An river

So in love with cruising around on those glorious machines was I that I decided a longer tour was in order. After checking in with the office I discovered that they had a 2 day tour from Hoi An to Hue leaving a few days later so I booked in, hardly able to contain my excitement.

As with the half day tour, the overnight tour was fantastic. Our NZer guide was again, amazingly friendly and there were only 2 of us on tour. We stopped in at a little village and met some local children, had yummy picnic lunches (just simple ham & salad sandwiches but I was so happy that they had real cheese - a rare sight in Vietnam!), saw the spectacular Vietnamese landscape and gave kids hi-5s as we rode through towns. I was giggling in my helmet while riding along the Ho Chi Minh Highway, having a complete ball. I don't think you could wipe the grin off my face! Men would often point at me as we rolled through towns when they realised that I was a girl - in Vietnam girls ride scooters, not kick-start 2-stroke motorbikes! We stayed overnight in a little village in the mountains called Prao which is very much off the beaten tourist track, it was very quiet and great to escape the buzz of the bigger towns I'd spent the rest of my time in.

When I told people I rode a motorbike in Vietnam, the main 2 questions people as is:
1) Was it just like Top Gear, and
2) What are the roads like?
Well it was a bit like Top Gear! Except I didn't get a traditional suit tailored from Asian silk or carry any stupidly enormous souvenirs on the back of my bike. We had breakdowns and I got bogged in mud from a landslide (happens all the time on the highway). Fortunately there is a mechanic on every tour - he weaves his magic on the bikes (often I couldn't get mine started and he simply had to touch it and it would start - I swear that bike was playing tricks on me) and he rode my bike out of the mud when I was dumb enough to ride straight into it!
And as for the roads... well they definitely keep you on the ball. The obstacles I encountered, from memory, include bricks, rocks, mud, children, cows, goats, dogs, trucks, buses, chickens and I'm sure there were others that I have forgotten. Some of them are funny, some are scary, but it is really all part of the adventure. 

Vietnam war memorial Village children with attitude <3
River rapids Ho Chi Minh Highway landslide Ho Chi Minh Highway
Waterfall - Laos border over the hill View from Ho Chi Minh highway
Trusty steed post bogging
View from above the tunnel GOATS

I also spent some time riding when a a friend and I visited the mountain village of Da Lat. We hired a driver/guide for my friend (one of the famed Da Lat Easy Riders), and I rode around on a little automatic scooter. It definitely didn't have the character of a Minsk but it was still a heap of fun to zip around with the wind in my face. Da Lat is also a very pretty area, and we visited coffee plantations, a silk factory (not at all as glamourous as you would imagine), a buddhist temple, the waterfalls and some other lovely landmarks. Our guide was full of knowledge of the local area, super friendly and eager to show us what his town had to offer.

P1050469   P1050447  P1050481 
P1050475P1050459

The days I spent riding were the most exciting and fun-filled days of my entire 5 weeks in Vietnam and I would love to go back and do some more time. Originally I was going to organise my own bike and stuff but realistically I don't know enough about mechanics, so it probably wouldn't have been the best idea to embark on such an adventure alone so an organised tour was the perfect alternative. Seeing Vietnam on the back of a motorcycle is a fantastic experience though and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who has a bit of a sense of adventure and wants to get off the beaten track a little bit. There are quite a few motorbike tour operators throughout Vietnam now and I don't know how good they are but Hoi An Motorbike Adventures are definitely a top notch operation in an industry where it can tend to be a little hit and miss.

Disclaimer - I have no relationship with Hoi An Motorbike Adventures apart from being a happy customer. This is an honest review. 

25.12.11

Enjoy the festive season!

I usually don't like Christmas very much. I tend to get a bit maudlin and can be known to be a grinch. However this year I've been feeling decidedly festive, buying colleagues little gifts and cards and putting more effort than usual into buying gifts for my family. I'm not exactly sure why this is, but I'm sure that getting a holiday just before Christmas has something to do with it. Japan was very festive, carols playing in every store, big decorated trees up everywhere. It just dawned on me today that it was the first time I'd experienced winter close to Christmas, too.
I just wanted to share this photo with you as it made me think of Christmas, little kids singing carols actually. It was taken at Hase-dera Temple in Kamakura, if I remember correctly.

Cute little statues

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and best wishes for the new year. 

24.12.11

Merry Christmas, Japan

Lots of romance in Japan, so I thought I would get in on the Christmas spirit, while at the top of the Floating Observatory in Osaka, Japan.

