We had a decision to make. We were sitting at the kitchen table of Amy's family house in Bangkok. Our flight from Japan back to the USA was just cancelled due to a typhoon that was to hit in 24 Hrs Tokyo. We had 3 hours before our flight from Bangkok to Tokyo was to leave. The storm was downgraded from category 5 to 2 that morning. Japan was being extra cautious because they did not act appropriately the last time a big storm hit, and now we figured they were swinging too far the opposite way to cover their asses. Do we fly to Tokyo and hope to only be delayed for a day? Do we stay in Bangkok and wait until we hear when our Japan to USA flight is rescheduled (knowing that we might miss it cause we would still have to get back there (6 hours from BKK))? Do we just forget the 2nd half of our ticket and buy a new ticket from BKK back to the USA? I decided we fly back to Japan and hope it is a short delay, giving us another day to enjoy Tokyo. I really was not concerned for our safety, but maybe I should have been. Anyway as the old Knight Templar says to the Nazi in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when he drinks from the gold chalice, thinking it to be the Holy Grail, “….He chose poorly”)
We landed in Narita. Narita is a small town on the coast and about 1.5 Hrs from Tokyo, only linked by a train line. Normally this is information you do not need, but in this instance it proves vital. We had a hotel in Narita by the airport that night, reserved weeks ago because we were planning on sleeping then taking short shuttle to airport the following morning for our US flight. Now our US flight was cancelled and we did not know when it was going. When we landed in Narita I went to the Japan Airlines desk and they instructed me to call the 1800 number. I was like, "what?, I am standing here where can I go to talk to someone?” Sorry, they don’t have resources to help people at ticket counter other than checking in for specific flight. As I would learn over the next couple days, this was par for course in Japan. I could only imagine how this would go over in the US. People losing their shit, lawsuits, riots. The Japan Airlines people never took their phone off busy signal for 3 days FYI. Anyway, we could do nothing tonight so we had dinner at hotel and went to our room. It was then that we realized that the airport would be shut down tomorrow, we had no hotel the next night and none were available. Also, they were shutting down the rail between Narita and Tokyo tomorrow. Where were we gunna sleep tomorrow? There was no point at sleeping at airport as no one there could help us. So at 6 am the next morning we were able to board a train back to Tokyo. There were all these people going the opposite way, getting off at the airport with all their luggage. I kept wondering what the hell they were thinking? The airport was shut down. What I later learned was that with the rail system shut down for 36 hours just after we got back to Tokyo, all those people had flights out the following day. So, they were taking the last rail to the airport to spend all day and night there and try and get out on their flight the following day. They had to go now or they had no way of getting to the airport with the rail down or damaged. Crazy!
Anyway, I was booking and cancelling rooms like a madman as our situation was constantly in flux. I was double booking in different cities. Everything was selling out fast. I found us a room for night one in a hostel, and then booked another 3 nights in Shinjuku neighborhood in case we needed it. I still had not been able to get through to Japan Airlines. When I finally did get through to my travel agent (never use a travel agent like priceline, expedia, etc to book a flight) they said there were only 2 seats left on the next available flight……..in 6 days! What! I told them no way and hung up. Then the next day I called back and accepted it. What a mess. What I failed to realize when determining whether to leave Bangkok was that it was not like just our flight was cancelled and could be rebooked the following day or two, but rather all 500 flights going out of the airport were cancelled that day and the next. That means all those people would have to be rebooked and you couldn’t just double the bandwidth of the airport in a day.
Anyway, we ended up in this cool hostel, chilling in the common room until a room was ready
It was a strange night. The Hostel was packed and no one was going out at night since nothing was open. This meant you had all these people from different countries huddled around tables and drinking. A table in front of us had 5 kids playing cards. Each one was from a different country. I looked around at it was more of the same. I mean this is normally what hostels are all about but this was the melting pot on expert level. It was beautiful and gave you hope for humanity.
Amy met a Japanese lady living in Bangkok. Amy was now hooked on the hostel life. Which I was cool with. I mean we already travelled light. We were in Asia for nearly a month and only brought a carry-on. When we did end up returning to the US, at customs they asked where our bags were multiple times. “You were over there that long and all you have are these small backpacks?” Yes we replied with a smile as a point of pride.
Oh, I forgot about the whole Typhoon thing. Well, it had gained some life in the ocean over the last few hours. The sky turned pink and everyone was posting pictures to their Instagram. The weather was not bad, but we were getting reports that outer areas of Tokyo were sustaining lots of damage and it would hit us at 9pm. For a moment I grabbed an umbrella and walked outside to check it out. In half a second my umbrella blew inside out. I walked back in and folded it in half and plced it best I could back with the rest, as it wasn’t mine to begin with. Amy and I went to our room and right at 9pm on the dot it started getting loud. You could hear the wind whipping by the building like you were in a small boat out at sea in the middle of a squall. We went to the window, not the smartest move, and saw people in the street drunk trying to walk into the wind. Shingles and metal sheets were tearing loose. Then 5 minutes later it settled down a bit.
The next morning the sun was out and people went about their day as nothing happened.
