South-East Asia trip: Overview

On our trip to South-East Asia in autumn 2017 my husband and I visited three countries - Singapore, Cambodia and Thailand. We slept in five different beds, took seven flights, and walked uncountable distances while exploring numerous cities and temples. It was another great trip, full of amazing unforgettable memories.
Itinerary:
Day 1 & 2: First two days of our trip were dedicated to traveling. Our Singapore Airlines flight took off from Zürich in mid-day. Twelve and half hours later, we arrived to Singapore. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Merlion and Marina Bay Sands[/caption] From the airport we took a train shuttle to the centre of the city. Too early to check in to our hotel, we left our luggage there and went exploring. We strolled from Clarke Quai to the Marina Bay area, then we took a metro to Chinatown. After a casual walk around the streets of this fascinating neighbourhood, we again hopped on a metro and went to see the Little India. After a stroll through streets of another interesting Singapore neighbourhood, we returned back to our hotel in Clarke Quai area. Jet-lagged and tired from the long journey from Europe, we relaxed by the pool for the rest of the day. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Sri Veeramakaliamman temple in Little India neighbourhood[/caption] Day 3: On third day of our trip we left Singapore for Cambodia. We flew directly to Siem Reap. After arrival to the airport, we were greeted by the hotel's tuk-tuk driver who took us to our accommodation. After a quick dip in hotel's gorgeous pool, we went to the centre of Siem Reap. We got lost in the streets of the town, observed the crazy party atmosphere at the Pub Street, did some shopping at the Night Market, and went for a dinner. Then we returned back to hotel to recharge batteries for the next day. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Gorgeous pink sky on our first evening in Cambodia[/caption] Day 4: On our fourth day we explored the temples of Angkor Wat. We hired tuk-tuk driver through our hotel and he took us around the temples. We visited Pre Roup, East Mebon, Ta Som, Naek Prean, Preah Khan, and Phnom Bakheng. At Phnom Bakheng we attempted to see the sunset, but unfortunately, the weather didn't collaborate. It was way too cloudy for us to see the spectacular sunset this place is famous for. Few hours later, we went for a dinner with friends who happened to be in Siem Reap at the same time as we. https://youtu.be/Mq99wpgEdaQ Day 5: Fifth day began very early in the morning as we went to see the sunrise at the Angkor Wat. We arrived to the temple in the dark, found our spot in the crowd and observed the sky got brighter and brighter, illuminating the majestic temple. Great experience! [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Angkor Wat sunrise[/caption] After we saw the sun to rise over Angkor Wat, we strolled around the temple grounds. Then we went to see the Ta Prhom temple, also known as Tomb Rider temple. We both loved the scenery of trees overgrowing the buildings. After Ta Prhom, we went to see the Bayon temple, a temple with smiley faces. After lunch at one of the restaurants in Angkor complex, we returned back to our hotel where we chilled by the pool. In the afternoon, we went to the centre of the Siem Reap to observe water festival celebrations. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Bayon temple[/caption] Day 6: Sixth day was the day we bid goodbye to Cambodia and travelled to Thailand. From Siem Reap we flew to Bangkok and from there to Chiang Mai in the northern part of Thailand. We arrived to our destination in the late afternoon. After check in to our hotel, we strolled around the neighbourhood we were staying at. We found a lovely food market where we indulged in delicious Thai Food. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Window seat view of Chiang Mai[/caption] Day 7: We didn't have any plans for our seventh day in Chiang Mai. After temple hopping in Siem Reap, we had enough of temples for a while and we wanted to do something different. Cooking classes we considered to attend were all fully booked for the day, so we spontaneously decide to check the Tiger Kingdom. What a mistake! We should have known better this is no rescue centre, but a horrible tourist trap. We regretted our decision to come as soon as we arrived there. Every single aspect of this establishment felt very wrong. We only saw two outer tiny cages with tigers and lions that can be seen for free. Animals inside them were way too docile and willing to sit quietly while guest tug at their tails and paws and posed for photos with them. Seeing those majestic animals living in such bad conditions and being treated without any respect broke our hearts. We saw more than enough suffering for a day and left without entering. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Loy Kratong festival decorations[/caption] Broken-hearted we then went to the Chiang Mai old town where had our first (and most delicious) pad thai in Thailand. Then we went to see some of the smaller less popular temples and had the most relaxing Thai massage. In the evening, we joined the celebrations of Loy Kratong festival in the old town. The day that started pretty bad, ended rather well. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Wat Ratchamonthian temple[/caption] Day 8: On the eight day, we went to visit the elephant sanctuary. We were afraid the scenario of the previous day will repeat, but fortunately it didn't. We had a great time feeding the rescued elephants, bathing and walking them. This was definitely the highlight of our trip. https://youtu.be/F1_-39BYuog Day 9: The next day it was time to leave Chiang Mai and head to the south to spend few days on the beach. We flew to Krabi airport from where we travelled to Ao Nang by bus - it was quite an adventurous journey, but we arrived to Ao Nang safe and sound. We found our hotel, checked in, then we went out exploring the town. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Ao Nang swordfish statue[/caption] Day 10: On the tenth day, we took a long-boat shuttle to Railay, where we spend the day relaxing at the beach. https://youtu.be/O0zjaRbMBzk Day 11: Our plan for eleventh day was to visit one of the small islands off the Krabi coast, but unfortunately we slept too long, took too much time for breakfast and arrived to the pier long after the last of the longboats to those islands already left. As hiring a longboat just for two us was way too expensive, we went to Railay again. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Phra Nang beach[/caption] In the evening we went for a dinner. On our way to the restaurant we spotted fish spa and we decided to give it a try. It was super uncomfortable experience, but I'm happy we did it. Now, I won't wonder how does it feel every time when I'll pass such spa. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="501"] My first (and most likely last) fish spa experience[/caption] Day 12: On the twelfth day we spent the lazy morning by the hotel's pool, then we attended the 5-island sunset cruise around 5 islands, we booked a day before. We sailed along the dramatic Krabi coast and islands. We stopped at the few spots where we snorkelled and paddle boarded. On the last stop of the cruise we swam with the bioluminescent plankton which was really special and unique experience. The visibility on the snorkelling spots wasn't great, but we still managed to see plenty of colourful fishes. Despite the cloudy and rainy weather, we had a nice time. Unfortunately, without the spectacular sunset this area is famous for. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] My first (and most certainly not the last) paddle boarding experience[/caption] Day 13: On the thirteenth day we left Ao Nang and returned to Singapore. For our last night we've treated ourselves and stayed at the famous Marina Bay Sands hotel where we enjoyed the amazing views over Singapore skyline from the infinity pool. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Marina Bay Sands infinity pool[/caption] Day 14: After a morning workout with a view in hotel's gym and another dip in the infinity pool, it was time leave the hotel. We left our luggage at the hotel storage and went to see the Gardens by the Bay. Then we went to the Sentosa Island. After a stroll around the island we decided to visit Universal Studios. We had a lot of fun riding all the rides and rollercoasters. Time flew by and way too soon it was time to leave. We returned to the Gardens by the Bay to see the evening light show. After, we picked our luggage and headed to the airport. Exhausted from the eventful day, we were able to sleep through the most of our flight to Zürich. https://youtu.be/tUwtTNyq36Y
OVERALL IMPRESSIONS:
I loved Singapore and Cambodia, but I must admit Thailand didn't impressed me much. What I loved the most about Singapore was it is such an interesting blend of modern and traditional, while Cambodian temples simply blew my mind. Thailand was on the other hand nice, but I couldn't really fell in love with it. I'm not sure why. Most likely because, the places we've visited were developed to the extent they had lost its authentic charm, but were still not developed enough to be achieve different kind of allure developed cities and areas usually have. Maybe we just didn't visit the right places, I don't know. Despite Thailand being my least favourite country from this trip, I liked it enough, I would give it another chance in the future.