DSCF0535

Looking out at the city

Christmas Stars at Floating Garden

20.12.11

Photography workshop in Tokyo with Alfie Goodrich - A bit of park, a bit of street

The first thing I did after I booked my flight to Japan was jump on bookdepository and order myself a copy of the Rough Guide to Japan. As I flicked through the section on Tokyo, they mentioned a fellow called Alfie Goodrich (his website is Japanorama) who does photowalks and photography lessons throughout Tokyo. I thought that sounded pretty cool, especially as I knew I was getting a new camera for my birthday before my holiday, but he had no photowalks scheduled for the dates I was there, so noted his address in the spreadsheet I was using to collate my trip research and plans, but kind of forgot about it. Fast forward to about a week into my trip when I was in Fukuoka, I got a newsletter from him advertising a photowalk. In Tokyo. On the last Sunday of my trip. The day I arrive back in Tokyo. Don't you just love it when things just fall into place like that? Fortunately he squeezed me into the course and I booked the 6am shinkansen (bullet train) from Kyoto to Tokyo for that day.

And what a day I had. It was seriously the best time I had on my entire trip. I was so nervous in the lead up, and while I didn't really have any need to be as everyone was super friendly, I was definitely the most inexperienced photographer there... but I guess that means I had the most to learn!

The morning was spent wandering around Ueno Park. I already posted a few photos in my last post from the morning, and there's a few others below. The colours of the trees in the park are spectacular, pastel yellows, fiery oranges, deep reds, and even some sparse patches of green left. So much material to shoot, it was a bit overwhelming trying to focus my thoughts. I got a few pictures, but definitely a lot of room for improvement.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

After the park, we went for some lunch. I think it was somewhere between Ueno and Akihabara, I'm not exactly sure. What I am sure of though is that it was the. best. ramen. I have ever eaten. It was a tonkotsu (pork based broth) ramen and the broth was so thick and rich, it was amazing.
Then we hit the streets. We were around the backstreets of Akihabara (known as "Electric Town") which is quite a busy hectic area of town - but the backstreets had a bit more of a mellow vibe. Our directive was to shoot B&W, and try to get a different viewpoint, which involved shooting from up high or down low or some other way to try and see the scene from a different perspective. We were quite lucky as we looked up and saw a tiny little buddhist temple in the middle of these backstreets, one storey up. We went up there and the monks kindly let us shoot the street from the fantastic vantage point.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

After exploring the streets, we got to shoot with a model, Shinyong who (if I remember correctly) is from Korea. She was so beautiful, and had such a great personality which really showed through in the photos. By this point, the pathetic battery in my camera had died, and Alfie kindly lent me his spare body, an awesome Nikon D700. He put a lens on it which would provide a similar focal length to mine, I think it was a 50mm. It was older than me and had a manual focus, so it was quite interesting to work with something so different to my camera (Fuji X100) which relies heavily on it's autofocus. Alfie did a write up of the workshop here and posted up some of my photos, and the best of my shots of Shinyong are in there.

It was such a fantastic day and was great to meet such an amazing and diverse group of people, who were so friendly and passionate about photography. The group were mostly expats from all over the world, plus a few foreigners who had settled in Japan for the long term. I was the only traveller, and it was really interesting to meet people from such diverse backgrounds and see the range of options there are to getting to live in Japan (something I think I might be interested in) even if one's Japanese language skills are very poor!

If anyone is travelling in Japan and is interested in photography, I highly HIGHLY recommend looking Alfie up and organising to go along to one of his photowalks or get a lesson. When (definitely not IF) I go back to Japan I would love to get some private lessons with him. He is so passionate about photography, overflowing with knowledge yet very patient with a complete amateur like me. 

19.12.11

Japan at my feet

Last Thursday I returned from a fortnight in the land of the rising sun, Japan that is. The trip was brought about by a Jetstar sale - the airfare was ridiculously cheap (though you pay in other ways, a story for another time) and I thought to myself "Why not?" and quickly checked that my boss was happy for me to take the leave. I had no particular passion for the country, not more than anywhere else in the world (I was desperate to travel everywhere equally, I don't discriminate!) but as soon as I started researching my trip, I knew I was in for a treat. 
Japan has such an incredibly rich culture which when combined with the quirky and cute, and futuristic technology makes for such a unique experience, there is always something special to see regardless of where you look.
One thing I remember reading about when I was doing my research was the manhole covers in Japan - that is, the patterns on them. Given I possess the memory of a goldfish, I promptly forgot that gem of information until I was standing at an intersection in Minami-senju in Tokyo, waiting for the little green man of the traffic lights to give me permission to cross the road. I looked down, and there was this beauty! 


