Crabs in Cambodia

It’s been way too long since I posted anything, which I am blaming on a combination of being super tired at night, having bad wifi, and/or writing in my paper journal instead. But. Here I am in Cambodia! I have a half-written piece on Tokyo, which I will try to finish in the next few days, but here is the cliff-notes version of what I’ve been up to over the last few days:


  • Day 1, went to Mariakan museum, the museum of emerging science and technology. Cool robots! Creepy androids! Out-of-place exhibit on ninjas, with shoes that they used to walk on water. Met my cousin, her boyfriend, and her friend for lunch in Asakusa, then went to the big temple (Senso-ji) and pulled a fortune. It was a metaphor about fishing. An afternoon visit to the Tokyo National Museum ended when they shooed everyone out by playing “Auld Lang Syne.” Then we had conveyor-belt sushi for dinner.
  • Day 2, went to Meiji Jingu, a huge Shinto shrine, and its beautiful gardens. Met my cousin and her boyfriend for lunch in Harajuku (cold udon is a thing, and it’s delicious), then bought cute Japanese socks. In the afternoon I went to a Hayao Miyazaki exhibit on the 52d floor of Roppongi Tower. Couldn’t understand any of the signs, but the drawings were cute and the views fantastic. Walked around my hotel’s neighborhood (Shinjuku), quickly stumbling on the love hotels and men-only massage parlors, but also passing the very cool neighborhood of Golden Gai. Four alleyways lined with tiny bars, each seating no more than 10 patrons.
  • Day 3, I had a 3 o’clock train to Kyoto. I went to the Imperial Palace in the morning and wandered around the gardens, then went to Ginza, where I went to a soba shop and ordered what I thought was the tea I saw everyone around me drinking. They brought me a teapot full of the water they had been cooking the noodles in. I missed having my cousin to translate/explain, and did not drink it.


  • Day 1, I arrived around 6 pm, just in time to drop my bags off and get to the place where the river split to see the huge (as in, the whole hillside) bonfires for Bon-Odori/O-Bon, a religious festival. Kyoto lights five fires, each a different character, and all symbolic. I got to the riverside at 7:30, and it was pouring. Pouring. Pouring. I didn’t have an umbrella, just a raincoat, because I was planning to buy a cute Asian umbrella. Goretex let me down, and by the time I got back on the subway at 8:15 (theoretically they lit the fires at 8, but I sure didn’t see anything), I was squishing with every step.
  • Day 2, I went to Kiyomizu-Deru temple, which is up in the hills. I walked down a gravel path behind the temple, and saw a path going into the woods with a little sign clearly showing it was a hiking trail. Could I read any of the words on the sign? No. But it went somewhere, so I started walking. I climbed up the mountain, until I was way above and behind the shrine, and couldn’t read any of the signs I passed, though it was obviously still a hiking trail. I did eventually find a 2-inch sign in English, and found another trail that led back to the other side of the temple. I got a lot of mosquito bites. Walking down the hill towards Nishkin Market, I stopped at Kennin-Ji temple, where I rested my feet and cooled down while staring at the Zen garden. What do you know, it was peaceful. Zen, you might say. I ate lunch at 3 pm, continuing my cultural misunderstandings by ordering something called sashimi (it was slimy… bean curd strips? I don’t know) and pouring tea into the check stand. I then bought way too many souvenirs, and went back to the hostel to do laundry.
  • Day 3, I went to Hiroshima. I got there around 10 am, went to A-Bomb Dome, the Peace Park, and the museum. The museum hadn’t been renovated since it was built in the 50s, but they were in the middle of doing that, so half of it was closed. That meant a whole museum’s worth of people squished into half a museum. I couldn’t see most of the exhibits over the pack of people, which took away from an otherwise moving experience. Lunch was okonomiyaki, a Hiroshima treat of pancake, cabbage, bean sprouts, bacon, egg, noodles, and several sauces and spices cooked on a big griddle. There’s a food court that sells nothing but that, so I picked the most crowded place and waited in line. I had just enough time to hustle to a beautiful garden, where a couple in kimono were getting their wedding pictures taken, then I caught my train back to Kyoto. I went straight to the Fushimi Inari shrine, where there are red torii gates lining the whole path up the mountain. It’s a 2-hour hike to the top, and the sun was setting, so I only went halfway, but it was beautiful.
  • Day 4, I slept late and then went to Arashiyama, a western suburb of Kyoto. I had a kaiseki (Kyoto haute cuisine) lunch, then walked in the bamboo groves. After an afternoon visit to the monkey park (so cute!) I went to Gion in an attempt to see geisha. I saw one from a block away, and then bought a ticket to a super touristy show so I could see Japanese traditional arts, including the tea ceremony, flower arranging, and a geisha dance. I finally had ramen for the first time for dinner.
  • Day 5, I went to Nijo Castle, which was really cool. They had a nightingale floor, so you couldn’t sneak up on the shogun. I had tea in the traditional tea house. Then I caught the train to Hakone.