We had 5 more days to kill. We moved our stuff to new hotel, and took a day trip out to Mount Takao. Some of the trains were shut down so we had to use bus transfers and it took a couple hours to get to the base of the mountain. Because of the rain there was lots of flooding and unfortunately the tram was down and most trails were to wet. We did find one trail that was dry and at least got 30 minutes of good hiking before having to rush back to catch the last bus back towards town
Back in town we had more Yakitori in Piss Alley
Walked by the famous Robot Restaurant, but declined to go in because we both agreed that it would just give us a headache.
That night we hit a bar in Shinjuku and watched Japan defeat Scotland in the next round of the Rugby World Cup. They would eventually lose to South Africa in the Quarter finals, but a good showing for the home team
I worked through different ideas on what to do for the next 3 nights. We did not want to stay in Tokyo any longer, as we had seen most of the sights and the madness of millions of people both here and Bangkok was getting old.
We decided to head a few hours north of town to a historic city called Nikko. It has a lot of shrines, but also good nature trails up in the mountains. Because some of the rails were damaged we had to find a work-around to get there. Although a pain, it meant less other tourists to deal with once we arrived.
We got in late, it was pouring, but we were able to find lodging in a traditional Japanese Ryokan.
It was overpriced, but it was nice to relax in the Sulphur-infused scalding water. We also found a decent sushi place that even supplied directions!
We got back to Ryokan and could not get the air conditioner to work. I knew that no one really spoke English here and calling front desk was not going to work. I should also mention that electronics in Japan are extremely complicated. Not only are the buttons in Japanese but the controller has like 20 buttons. Don’t get me started on the amount of controls on the toilet, but once you do figure it out you will love the “special features”. Anyway, Amy called down to the front desk and this older gentleman came up while I was lying on the floor. Amy conveyed that the machine did not work and he saw we were trying to turn down to 18C, “Nooooo, 18 Berry Berry cold…….Yo no leave window open!” It was comical, and in the end he could not fix it and bowed 100 times in apology as if he had accidentally ran over our dog.
The next day we walked some of the shrines. We tried to get the Ryokan to hold our bags but they said it was not possible…strange but oh well.
We then boarded a bus up to Lake Chuzenji. We were working our way from Right to Left on the below map,
We found lodging at the Lake Side Nikko Hotel. We left our bags and explored the lake area. We decided tomorrow we would hike and today just walk the lake a bit and take a ferry boat tour
After departing the ferry on the far side of the lake we walked back toward the town on foot, stopping for lunch. The area specializes in some vegetable or something called Yuba and they put it in all their Ramen. I may have not mentioned but that is pretty much my staple. I really don’t care what I eat, but will never refuse a bowl of ramen.
We finally made it back to our hotel and we were able to check in.
It was recently purchased, and the new owner was making renovations, but kept it open during constructions and gave us a ridiculously cheap rate. Before dinner we walked back into town to grab a bottle of Sake and check out a temple
This picture is Amys revenge picture for last night. I was trying to get the TV to work and the front desk guy was trying to help me
We went down and enjoyed the Japanese Bath, then sat in lobby and watched Netflix until the dinner was ready. Food was good and we felt fortunate to find this place to relax for a while. We enjoyed it so much we decided to stay here the following night
The next morning after, after a traditional Japanese Salmon breakfast, we decided to catch the bus a little farther up the mountain and hike our way back. Here is a map of some of the hiking area
When we got on the bus we did not have a clue how it worked. You had to take a ticket and pay when you got off based on some number on the screen. It was all very complex but once you get the hang of it, you look down and laugh at the new fish getting on trying to figure it out. It is interesting how complicated things are when you hit a new country with a unique transportation system, bathroom/bathing setup, etc, but once you have a day under your belt you are firing on all cylinders and nothing could be easier.
We stopped at the Nature Center to look at some of the wildlife we might see. They were selling Bear Bells, but based on my part experiences I would not allow Amy to purchase one or she would end up in the river along with the bell after having to listen to it ring for 2 hours straight.
Since we had gone up quite a bit in elevation from Tokyo we were in prime fall color peeping season.
We saw lots of people taking pictures. I had read before how meticulous Japanese photographers are. This is no surprise based on the rest of the culture. They would sit there focused in on one leaf on the ground for 30 minutes. I will not be doing that here
We also came across lots of school children. They must all have learned the same English words because as they walked by they would utter, “Nice to meet you” So, after that I would say those words slowly to everyone we came across.
We went for about 3 hours, walking back to the hotel. Settling into a nice routine of bath, Netflix and dinner. I wish we could have done it one more day, but the next day we headed back down the mountain and into Tokyo. By the time we got to our hotel in Narita, by the airport, we were tired from a long day of buses and trains.
The next day we finally caught a flight back to the US! At the airport I saw these KitKats. Look at all these flavors! Amy brought home the Green Tea variety, which is easily the worst possible option and will be sitting in the back of my cupboard for years.
A long trip, but no real complaints. We have covered the main points of Japan and Thailand. Meaning subsequent trips can get even further off the normal path and an even more relaxed pace.
Until Next Time,