Dark Side of Elephant Tourism in South-East Asia

I'm very fond of watching documentaries about nature and animals. When I was a little girl I used to watch them all the time. I remember, elephants were one of the animals that fascinated me the most. They are not only largest land mammals, but are also highly intelligent and sociable animals that are known to develop strong, intimate bonds with other members of their family. They have excellent memory and even mourn their dead. And they live in a families led by a female! No wonder, two of the my greatest wishes since childhood, were to see an elephant in the wild and to interact with the domesticated elephant. When my husband and I decided to travel to SE Asia, I knew I need to fulfil my at least one of my childhood dreams. Because I'm very cautious when it comes to interactions with the animals, I wanted to learn more about Asian elephants and choose the best possible way to interact with them. More I've read, more I realised there is a dark side of elephant tourism many people are unaware of.
Poaching and crushing the elephant's spirit
Young elephants are frequently poached from the wild for the tourist trade. When they are are taken from the wild, the adults trying to protect their herd member are killed. According to ThailandElephants.org, on average four to five wild elephants will die as the result of one elephant being taken for the tourism industry. Taking into account there are approximately only 41.000–52.000 Asian elephants are left living in the world, that's worrying fact! [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="450"] ©ThailandElephants.org[/caption] In order to make those captured young elephants not used of human contact to obey, a technique called "Phajaan" or "crushing the elephant's spirit" is used. This method is terribly brutal. Elephants are placed in a cage and tied with ropes to keep them from moving. By restricting them, depriving them from sleep, food and water, and physically abusing them (e.g. beating with sticks, chains and bull hooks as well as stabbing into the ears and feet) they mentally break them and make them submissive to their owners. Fearful of the human captors elephants will do anything to avoid being hurt again. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=SVckvi_gWVo

‼️Deeply disturbing video of Phajaan - brutal process of the breaking the spirit of the elephant.‼️ ©WTTF

Elephants born in captivity usually go through the same brutal method as their wild captured counterparts. Alternatively, they are trained via method of positive reinforcement. Although, any kind of form of training still require removing baby elephant form its mother at the young age and often causes lasting emotional and mental distress for the both - mother and baby elephant. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="501"] ©Ulet Ifansasti/Ecological Response Unit[/caption]
Why riding an elephant is not ok
Some might ask, why not ride an elephant - it is strong an powerful animal. Carrying a human cannot really harm him. How else could elephants would be ridden for centuries? Answer is, elephants don't have very strong backs. Adult elephant can only support app. 150kg of weight on their back for up to four hours per day. Putting the heavy howdah - metal seats weighing around 50kg on elephant's back is highly uncomfortable even without the added weight of the mahout (human handler) and the tourists. Such overweighted working elephants in SE Asia work much longer shifts. Single rides often lasts an hour or longer and are often held in heath without adequate access to water, food and shade. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] ©ThailandElephants.org[/caption] Long overweighted rides are harmful for the elephants. The weight of the howdah and the ropes with which those metal seats are secured can cause open sores and abscesses as well as lasting spinal injuries and deformities. Long treks in extreme heat and not adequate access to water, healthy food and shade can also lead to dehydration, and exhaustion. Not to mention use the damage spiky metal hooks used to control the elephants during the rides can make. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="501"] ©Elefanten in Not[/caption] The only humane way of riding an elephant is to ride it bareback, sitting on its neck, like their mahouts traditionally do. But even such kind of riding demands elephants to go through the brutal training that broke their spirits. Same training is required for the elephants to learn tricks and activities, like for instance painting pictures, playing football, ride tricycles, et others, that can be seen at the elephant shows and circus. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] ©World Animal Protection[/caption] Elephants are often require to work in the environment with exhaust fumes, hot concrete, traffic, loud music and crowds of people. All this cause much stress to the animals. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="536"] ©World Animal Protection[/caption] Misuse and mistreatment of elephants is something really horrible. The only way to stop with the abuse of these majestic animals is to be responsible traveler and avoid venues that exploit elephants. Don't attend activities, such as trekking with the elephants, elephant shows and circus, elephant rides et others. If there will be little demand for such activities, the need for savage training techniques will hopefully decrease. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] ©ThailandElephants.org[/caption]
Ethical alternatives
Fortunately, growing awareness of animal welfare issues brought to life new cruelty-free ways of elephant tourism - elephant sanctuaries/refugee centres where elephants are held in conditions that closely resemble their natural habitat and are allowed to behave like elephants again. Those sanctuaries are saving elephants from the riding and logging camps and giving them better life. By allowing tourists to visit elephants, and interact with them with respect, they can still generate revenue. In the ideal world, all the elephants would be freed from the captivity and would happily wander the woods without danger to be killed or captured. Sadly, this is never going to happen for various reasons. Some captive elephants are simply too damaged and are not equipped with the necessary skills for survival in the wild. Also, in some countries, elephant's natural habitat is gone. There is simply nowhere to release them to. Elephant sanctuaries and refugees are most likely the only appropriate alternative for the elephants in captivity. My husband and I visited one of such establishments where they keep elephants rescued from the riding, trekking and logging camps. We fed them, walked with them and washed them. From what we've experienced, we think we chose good ethical sanctuary. More detailed report about my visit coming soon! Until then, you can enjoy the video of our visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F1_-39BYuog
Tips on chosing the right establishment
When I was choosing the ethical elephant sanctuary in Thailand, I found out there are tons lot of places that advertise themselves as sanctuaries. Further research showed, not all of them treat their elephants in an ethical way. When I checked the latest online reviews, I found out even one of the sanctuaries that came highly advertised in various articles as being ethical, changed their policy and now allows bareback riding. Therefore, I urge you to do a research on a place you're planning to visit. To help you chose the right place, here are some pointers to see if the place you're visiting really is ethical as copy/pasted from RoughGuides article: To sum up, it is on us, tourists and travellers to chose not to support cruel practices that are still wildly used in elephant tourism all across the SE Asia. Don't interact with the captured elephants at all! If you have to interact with them, chose the ethical cruelty-free establishments! Only by doing so, we could change the future for captured elephants. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="450"] Those gentle giants deserve better, brighter future![/caption]   Sources: ThailandElephants.org, STAEPETA Asia, IUCN Red List of Threatened SpeciesRoughGuides, Lonely Planet, World Animal Protection