  • Day 1, I arrived at the Ryokan (Japanese traditional inn) around 3:30, having had to drag my bags uphill a kilometer in the rain. But they fed me cold tea and a sweet as a welcome, and then I could get straight in the onsen (traditional hot springs), which was why I had come. They’re public (though segregated by gender), and naked. I did not like the way the 5-year old girl stared at me, it made me self-conscious. The ryokan had 4, and I tried all of them: one before dinner (the genders switched for each one at 7 pm), one after, one when I woke up at 4 am, and one before breakfast at 8 am. The place was super traditional, tatami and sliding doors, and a six-course meal served to you in your room. So many kinds of fish. Some good, some gross. Sleeping in a traditional Japanese bed is like camping on a good camping pad, if someone chopped the bottom of your sleeping bag off (my feet stuck out the end).
  • Day 2, breakfast also had lots of different kinds of fish. I didn’t eat the baby sardines, I have a thing against eating eyes. Then I left my bags and went to the Hakone Open Air Museum, basically a big outdoor sculpture garden in the mountains. They have a public foot-onsen, which was odd but fun. Then I walked to the train station, caught the switchback-single track-mountain train, walked down the hill to the ryokan, picked up my bags, walked to Hakone station, took that train to Odawara, caught the Shinkansen to Shinagawa, changed to another line, took that one stop, changed to another line, walked two blocks, and finally ended up at my airport hotel.


  • Day 1, I woke up early in Tokyo, had sushi for breakfast, and made it out about an hour before a typhoon hit and they closed the airport. It was a bumpy ride. 7 hours later, I landed in Singapore. My hostel (a “capsule hotel,” not really, do not recommend) was in Chinatown. I went to the Chinatown Cultural Heritage Center, a cool museum like the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, tried and failed to get chicken rice at a hawker center (they were closed, I got rice porridge and mystery meet from another stall instead), and saw the sound and light show at the “Supertrees” in this big public garden.
  • Day 2, I went to the zoo. There’s this cool place where you go through like 4 doors, and then there are whistling ducks, mini deer, 2 kinds of parrots, ring-tailed lemurs, bats, butterflies, all just hanging out around you inches away. The elephant show was entertaining but also maybe exploitative, I felt somewhat conflicted. Then the botanical gardens, then Little India, then Arab Street. I did some shopping in both places, and had very spicy Indonesian food for dinner. I went to the People’s Park Complex and got a foot reflexology massage, my first, which was very painful but seems to have worked because my feet don’t hurt as much as they used to and the weird cramp on the bottom of my left foot is gone. I had a durian milkshake, but could only down four or five sips before I had to throw it away, it was so gross.
  • Day 3, I went to the gardens by the bay to try to go on the catwalk up in the Supertrees, but it was raining so that was closed. Then I went to the national museum, then I finally got my chicken rice. The airport has a sunflower garden on the roof. And I arrived in Cambodia around 6 pm.


  • Day 1. My friend who’s doing her Ph.D. research in Cambodia met me at the airport, and we took a long and winding tuktuk ride through all the bad parts of town (the roads were big craters full of mud, so we kept turning around), past karaoke bars where the women sit in rows of chairs so customers can pick one, and past big piles of burning trash. We stayed at a hotel a few blocks away from where she used to live, in the hipster ex-pat part of town, and had a very nice dinner of Khmer food. We went to a hotel’s rooftop bar for drinks, and ordered cocktails based just on the name. Mine was good, fresh apple juice with liquor (tequila I think) mixed in, but hers was a little fishbowl of bright blue liquid balanced on a bigger fishbowl full of lights, a battery pack, and flashing multicolor LED lights.
  • Day 2, today! We woke up early and a driver took us down south to Kep, a town which used to be a French resort town back in colonial days. We dropped our bags, changed into bathing suits, and walked over to the crab market. They wade out, pick up a trap, bring it onshore, and then cook the crabs then and there for you. It was too early for crabs, I had a mung bean waffle instead, and then we went to Rabbit Island. You get on this narrow wooden boat and just head over the bay for about half an hour, then have to climb down a ladder and wade in (there’s no dock). The beach was beautiful, and the sun came out. We both got sunburned, stupidly. Then we hung out by the pool, had crabs for dinner, and here we are, surrounded by a mosquito net to keep out not the mosquitos but the geckos and giant-ass spiders who call this bungalow home. Seriously, the spider that crawled off the toilet paper when I tried to use it was a solid 3 inches.