The next few covers I saw were in the lovely city of Osaka, land of the friendly. Not only were the people there beautiful, but so were the manhole covers! Such pretty designs, which is quite interesting because quite a lot of the architecture in Osaka is quite industrial and sterile, I think it's a bit 70's (though I know nothing of architecture), so it's interesting that the manhole designs are so pretty and intricate. I think this one was near (within a few kilometres anyway) to the Shinsaibashi area.


I think this was my second favourite one of all of them, and looked especially pretty in the evening light scattered with the ginkgo leaves. It was also in Osaka, but I can't exactly remember where. If I correctly remember the areas I was walking around in the evening, I'm guessing it was in a similar area to the one above.


The next stop on my whistlestop trip of Japan was Fukuoka, on the southern island of Kyushu. I made the trek all the way down here just for the food. I had read about the yatai, which are street food vendors, and having developed a taste for street food in Vietnam, I figured I couldn't pass this one up! The story of Fukuoka is one for another day, however this is my favourite manhole cover from that lovely town. Quite abstract and quirky, very different from the traditional themes of the others I had seen thus far.




Heading back north, I stopped in at Kyoto, however there were no exciting manhole covers there. The patterns were pretty boring compared to those posted above so I didn't take photos of those. I kind of wish I had though, I do like complete sets...


Back in Tokyo, I found a manhole cover that I hadn't seen previously, my favourite design of all of those that I saw. This one is in Ueno Park, I cannot believe I missed it as I visited Ueno Park at the start of my trip too! I may have just been looking closer this time, as I was on a photography course so I was looking around the park on the hunt for some exciting snaps. 




I took a day trip to the pretty town of Kamakura, an hour's train ride out of Tokyo and packed full of history and temples. I ate some yummy grapefruit sorbet when I was there, and also saw some squirrels while hiking between temples! Back on the manholes though, I thought this one, while relatively plain, had some pretty detail in the middle.




And the last photo is one of my attempts at being arty. The yellow ginkgo leaf, one of the many covering the trees but one of the few decorating the ground (everything is swept clean in Japan, always) looked so pretty laying there on its lonesome.




A tour of Japan while looking at one's feet may not be everyone's cup of tea but I just fell in love with the attention to detail (I am an accountant after all). I think it's such a cool idea, and a lovely way to add some beauty to a city of concrete and steel. I was sad to hear they are no longer making the pretty designs though, and replacing the nice ones with the boring plain designs. I hope that doesn't happen too quickly, there are so many designs I haven't had a chance to see yet!



18.12.11

Wanderlusting

Hello there.

I'm Emily, I live in Sydney working as an accountant, and am currently encountering my 26th year of life on Earth. I spend my waking non-working hours on the internet, practicing yoga or crossfit, cooking, photographing or reading. And wanderlusting. I don't even thing that is a real verb, but I just made it one.

A few days ago I returned from my second trip away from the shores of fair Australia-land and for some reason decided that I wanted to start a blog. I guess I just felt like I wanted a way to document and share my experiences, though I'm not really sure why I thought anyone would really care! I've only been overseas twice now, but the travel bug has well and truly bitten me - especially the SOLO travel bug. Yes, I love to travel alone. 

My first trip was in March of this year, and I regret not starting travel earlier, but I was focussed on work, study, and riding my motorbike to consider going overseas. I plan to rectify that oversight in the near future, and in the meantime plan to share my favourite travel memories and photographs, and travel inspiration including places I want to visit, things I want to do and particular cuisines I'm experimenting with as I do love to cook.


Dead Horse Gap, Australia - April 2009 
Ho Chi Minh Highway, Vietnam - March 2011

Before I travelled overseas, I did a bit of local travel too. I rode a lot of kilometres of Australian roads on my motorbike and saw some fantastic parts of eastern Australia between Brisbane and Melbourne. I've also visited Perth and Adelaide on work trips, so it's not like I never left the state. That said though, I think that nothing can beat overseas travel for the impact that it leaves you with. I think that every single travel blog says this but I guess that's because it's true - travel changes you. You learn so much, so much more than books and films can ever teach you about other people and cultures. I think we are designed to connect with people physically and it's not until you look someone in the eyes, shake their hand and (attempt) to have a conversation with them, can you really understand exactly what they are about. And that's what travel is about for me, the people. All of my greatest travel memories so far are people - their lives, their stories, what they've shared with me. I'd love to share that with you.


I hope someone other than me enjoys what I share. I would be thrilled if I could inspire someone to take that leap and make their first trip overseas. I'd love to help people find great things to see, share things I've learned and where I've found particular gems of information. And also break down the barriers to solo travel that people see - I love travelling alone and would hate for someone to miss out on an amazing cultural experience because they couldn't find a friend to go along with them.