Video: Singapore

The first and the last stop of our recent trip around SE Asia was Singapore, where we've spent three and half days in total. You can see some of the moments of our trip caught on camera in the video bellow. I hope you'll enjoy it! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tUwtTNyq36Y&t=2s More about our trip around SE Asia coming soon...     #CityTripping linkup

2017 - A Year in Review

It seems to me every year goes by faster. It seems like I wrote recap for 2016 yesterday and not a year ago. Now is again end of the year and time to look back at all the amazing trips and travels of 2017:
  • I’ve visited 4 new countries: Cambodia, Serbia, Singapore & Thailand, stepping into 2018 with the total count of 30 visited countries
  • I swam in the Andaman sea for the first time
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Ta Phrom Temple. Siem Reap, Cambodia (November 2017)[/caption] [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Singapore (October 2017)[/caption] [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Belgrade, Serbia (February 2017)[/caption] [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Sledding at Mt Rigi. Switzerland (January 2017)[/caption] [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Oeschinen Lake, Switzerland (June 2017) [/caption] [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Krabi, Thailand (November 2017)[/caption] [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Cruising the Bosphorus strait. Istanbul, Turkey (September 2017)[/caption]
  • I've been to 2 castles: Otočec Castle in Slovenia & Hallwyl Castle in Switzerland
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Otočec castle. Otočec, Slovenia (August 2017)[/caption]
  • I've been to 14 temples: Sri Veeramakaliamman in Singapore, Angkor Wat, Bauphon, Bayon, East Mebon, Neak Pean, Phnom Bakheng, Pre Roup, Preah Khan, Ta Phrom & Ta Som in Cambodia and Wat Khun Ka Ma, Wat Lok Molee & Wat Rajamontean in Thailand
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Wat Rajamontean. Chiang Mai, Thailand (November 2017)[/caption] [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Blue Mosque. Istanbul, Turkey (Saptember 2017)[/caption]
  • I've been to 3 heritage sites: Grotte di Catullo in Italy, Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Temples of Angkor in Cambodia
  • I visited 2 UNESCO World Heritage sites: Historic areas of Istanbul & Angkor
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Angkor Wat sunrise. Siem Reap, Cambodia (November 2017)[/caption] [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Marina Bay Sands infinity pool. Singapore (November 2017)[/caption] [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="501"] Slovenia vs Serbia FIBA EuroBasket Final. Istanbul, Turkey (September 2017)[/caption] [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] EuropaPark. Rust, Germany (May 2017)[/caption]
  • I hung out with the elephants at the elephant sanctuary for the first time
  • I've visited 1 zoo: Zoo Zürich
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Elephant sanctuary. Chiang Mai, Thailand (November 2017)[/caption]
  • I've attended 2 fairs: International Motor Show in Geneva & Lozärner Määs - Lucerne's Autumn Fair
  • I enjoyed Christmas festivities at the Christmas Market in Luzern
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="449"] Christmas tree. Lucerne, Switzerland (December 2017)[/caption]
  • I’ve checked 14 things off my ever-expanding bucket list: visit of elephant sanctuary, I've explored the temples of Angkor in Cambodia, skied in Sankt Moritz, went kayaking, experienced the fish spa, swam in bioluminescent plankton, got Thai massage in Thailand, ate pad Thai in Thailand, visited Gardens by the Bay in Singapore, went snorkelling in Thailand, enjoyed the views to Singapore's skyline from the rooftop terrace of Marina Bay Sands hotel, explored Lake Como region, attended the Yi Peng Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand, hiked to the Oeschinen Lake in Switzerland (for the second time)
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Yi Peng Lantern Festival. Chiang Mai, Thailand (November 2017)[/caption]       FARAWAY FILES FIVE BADGE with map