And that’s it, I’m finally caught up! Japan, Singapore, and Cambodia part 1 in a nutshell.

The View From The Top

I’m finally here! It took 28 hours and 37 minutes door-to-door, but I am nicely settled in a “ladies room” on the 14th floor of a Tokyo hotel. I was following the advice of the “First Time in Asia” Lonely Planet book to make sure you had a nice place to stay the first night because of jet lag, and I’m glad I did because I think I woke up at 3 am and every 20 minutes from 5-7, but I could always roll over and go straight back to sleep since the room was so quiet. My plan for the day is to go to Mariakan, the museum of emerging science and technology (robots!!!!), walk around the neighborhoods of Asakusa and Ueno, and probably go to the Tokyo National Museum. I’m going to try to meet up with my cousin, and she has some friends she wants to see, so we’ll see how it all shakes out. Also it’s the O-Bon festival, which means some stuff is closed (like the Tsukiji market, which I am very bummed about), but hopefully that means there will be a parade at some point. When I’m traveling, I love stumbling onto local parades and street fairs, because everyone who’s there is always, without fail, very cheerful and happy, and the good moods are infectious.

When I checked into the room, the lady at the front desk gave me this cute little goody bag with shampoo and things, which surprised me because it seemed like a nice enough hotel that it would already have that in the room. But it turns out that the Ladies Rooms come with special perks: I was opening all the cabinets and finding all of these little machines, most of which I could not identify. I did figure out what the foot massager and clothing steamer were, but there were two other little boxes. A white noise machine maybe? And a mystery box? But the goody bag also came with a questionnaire.


So I’m assuming the mystery box is a face steamer. I have no idea what that is or how to use it, but I might give it a try. There are also all sorts of little packets and things, most of which are either only labeled in Japanese or which have very generic names (e.g. “ladies amenity”, which I’m guessing is a pad?) in English.


I picked the ladies room (it’s on a floor that only women stay on) because I had heard that drunk Japanese businessmen can get a little pushy, and it cost the same price as all the other rooms so I figured why not, plus it was guaranteed to be non-smoking, but based on the questionnaire the “ladies amenities” and “ladies facilities” are also things that people seek out. I’ll try to ask my cousin’s boyfriend if this is a common thing in most big hotels, to have a women-only floor, but he probably won’t know.

For the last twenty minutes or so of the flight, I started chatting with (read: lightly interrogating) my seat mate, because even though he was obviously American he was also a Japanese citizen (since he had refused the foreigner card when the flight attendants were passing out immigration forms). It turns out he was bringing his boyfriend to meet his ultra-conservative Japanese relatives, and so all of his time living in Japan had been mostly with family. But he did confirm some of the things I hadn’t been totally sure about, namely that Google Maps is absolutely essential, and unless you read and speak Japanese you really can’t get around without it. Japanese addresses are for the location on the street on the block in the district in the bigger district in the something else in the city, and without Google maps you have to go find the district map to figure out what block to go to. Sort of like DC, where there are four places where Second Street intersects D Street, and you have to know which quadrant you’re in, only in a language that I can’t read. Also when I was asking about manners things, he basically said I can get away with anything because I’m so obviously white, and if people get upset with me for being rude I will probably never know. (Unlike in his case, where his relatives get mad at him for being rude but don’t tell him why.) I will try not to be rude, but there are so many extra rules! When the front desk lady handed me back my passport she did it two-handed, which reminded me that you’re never supposed to hand things to people with only one hand, and that I had therefore been rude to (so far): the people at the SIM card counter, the ticket lady at the airport, the guy at the information desk in Ueno station, and the lady at the front desk when I handed her my passport in the first place. Oops.

Two random facts about Japanese customs: they ask about swords on the forms. (Like, “are you importing illegal drugs, explosives, or swords.”) Also, they funnel you through a single file line next to a quarantine station (big sign reading “This is a quarantine station! We do NOT provide ANY medical care!”) so a thermometer can read your temperature, and over a carpet soaked in disinfectant. There were a lot of signs warning about various diseases, with maps of the world color-coded in various shades of red to indicate risk, but it was all in Japanese, and the US was the palest yellow, so I figured I was fine unless someone told me otherwise. The only word in Roman script was “MERS”.

