Japan

The Art of Slow Travel 2013 travel wrap up

I’ve been doing end-of-year wrap ups ever since I started this blog, and they have always been very focused on my travel experiences (duh, this is a travel blog after all!) – 2010, where I took several trips around Europe during the year I moved to Switzerland, 2011, the year when I finally achieved my goal of finding a way to leave and work permanently in Australia, and prepared to do so the following year, and 2012, when, quitting my 3 jobs in Switzerland, I spent 2 months in Vietnam and Singapore, then landed in Australia and did a short trip to New Zealand.

It was all amazing, but 2013 was even amazing-er (so amazing it deserved the creation of a new word). There was, of course, travel involved this year, even if to a lesser degree than during previous ones, as there is no way I will ever be cured of my chronic travel bug. Here are the places I travelled to and some of my favourite moments and places.

Japan

I cannot think of a country I wanted to visit more than Japan. The year before I had opted for Vietnam instead because I could easily spend three months there for the price of 2 weeks in Japan, and at the time I needed the long break. But this year, I didn’t want to keep making any more excuses. The Yen was at an all time low, several Japanese friends had offered to host me and Boyfriend and several more wanted to show us around their home towns, so I booked tickets to visit in May. In the space of three weeks, we did a lot without it feeling to rushed. we started in Tokyo, taking day trips to Mount Fuji, then flew down to Fukuoka where a friend took us around the magnificent island of Kyushu. Next up were Hiroshima and Miyajima, then a quick train up to the Kansai region where we explore Osaka, Nara, Kobe and Kyoto.

Finally, we headed off to Nagoya to be with friends, and got to explore the city, plus some other areas like Ise and the Japanese Alps, where we saw some late blooming cherry trees. From here, we returned to Tokyo to catch the flight back home.

Favourite Photos

Odaiba, Tokyo

Giant Gundam in Odaiba, Tokyo

Eating black eggs (boiled in the sulfuric water) in Hakone

Hiroshima, you are unexpected

The Peace dome, Hiroshima

The plains beneath Mount Aso, Kyushu

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People gathering under the Torii gate, Miyajima

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Feeding the deer, Nara

Beautiful Kyoto

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 Koi Fish and Boat in Nagoya

Best Bits

Seriously everything – the amazing food (if you are a bit open minded), the natural scenery with the beautiful Mount Fuji, covered in snow, the ancient architecture (Temple fatigue does not exist for me) and the amazing friendly people who opened their homes to me, took me out to memorable meals and showed me their Japan – apart from one thing, which brings me to…

Worst Bit

The fact that smoking is allowed in eating places. Japan is filled with small traditional hole-in-the wall places to eat, but Japanese men will always be smoking there. In fact, I was a bit surprised as to how many of them smoke. Only more modern establishments seem to (not always) have different zones, though sometimes the divider is nothing but an invisible line on the floor.

Melbourne and Victoria

I am still calling Melbourne and Victoria home, and have no plan on leaving. I never wanted to be a nomad. The reason why I moved countries and travelled so much is because I was looking for Home. Melbourne is Home. The weather never gets too cold or too humid and hot, the food is amazing and there are great restaurants everywhere, the public transport is frequent, reasonably priced and efficient, and you can have a comfortable life even if you’re not a lawyer, a banker or a doctor. Here are my favourite photos and experiences in and around Melbourne from this year.

Melbourne Arcades and laneways tour

Discovering street art during a Melbourne lane ways and arcades tour

Great Ocean Road

Beach and Surfer along the Great Ocean Road

Moonlit Sanctuary, Victoria, Australia   moonlit sanctuary, Victoria, Australia

Feeding Wallabies and stroking Koalas at the Moonlit Sanctuary

point nepean victoria australia

Spending my Birthday at Nepean National Park

Thailand

I must admit that, for some reason, I just never felt the urge to go to Thailand. To be even more honest, I loathed the idea. All that came to mind when I thought about Thailand were scams at every corner, old European men buying local women and tacky tourist shops and inedible Asian-Western food. When I got the opportunity to visit Thailand for ‘work’ and to travel a bit more off the beaten track, I thought that I couldn’t possibly be this prejudiced towards a country I had never visited, so I thought I’d give it a go.

I started in Bangkok, travelled up to Sukhothai where I was lucky enough to be in time for the Festival of Lights celebrations, went up to Lampang and visited the world’s first elephant hospital, then did a home stay in the outskirts of Chiang Mai before moving to the city proper for a couple of days.

Favourite Photos

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Stupa illuminated for the festival of lights, Sukhothai

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Elephant at the Elephant Hospital, Lampang

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Festival of lights, Night Market, Lampang

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Doi Suthep temple, Chiang Mai

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Lady restoring mural at Wat Po, Bangkok

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Model posing for Japanese photography tourists, Sukhothai Historical park

Best Bits

I really enjoyed Thailand. Because I had read up on all the scams, it was easy to avoid them. The people were extremely friendly, and while Bangkok and Chiang Mai are very touristy (which is ok) the places I visited in between were less so and absolutely stunning. I am a sucker for beautifully preserved ancient ruins and temples (can’t get enough of Buddhas) and rice fields frames by soaring mountains.