Sunsets from all around the World - Part 2

Sunset is a gorgeous time of day. No matter where in the world you are, when the daylight turn to dusk, the sky glows in the most amazing palette of colours. Here are some of the lovely sunsets I've managed to capture on my travels around the globe: [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Tribunj, Croatia[/caption] [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Maribor, Slovenia[/caption] [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] La Digue, Seychelles[/caption] [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Belgrade, Serbia[/caption]
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Luzern, Switzerland[/caption] [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Siem Reap, Cambodia[/caption]
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Meggenhorn Castle, Meggen, Switzerland[/caption] [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Ao Nang, Thailand[/caption] [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Vurberk, Slovenia[/caption]
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Cairo, Egypt[/caption]

Counting the days till South-East Asia trip

Where?
Singapore, Cambodia (Siem Reap) & Thailand (Chiang Mai, Krabi)
WHEN?
From 29th October to 11th November 2017
WHY SOUTH-EAST ASIA?
South-East Asia was on our radar for a while, but somehow it was never the right moment to travel there... Not until this year, when I found really good deal for the direct flights to Singapore. After a quick research on Singapore, we didn't hesitate much before we've booked our flights there. Reasons?
  • Interesting architecture
  • Melting pot of cultures
  • Colonial history
  • Cleanliness
After our research, we knew two weeks in Singapore would be too much for our travel style, so we've started looking into other places in South-East Asia which we could also visit. Singapore is a travel hub with affordable connections to numerous destinations. It was hard decision, but after taking into consideration different factors, (like  weather conditions, transport connections, things to see, etc.), we've decided to travel to Siem Reap in Cambodia and Chiang Mai and Krabi in Thailand. Why? Siem Reap, Cambodia:
  • Siem Reap temples
  • Cambodian history & culture
  • Affordability
Chiang Mai & Krabi, Thailand:
  • Elephants
  • Stunning beaches
  • Thai food
  • Temples
  • Thai history and culture
  • Limestone rocks formations
  • Adventurous activities
  • Affordability
As usual before departing to my trip, I would like to ask you my dear readers for some assistance. What are your favourite places in Singapore, Siem Reap, Chiang Mai and Krabi? What attractions are must see? Which market must we visit? Where do they serve the best food? What local delicacy we must try? Any suggestion would be highly appreciated!