Getting to the hotel was surprisingly easy, because the trains run so. precisely. on. time. I started with the information desk at the airport, asking her to tell me how to get to an ATM machine, a SIM card seller, and the train. Money in hand, it was time to get online. There were a bunch of counters selling SIM cards, I just picked the closest one, and paid about $35 for 200 mb of data each day for 15 days. More expensive than India, but still very cheap given how impossible it would be for me to function without a smartphone. I asked at the train counter what the best way to get to Shinjuku was, since Google Maps was telling me about trains and buses and I wasn’t sure what was easier, and she looks at the clock (it was 8:03 pm) and says “There’s an 8:10 train, and you only have to change trains once. But you only have seven minutes! Go!” So I hustle downstairs, and wait in line, and by the time I step up to the ticket counter it is 8:07. And yet I managed to get on the 8:10 train with not only my train ticket (I love the train names, it was the Kaisei Skyliner) but a two-day pass for the Tokyo metro. Amazingly efficient.

It took me longer to get the 500 meters from Shinjuku to my hotel than to walk 1 km from the main Ueno station to the one that had the E subway line, because there are so many exits, and so many streets, and all the streets were packed with people on the Saturday night stroll. I kept getting turned around. Thank goodness for Google Maps! Even when I could see the tower of the hotel, I couldn’t necessarily figure out which streets took me to the entrance. The only obviously drunk guy I saw was this older man, who was being carefully steered away from the crowds by very cheerful-looking policemen with white gloves. Somehow I can’t imagine the Times Square police on a Saturday night with white gloves on.


So I have now spent one night in a Western-style room, and I have to say, other than the fact that the bed is raised off the floor, there is no question about the fact that you’re in Japan. I won’t sleep on a tatami until near the end of the week, when I stay in a ryokan, so I don’t have anything to compare it too, but the Japanese definitely like their mattresses and pillows FIRM. I slept well, but I think it will take my back a while to get used to the new normal.

The mattress has no springs, and has an interesting pattern on the top:


One of the pillows is a normal feather pillow on one side, but then it’s like straw on the other, you can sort of see the ridges on the top:


And then the other pillow is sort of like a cross between foam and straw:


When I say straw, it’s not spiky like real straw, it bends, but it’s like a bunch of flexible straws sewn into pockets. Also, the toilet has a lot of buttons on the wall for the various angles of spray, and you can set the water pressure. Toto is definitely not in Kansas anymore!


And So It Begins!


I’m sitting in LAX right now, 12 hours into a trip that started at 4 am this morning with a drive to Logan Airport to catch my first flight. It was pitch black, and I had my fingers crossed I would be able to see the Perseid “meteor storm,” but unfortunately it was still cloudy. It was a beautiful sunrise, though, and I learned that Boston’s rush hour really does start at 5:30 in the morning.

First stop: Tokyo! I’m going to have three nights in Tokyo, then catch the shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto for four nights. I’m planning to use Kyoto as a base for day trips to Hiroshima and probably Nara, though so far I’ve only read the Tokyo section of the guidebook. Whatever, I still have an 11 ½ hour flight from LA to Tokyo, plenty of time. I’m checking out e-book guidebooks from my library instead of buying a bunch of paper ones. Traveling light, 2016 edition. So far, my library has me covered, but I probably will end up buying the e-books for at least a few countries.

My cousin is in Tokyo right now visiting her boyfriend, and she speaks Japanese, so I’m planning to meet up with her on Sunday or Monday and hopefully she can show me around a little. She taught English in the southern part of Japan for a year, so I will also pick her brains about what to do in Kyoto/Hiroshima/Nara/etc.

Although I’m nowhere near as exhausted at this point as I was the only other times I flew to the other side of the world (India: the day after finals ended; Australia: a Sunday flight after spending all day Friday/early morning Saturday moving my entire apartment from DC to Boston and then catching a bus to New York), I’m still spending my first few nights in Japan in a hotel, to get over the jet lag a bit before I switch to sharing rooms in hostels. The hotel advertises “Godzilla-view rooms,” which should be interesting.

So excited to start my adventure!

