We began our trip in Nagoya, Japan, where our daughter lives. Our first day there, she had to work. My husband and I were proud of ourselves because we were able to walk to Noritake Gardens and purchase tickets on the hop on/hop off sightseeing bus from there. We were able to go to Nagoya Castle and were going to make other stops. But, it was so hot and humid that we just went back to the rail station and looked in some shops (they have 6 floors of them on top the station) until she came home and met us there.
The next day, we took the bullet train to Kyoto and dropped our overnight bags at the hotel before taking a regular train to Nara, an ancient capital of Japan. The bullet train beat flying any day. No airport hassles, just buy a ticket and get on. It’s fast, smooth and quiet. Nara is well known now for the tame deer in it’s park. We were expecting dozens, but there were hundreds. And, they don’t stay in the park. People are selling wafers to feed them out on the sidewalks, so that’s where they come to meet you and continue to areas across the street. They are cute, but can be annoying because they bite at your clothing to get your attention to feed them.
Across the street is a huge building with the biggest bronze Buddha in Japan and the third largest Buddha built of any material there. I must admit that it was awesome. Shinto is the oldest religion in Japan. It’s a nature-based religion – they worship the sun, water, wind, etc. Jessie says that most people are born Shinto, but turn Buddhist later in life. That’s probably because Buddhists believe in a life after death and the Shinto religion is just over when you die.
The next morning, we took a half day tour in Kyoto. We went to the Ni-Jo Jo Castle, where the floors are made creaky on purpose, so the Shogun could hear intruders. We saw the Golden Pavilion, which is covered in gold leaf and visited the grounds of the Imperial Palace in Kyoto. Japan does have an Emperor, but he’s a figurehead, like Queen Elizabeth. He lives in the Palace in Tokyo, but comes to Kyoto for certain ceremonies.
We returned to Nagoya and left the next day for Siem Reap, Cambodia. We learned from our tour guide that the city name means Victory from Siam. Siam (now Thailand) and taken away much of their land and they fought to get it back. We arrived late in the evening. Siem Reap boasts deluxe hotels, like Raffles, but we didn’t stay there! We went to a small hotel, Hollywood Angkor Boutique Hotel. It’s an old hotel with about 15 rooms. We were greeted with cold, scented wash cloths and a cold drink. You have to use an old-fashioned key, then stick the metal plate attached to a slot in the wall to make the electricity work. The mattresses were like new and everything was spotless. The service there was amazing!
The next morning we went out and came back, then went to lunch and came back, then went on an afternoon tour and came back, then to the circus and came back. Each time we walked in, they were there with cold cloths. In Japan, people don’t tip, but everyone there works hard on their own. In Cambodia, the people are much poorer and they do accept tips. They are very gracious and very appreciative of whatever they get. The pool area at the hotel had beautiful orchids and flowering trees. Our last day there, my daughter got a massage and facial (done in the room) for about $32.00. While we were waiting in the lobby, someone brought us cold bottles of water – just another small way they catered to their guests.
The first morning in Cambodia, we were taken to the park across the river from the hotel. Traffic there is a free-for-all – not for the faint of heart. It was Saturday, so the Buddhist temple there had live Cambodian Music. There were people in the park having breakfast, and children were playing. There were also giant bats in the trees (at night they fly and eat the bugs). There were also beggars. One man only had 1 leg, probably from the land mines that were buried all over Cambodia during their war. We had arranged private tours through TravelBound because they were the same cost as group tours. Our Tour guide for 2 days said that tourists bring in money, but not a lot trickles down to the people from government. They have their own money, but it’s worthless. Their economy is built on the U.S. dollar. They won’t accept torn or very worn bills because they know they have to use them for a long time. Before we went, we got cash because our bank said up front that they wouldn’t approve our credit card in Cambodia.
That first day, we had an afternoon tour to a floating village. On the way, we stopped in the country to go part way in carts pulled by water buffaloes. The roads in the country are terrible, but they don’t bother fixing them because of the flooding in the rainy season. The floating village is a bunch of floating shacks, mostly, where people live. They also have a cooking school, church, school, store, etc. Our daughter told us before we went that the school where she teaches sponsors a school in Cambodia. The students that go to her school are from wealthy families. Their school has fund raisers during the year to get money to send to Cambodia (the next one coming up is a Halloween Party). They are able to provide the Cambodian children with breakfast, lunch and a snack, as well as school supplies. For many of those children, it’s all the food they will get for the day.
The next day was our full day tour of the Angkor temples, etc. After you get by the people wanting to sell you things, the ruins are amazing. Both Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat are huge. They date from the 1100’s and 1200’s. They are constructed from huge blocks of sandstone. There are hundreds of statues and the walls are totally covered with carvings, showing life at the time, such as enemy’s coming on boats, royalty, common people hunting and cooking, etc. They tell the story of the time. Ta Prohm is the area where Angelina Jolie filmed the movie, Lara Craft, Tomb Raider. There, the Strangler Figs are taking over the ruins. They are trying to preserve the Angkor complexes as much as possible. Stones that have fallen are numbered and some statue heads have been replaced with concrete.
Originally, their religion was Hindu, but they changed to Buddhist. At one point the Hindu people stole many of the Buddhist statues and knocked off the faces of Buddha on the carvings. You can take an elephant ride at Angkor Thom and there are wild monkeys at Angkor Wat. All-in-all, they are just amazing. We climbed all over Angkor Thom but when we got to Angkor Wat and I saw the steepness of the steps, I let the family go up while I went to the far side to wait in the shade. Two young Buddhists monks came along and they chatted with me for some time. They were school teachers and were off for the day (Sunday). At first, I wasn’t sure what to say to them, but they were just regular people and we had a lovely conversation.
When we left Cambodia, my daughter had to go back to work in Nagoya so my husband & I went to Tokyo. When we arrived, it was raining and they said a Typhoon was coming. We figured our tour to Fuji would be cancelled the next day. The storm went North and the next day dawned beautiful and sunny. We found lots of English-speaking people in Tokyo, but we were only there for 2 nights. I picked a hotel that was a stop for the airport limousine bus and also a pick up the Mt. Fuji, Hakone and Lake Ashi tour. On the bus to Fuji, you could see it in the distance, but by the time we arrived, it was shrouded in clouds. The tour was still good with a cable car ride in Hakone. We stopped at a volcano, which had pipes that let out the sulfur gas. Usually, they take you up to a hot spring and boil eggs in the water (they turn black, but you can eat them) but, they had a landslide, and no one was permitted up at that time. Afterward, we had a cruise on Lake Ashi in a pirate-type boat.
Overall, it was the most adventurous and the best trip we’ve ever done. And, the tours and hotels we arranged through Travel Bound (Virtuoso) came off without a hitch.
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