Cats of the world

Hi, I'm Urška and I'm a crazy cat lady. I also love to travel. Wherever in the world I meet feline creature I try to befriend it or at least take a picture of it. No wonder there are plenty of cat photos in my photo library. Here below are some of those pictures of the cuties I've met and photographed on my travels: [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Raggi - Reykjavik, Iceland[/caption] [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Ivo - Millis, Italy[/caption] [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Calico Cat Cafe cat - Tokyo, Japan[/caption] [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Lyon, France[/caption] [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Deia, Spain[/caption] [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Predjama, Slovenia[/caption] [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Himeji, Japan[/caption] [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Valdemossa, Mallorca, Spain[/caption] Last but not least, my two kitties Živa and Lili - just because I felt this post wouldn't be complete without my favourite cats being mentioned. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="540"] Lili[/caption]

Japan. Day 11: Himeji castle & Osaka

Eleventh day of our trip to Japan in spring 2015, my husband and I went to a visit Himeji and Osaka. Early in the morning we left our hotel in Kyoto and boarded the fast shikansen train to Himeji. The reason we traveled to Himeji was the castle Himeji-jo - one of twelve original Japanese castles that hasn't been damaged or destroyed in the wars or in natural disasters. It is actually pretty remarkable that the castle is still standing. During World War II the Himeji town was completely destroyed by the allies, but the castle remained intact. Luckily the bomb that landed on the roof failed to detonate. As it is still in its original shape and because is considered to be the finest example of the classic Japanese feudal period architecture it has been inscribed to UNESCO World Heritage list. Instantly after we exit the Himeji train station we saw the Himeji castle dominating the area from atop of the hill. Majestic and beautiful. While looking it, I understand where its nickname Shirasagi-jo - "white heron castle" comes from. With a bit of imagination its roof gables really resembled a white bird taking off in flight. To get to the castle, we followed a long straight road. With every step, the castle grew bigger and more impressive. Because it underwent a major renovation just before our visit (completed in March 2015), it shone in its bright white colour. It was impressive to see it in all its glory, but on the other hand, the renovation took away some of its authenticity - it didn't feel as ancient as its truly is. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="450"] Castle views[/caption] When we arrived to the castle entrance, we bought out tickets and enter the castle grounds. Before we were allowed to enter the main building, we had to take our shoes off. Carrying shoes in the plastic bags provided by the kind castle staff, we explored the main building. While the exterior of the Himeji castle is truly remarkable, neither I nor my husband were impressed by the interior. Its huge rooms were very modest. They looked empty as only few objects from the castle's long history were exhibited and only few explanatory panels were provided. The most interesting were definitely the panoramic views from different floors of the main building. Despite slight disappointment with the interior, we enjoyed our visit of Himeji castle. After all, it was our first visit of an ancient Japanese castle! [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Interior of the castle[/caption] After our visit of the Himeji castle, we went to see the nearby Kokoen Garden. After we've read in our guidebook this area used to be feudal lord's residence, we expected something different. My husband was a bit disappointed when he discovered there is no emphasis on the samurai heritage of the place, but I wasn't. The gardens were just too beautiful. They were definitely one of the most beautiful gardens we've seen in Japan. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Kokoen Garden[/caption] After our tour of the Himeji castle and the Kokoen gardens, we walked back to the Himeji train station where we've boarded the train to Osaka. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Kokoen Garden[/caption] When we arrived to Osaka it was already lunch time. We craved for some western food. After some online research we found an Australian pizzeria. We went there and had delicious pizza. With our bellies full, we walked to the nearby Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan where we admired the marine life. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan[/caption] The aquarium was amazing. It introduces the marine life inhabiting the Pacific Rim in well organised and interesting way. We started our tour at the surface of one of the 15 tanks that are displaying the animals from the specific region of the Pacific Rim. We slowly spiralled down the visitors trail floor by floor, observing the animals living in the tanks from different perspectives. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Curious seal[/caption] Animals looked well kept and we were able to learn many interesting facts about the them from informative panels in English placed all around the area. There were not many visitors in the aquarium and the atmosphere was peaceful and quiet. Amazing. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Japanese spider crabs & some fishes[/caption] The highlight of our visit was the tank at the very end of the visitors trail where we were allowed to pet sharks and stingrays. Of course, there are some rules we needed to obey in order not to cause stress for the animals. We carefully followed them while petting the animals. The sharks' skin felt harsh, while stingrays' reminded me of a jelly. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Me touching stingray[/caption] Before we left the aquarium we've spent some time at its amazing gift shop. We bought some cute souvenirs for us and our families and then we took the metro to one of Osaka's two major city centres - to Minami. Located around Namba Station, is the city's most famous entertainment district. The area was full of people, full of neon signs and sounds. Very different than the peaceful area by the Osaka Aquarium. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Osaka street[/caption] We've strolled through the streets of Minami area. We stopped at Dōtonbori where we saw the famous Glico running man sign and Kani Doraku crab sign. We did some shopping at Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade and walked the streets of Amerikamura district. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Famous Glico running man sign in Osaka[/caption] The time flies when you're having fun and soon it was time to return to our hotel in Kyoto. After some struggle deciphering Osaka public transport network, we managed to get back to Kyoto where we've spent another night.