Worst Bits

This is entirely my fault (because the trip was quite fast and I was not staying in a particular place long enough), but I found it really difficult to find authentic Thai food. The closest places to eat (so again this is my fault because I did not take the time to go out of my way) were these weird, 100-page-menu places with bad Thai and tasteless Western dishes (which I didn’t want as I don’t travel to eat Western food abroad). My best meals were those were locals cooked for us at homestays, straight out of their kitchen. Everything else was…meh.

This obviously means that I need to go back and find proper, amazing Thai food.

***

So what’s in store for 2014?

In January, I am off for a week in the beautiful Whitsunday Islands. I haven’t had a beach holiday in ages, so I am really looking forward to that. Then in May is the big trip back to Europe to visit friends and family. All together I will be visiting Dubai, Malta, Italy (for the first time!), Switzerland and Singapore before coming back home 3 weeks later.

While this is all I have planned at the moment, I am quite sure I will be able to squeeze in another trip to an Asian country, though I am not entirely sure where. I am really intrigued by mainland Malaysia though…

And of course, Australia still has plenty to offer.

***

ON A DIFFERENT NOTE…I had plenty of fantastic non-travel moments too.

After a dark start to the year, I managed to go from a job I really hated and which was affecting me physically and emotionally, to one I really loved (within the same company, which is great – sometimes something just isn’t the right fit). I reached my goal of being financially comfortable. After years, I finished my first novel (!!!!!) and am now embarking in the long and complicated process of finding a publisher. My head is already buzzing with the next book, the second in what will eventually be a trilogy.

How about you? What were your best 2013 travel moments (feel free to post a link!) and what have you got planned for 2014? What were your best non-travel moments?

-Text and Photography by Denise Pulis @www.theartofslowtravel.com

20 thoughts on “The Art of Slow Travel 2013 travel wrap up”

  1. Sounds like you’ve had a great year, Denise! Congrats for finding a job that you love. Your photos are beautiful, like usual. I especially loved those from Japan and the surfer on the beach. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Colombia! :)

  2. Thanks for sharing your wonderful year of travel with us; I particularly enjoyed your Japan series. Looking forward to read about your journey in 2014. Your planned trips sound interesting. And congratulations for finishing your first novel! That certainly is exciting. I wish you all the luck in finding a publisher. I hope it will be a big success.

  3. You had an amazing year of travel! I really like your formatting of your wrap-ups. I loved following your Japan visit since it’s one of my favorite countries but you saw a whole lot more. Your planned trips sound great so far. I’m glad you’re going back to Europe for a bit. Wishing you a prosperous and healthy 2014! Happy New Year!

  4. I can never get enough of Japan. When I did a month there it was so hot that I know I missed a lot. My advice is never to go in July or August. At the moment, I don’t have much choice. That is when my summer break is and I’m not interested in going in the dead of winter.

    Good to see that you made it to Thailand. Sadly, so many people have a bad impression before they ever arrive. There are scams, and the whole old man/young woman thing gags me. However, it doesn’t have to be in your face (as I think you found out). As for the food, the best is usually what you will find on the street or in the authentic Thai “holes in the wall”.

    Non-travel wise, had a crappy 2013, and I really think 2014 is going to be a whole lot better (has to be!) :)

    1. Hi Nancie,

      Yes, that’s exactly right with Thailand – it’s not in your face and it’s not the norm.

      I would love to go back and really need to start looking for those hole-in-the wall places.

      Yes absolutely right! No point going to Japan in the summer, although if you stick to the Tokyo and below the winter can be quite beautiful (I found Korea in February beautiful, for example)

      I hope you have an amazing 2014!

  5. It is so interesting to do a wrap up of the past year. I can’t imagine you ever not travelling, but I am glad to hear that you now call Australia home – and there is certainly plenty to see right here in our beautiful country. I still haven’t seen it all!
    Wishing you a wonderful 2014, and safe and happy travels. I look forward to hearing more about the book – is it published yet?

    1. Hi Jill,

      Thanks for your kind words. Yes, Australia is really beautiful, and that’s one of the reasons I love it.

      I just finished the book at the end of 2013, so the publishing process will be long as I am looking at the traditional way of getting published.

      Happy New Year

  6. What a wonderful year you had. Your blog posts really turned me on to Japan – a country I’ve never given much thought to before.

    2014 sounds like it’s full of wonder travel. Hope it ends up being a superb year for you.

  7. Many congratulations on a wonderful year, and especially on finishing a novel, as well as all the travel plus work too. What a good idea to do a wrap up of the travel year, may I borrow that for a year from now?

    Living in a new country is travelling, I think. We’ve been living in Sydney for donkey’s years but a trip to a new suburb feels like a good wander to me,

    Here’s to a happy and fulfilling year in 2014 for you.

  8. I am still calling Melbourne and Victoria home….the public transport is frequent, reasonably priced and efficient, and you can have a comfortable life even if you’re not a lawyer, a banker or a doctor.

    Besides being a writer and a great photographer (i love your photos) have you thought of a career in stand up comedy?