Packing List

When I started planning this trip, and realized that I would have to deal with temperatures that could top 100 (Cambodia in August) or dip below freezing (Iceland at the end of September), I started looking at packing lists in travel blogs to see what other people suggested. I found them super helpful, so I’m publishing this packing list in case anyone else finds it useful. I’m sure I overpacked, because my suitcase is heavy, but I’m planning to ship a package home from Hong Kong with most of my warm-weather clothes and shoes, so that should help. (Part of the weight also comes from the clothes I’m bringing to the friend I’m staying with in Cambodia, because Amazon Prime doesn’t exactly deliver to her apartment.) I thought about trying to do the carryon-only backpacking style of trip, but for the reasons I mentioned in an earlier post, I decided to bring a few more things and just check the bag.



  • 1 pair sneakers
  • 1 pair walking sandals
  • 1 pair plastic flip-flops
  • 1 pair silver sandals
  • 1 pair black flats
  • 1 pair black booties

Six pairs of shoes is a lot, I admit, and the silver sandals and black flats didn’t necessarily need to come, but it’s going to rain for part of each day in many of the places I’m going, and I hate going to dinner in soaking wet and muddy shoes. I’m going to send the silver sandals back from Hong Kong, because once I’m in Europe it should be cool enough in the evenings that flats won’t give me blisters. The black booties are waterproof, and I’m planning on wearing them when it’s rainy and cold in England and Scotland. Plastic flip-flops are a necessity for hostel showers, and I’m going to be doing so much walking I want to be able to switch between sandals and sneakers if one is bothering my feet.


Coats/Cold Weather Gear

  • 1 packable down jacket
  • 1 rain coat
  • 1 lightweight jacket (water resistant on the outside, fleece on the inside)
  • 1 fleece hat
  • 1 pair fleece gloves
  • 1 pashmina-style scarf

So the key here is layering. I looked like an idiot wearing three coats on top of each other in my oven of an apartment in July, but I confirmed that if I wear the down coat, then the jacket, then the raincoat, a) it all fits, b) I can still move my arms, and c) it’s warm. I also am bringing a few merino sweaters, and with all that put together, plus a hat and gloves and the hood on my raincoat up, I should be comfortable in Iceland. I hope. The jacket and the pashmina scarf come in my carryon, because I get cold on planes, and everything else rolls and squishes into a medium-small packing cube. The down jacket is one of those ultra-lightweight down jackets from Uniqlo, which is only $70, packs to the size of a fist, and is water resistant.



  • 6 t-shirts
  • 4 long sleeve shirts
  • 4 wide-strapped tank tops
  • 2 spaghetti strap tank tops
  • 3 merino tops (1 ultra-lightweight base layer, 2 sweaters)
  • 2 lightweight cardigans
  • 1 button-down shirt
  • 2 pairs jeans
  • 1 pair quick-dry travel pants
  • 2 knee-length skirts
  • 1 dress
  • 2 bathing suits

For working out/hiking

  • 1 wicking t-shirt
  • 1 wicking button shirt
  • 1 pair athletic leggings
  • 1 pair athletic shorts
  • 1 pair yoga pants
  • 1 pair hiking socks


  • Pajamas
  • 12 pair underwear
  • 6 pair socks
  • 1 pair leggings
  • 1 pair tights

The indulgences here are the second pair of jeans and the second sweater. But it all fit in, under the weight limit, and I know I’m going to be so sick of everything else by the time I get to the UK/Iceland that I will be happy to have different clothes for the colder weather. I’m planning to do most of my laundry in the sink, and only use a washing machine every 10 days or two weeks for stuff that either doesn’t fit in a sink or won’t easily air dry. I found this awesome clothesline at REI that fits in a pouch smaller than my thumb but stretches out to be pretty long, and I have a little bottle of Dr. Bronners and a rubber sink plug.



  • DSLR camera
  • Laptop
  • iPad mini (for reading e-book guidebooks)
  • iPhone
  • Mini power bank (for recharging the phone in the middle of the day)
  • Converter plug with USB ports
  • Noise-cancelling headphones



  • Very thin cable, for locking my suitcase to the rack on overnight ferries/trains
  • Packable towels (1 full-size, 1 hand towel), so I don’t have to pay towel fees at hostels
  • Swiss Army knife
  • Safety pins
  • Paperclips, for switching SIM cards
  • Bug spray and sunscreen
  • Makeup and jewelry
  • Journal
  • Headlamp, for finding stuff in my bag at hostels
  • Hats
  • Medicine and tissues. I always seem to get a cold when I travel.
  • Portable humidifier. (It’s only about 3x3x6, and weighs about half a pound. It takes any regular disposable plastic bottle of water. I often get colds when I travel, and if the air is too dry, I wake up every 15 or 20 minutes because I’m so thirsty.)


I hope this was helpful!