Japan. Day 10: Deers of Nara, Buddha's nostril & tori gates of Inari shrine

On our tenth day in Japan, we left Kyoto for a day-trip to Nara, the first permanent capital of Japan famous for its temples, shrines and deers. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Todai-ji - one of the Nara's temples inscribed to the UNESCO's World Heritage List[/caption] Our journey began at the Kyoto Station where we've boarded the direct train to Nara. After app. 40 minutes of ride, we arrived to Nara JR station. There we took the bus to Nara Kōen, a large park in central Nara where a hundreds of freely roaming sika deers live. It's hard to missed them as they are everywhere. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Sika deers are a symbol of Nara[/caption] In Shinto religion deers are considered to be messengers of the gods. Nara's app. 1200 deers become a symbol of the city and were even designated as a national treasure. We've bought a package of deer crackers for 150 JPY by the first stand and feed some of the deers. With their  doe eyes and wet noses were definitely the cutest creatures. Asking for food, some of the deers rubbed against us, nudged us with their foreheads and some even bowed their heads. As the bowing is an important feature of Japanese etiquette, we joked, even Japanese deers are polite. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="450"] Cute sika deer[/caption] Prior to our visit, I've read warnings the deers can be aggressive while feeding (there are even notices around the park) but we had no such an experience of aggression. Even the deers with largest antlers were sweet and gentle. One even allowed me to touch his antlers and I was surprised how soft they were. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] We had a lot of fun feeding the deers[/caption] Once we had hung out with the deers in the park, we moved to nearby Todai-ji temple to explore Nara's rich heritage. From 710 to 784 was Nara not only political, but also spiritual and cultural centre of Japan. The heritage form that era was recognised by the UNESCO. The city's historic monuments - temples, shrines and remains of the imperial palace were inscribed to World Heritage List under the name "Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara". [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Todai-ji[/caption] Todai-ji, also known as the "Great Eastern Temple" is one of Nara's Buddhist temples inscribed to the World Heritage list and is spectacular. It is considered to be the one of the largest wooden building in the world. It is massive and beautiful. Its shape reminded me of samurai helm. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Courtyard of the Todai-ji Temple[/caption] [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Impressive Todai-ji is definitely one of the most memorable temples I had a chance to visit in Japan [/caption] In Todai-ji's main hall, one of the world's largest bronze statues of the Buddha - 15 meters high bronze Daibutsu, can be found. While walking around the Big Buddha, we've spotted several smaller statues - Buddha's guardians each carrying its own symbolic meaning. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="450"] Daibutsu - The Big Buddha[/caption] The most interesting part of Todai-ji temple is probably a pillar with a hole in its base that supposed to be the same size as the Buddha's nostril. It is said that if you could crawl through, you're granted enlightenment. Of course we had to try. We stepped in a queue and wait for our turn. Closer we get, the smaller the hole appeared to be. When it was finally our turn, my husband decided not to go and it was on me to try to squeeze through the hole. Standing in front of the hole, it appeared to be even smaller then it looked from a distance. I gave it a try, but when I was already inside the hole and had my arms on the other side and I saw my husband and a bunch of tourists taking pictures of me. The panic took over me. "What if I got stuck?", I thought, "That would be a fun sight for them to photograph!" With such thoughts I rather pulled back. When My husband came to me laughing. I couldn't resist laughing with him. Although it was a bit embarrassing, it was fun experience. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Me trying to achieve the enlightenment by squeezing through the "Daibutsu's nostril"[/caption] After my failed attempt to achieve enlightenment, we slowly moved towards the exit. Before we left the temple, we observed a group of old Japanese ladies dancing. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Japanese ladies dancing[/caption] We stopped in the park to feed the deers with the rest of deer crackers and take a bus back to the train station. We stopped at the lovely Japanese bakery for some snacks and took the train to Kyoto. At the Uji station we switched the fast train for the slower one that took us to Inari station - a station just a step away from the famous Fushimi Inari-Taisha shrine. Although it was already late afternoon, the access to the shrine was still open. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Tori gates of Fushimi Inari-Taisha shrine[/caption] Fushimi Inari-Taisha shrine is devoted to Inari, a Japanese deity of foxes, rice, tea, sake, fertility, agriculture, industry and general prosperity. It is one of the most famous Japanese shrines and I can definitely understand why - it is amazing. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] One of the buildings at Fushimi Inari-Taisha shrine[/caption] From the main shrine we walked uphill to the tori gates, Fushimi Inari-Taisha shrine is famous for. We soon discovered the endless gates cover the pathway straight to the top of the hill. I was aware of the toris, but I didin't expect they will cover such a wast area. Walking through them uphill was an amazing experience. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="450"] The pathways are covered with tori gates all the way to the top[/caption] The higher uphill you get, the better is view to Kyoto. Every here and there by the pathway, the bigger or smaller complexes of small shrines decorated with tiny red tori gates can be found. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Small shrines on the way up to the top of the mountain[/caption] We didn't get to the top, as it was already getting dark and we were already getting hungry. We returned back to the valley. We took the train to Kyoto where we went to the dinner to the same sushi restaurant we've been a day before. Again, we've enjoyed the delicious sushi and returned back to our hotel tired, but reacher for a bunch of amazing memories. [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="450"] Foxes are a guardians of Fushimi Inari-Taisha shrine[/caption]  