    1. Hi Casey,

      Thanks for the lovely comment about my photos.

      Look, I think it’s a matter of perspective. Having lived in 2 countries and travelled in several, I think Australians (or the Australians who work hard) have it pretty damn good. In Malta, where I lived for the first 21 years of my life, if you didn’t have a car and relied on public transport, a 20 minute car journey took 1 hour on a bus. The buses were old, and not airconditioned in a climate with a very hot and sticky summer.

      Pay in general is pretty terrible, and lots of employers, because of lack of laws, treat their employees like shit.

      In Switzerland, where I lived for the next 2 and a half years, the cost of living was through the roof, and unless you were a doctor or a banker or someone in one of those positions, it was a struggle. Private health insurance was compulsory and I struggled to pay it, and when I got sick, I struggled to pay the doctor bills because my extensive insurance still had an excess of 2.5 thousand dollars.

      So yes, all in all I don’t think 5 bucks for a day of travel on the Melbourne public transport system is a lot. At least where I live, delays happen rarely, and even if I have a relatively simple job, I can save money and travel a lot. Of course, I don’t spend 200 dollars every weekend on cocktails and drinks though.

      So many people from all around the world are flocking to Australia because life here is so much better than everywhere else. They see it because they have perspective, and I suppose it’s difficult to have that unless you’ve experiences how bad life can be in other countries :)

  9. Firstly just for the record…I have lived in the USA, India, Pakistan, Vietnam, Korea and Australia. So I have experienced other countries.

    The argument about the health care is true it is better than the US (for now). But keep your eye on that space….the proposed new GP fee could be a start.

    About the wages, no one can argue that Australia has high wages, unless you are one of the thousands of Indians, Africans,or Asians who struggle to make 10 dollars an hour or the taxi drivers some of whom barely scrap together 5 dollars an hour. For a large majority of the population (probably higher than in the EU or North America) they do bring home a sizeable income, but if you happen to be an indigenous or a refugee or an international student, well life looks a little different. It just takes a bit of perspective. Just go to any major newspapers comments section and read the responses to this year’s Australian of the Year Award.

    The transport I will have to disagree with completely. Where do you pay 5 dollars a day. Perhaps a weekly is 35 dollars but that requires you use it 7 days a week,which most people don’t. A two hour ticket (which is not 2 hours of actual travel time) is over 3 dollars. The public transport system was sold off under the Kennett govt and now turns a tidy profit in the tens of millions per month for the owners but with minimal regard to the service quality, the recent heatwave being a pretty sound reminder of that. The Metro timetable won Australia’s Best Fiction award last year! It maybe better than Malta but it is noticeably worse than it was 20 years ago, and I want it to get better. I mean they nearly doubled the weekend fares from 3.50 to 6.00 to pay for ‘upgrades’ to the service, but then claimed the worker’s wages were too high to actually make the upgrades…hmm did the fares go back down?

    We do have it good in Australia but it will be taken away unless we stay aware. I am happy you have a life here, it’s a pretty big place…but in my line of work to say that everyone has it well off is naive (which I don’t think you are)

    1. Hi Casey,

      I pay $130 dollars a month, and even if I don’t always use the monthly fare at the weekend, (I use it minimum 5 days a week) I still save heaps. Other major cities like London, Paris etc, the transport will be the same or more.

      I came to Australia 2 years ago. My country, though 1st world, had appalling wages. Like many of the immigrants you mentioned, I had degrees but no one would employ me because I was foreign. I worked hard, I retrained, I used my other strengths, found what many would consider a very simple job but it actually earns me quite a bit of money. My partner had to do the same – he was a tradie and no one wanted him, so he retrained as a tram driver and has a good salary.

      Moving to another country is hard everywhere – not just in Australia, so we can’t speak of a country’s level of living by looking at immigrants (and I can say that because I am one of them).

      Do tell me if you think there are better countries to live in, because I believe them to be very few, if any.

  10. Funny enough I showed this conversation to my wife and she said, I agree with you both.

    I still disagree with several things…I will never ever support Metro, I don’t agree on principal that public transport or public utilities should be privately owned and the fact they hire a private army of thugs to police it.

    I also don’t like this line of argument..can you think of a better country to live in? that is what a hell of a lot of rednecks in America say, and I say you are right, perhaps New Zealand is better. But, so what, does that mean we shouldn’t strive to fix the problems here. There are far too many complacent people here who barely bat an eye when the Prime Minister that refugees shouldn’t swear or congregate together, or that the ABC must now face and efficiency study. Things can change very very quickly.

    I am an immigrant as well. I moved here eight years ago…I also re-trained, I also came from a first world country with appalling wages and no health care. I was blessed with the ability to speak languages and a willingness to reinvent myself. Some people have that ability and do it, some people have the ability and don’t use it and should and others don’t have the ability. I care about all of them and I hope you do too. We shouldn’t still and say ah it is better here than somewhere else.

    What kind of curious country is this?

    1. Hi Casey,

      Oh yes of course I agree on the fact that all countries can be improved – that’s a given – in fact I said please find me a better country if it exists (and I agree on New Zealand) but I didn’t say that Australia is a perfect country :)

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