2015 - A Year in Review

The year is slowly coming to an end. Looking back, the memories of 2015 brings smile on my face. Although I've faced some difficult moments, was 2015 a year I will never forget. I got married to love of my life, I've travelled and explored new unknown places and revisited some of the places I already visited, and last but not least, I've started writing Slovenian Girl Abroad blog. Let’s do a quick recap of 2015:
  • I've visited two new countries: Japan and Netherlands, biding goodbye to 2015 with total count of 24 visited countries.
  • I've stepped at the Asian continent for the first time.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Amsterdam, Netherlands (june 2015)[/caption]
  • The longest time I've been away from home in 2015 was 14-days trip to Japan in May and June.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Kinkaku-ji temple. Kyoto, Japan (May-June 2015)[/caption] [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Brunni sledge run. Engelberg, Switzerland (March 2015)[/caption] [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Cows at Brienzer Rothorn, Switzerland (August 2015)[/caption] [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Relaxing by the Terme Ptuj pool. Ptuj, Slovenia (August 2015)[/caption]
  • I was impressed by seeing two iconic mountains in person: Mt Fuji & Matterhorn (2 times)
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Matterhorn. Zermatt, Switzerland (October 2015)[/caption] [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Jigokudani Monkey Park, Japan (May 2015)[/caption] [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] FIS Ski Jumping World Cup event. Engelberg, Switzerland (december 2015)[/caption] [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, Netherlands (June 2015)[/caption] [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Predjama Castle. Predjama, Slovenia (November 2015)[/caption] [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] A-bomb dome, Hiroshima, Japan (May 2015)[/caption] [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Christmas tree at Zürich's Christmas Market, Zürich, Switzerland (December 2015)[/caption] [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Calico cat cafe in Tokyo, Japan (May 2015)[/caption] Leaving 2015 with great memories, I'm looking forward to 2016 and the new and exciting adventures new year is going to bring. Have a Happy New Year!