A snapshot of our trip
We really enjoyed Japan because it was extremely clean and an accessible country with an excellent public transport system. On top of that it has a fascinating history combined with top quality museums. Despite having a reputation from 50 years ago that is very negative, with many war crimes committed (then again all nations in WW2 undertook crimes against humanity, its just that half of these nations won the war and the other half lost) it was interesting to note that the Japanese are extremely polite, especially outside of Tokyo and very helpful.
Kyoto was fantastic. A cultural paradise with thousands of shrines and temples all over this compact city. There are plenty of Michelin starred restaurants, which we didn’t go to as we thought we wouldn’t be allowed in due to our clothes. However, the other food we ate was of a very good quality and tasted delicious. For the traveller, the integrated public transport system is brilliant. Buses interlink with trains and the subway. At times it can be confusing when there is a private train running on the same line as the metro. We did get stuck a couple of time wondering what on earth was going on in central Kyoto station but in the whole it is an easy place to travel in.
Top destination outside of Japan
The Himalayas, Nepal
For spectacular scenery then Annapurna Base Camp and Circuit are the places to be. Snow-capped granite peaks plus accommodation high up in the rocky mountains are what makes Nepal famous. Plus it is such a cheap country to visit. Many go on tours but you can organise it yourself very easily when you are there. There are indeed hundreds of trekking companies in both Pokhara and Kathmandu. Some of our trip highlights were experienced here including meeting Kitty and Marco who were just fantastic people. The scenery of Nepal is beautiful. The tour guides not so, some were fine whilst others told you about all these people that died or were injured because they did not have a Nepali Guide. The reason Nepal is not no.1 is because it wasn’t the complete package. For rustic travelling then you cannot beat Nepal unless you go to India. Where else in the world can you see goat pee dripping on someone’s head or a goat escaping from the roof of the bus? But it was the only country of our trip where I had constant diarrhoea including 9 days in a row. That certainly puts a shadow over somewhere!
Traditional Japanese food in a ryokan. The quality was first-class with the food presented in a range of lacquer-ware bowls.
The Himalayas, Nepal
Snow capped mountains and climbing at 5416m with the sun shining down. How can you best being on top of the world?
The people always greet you and say goodbye. There is no pressure to buy anything in a shop.
The traffic here was insane. On one occasion it took us two hours to go 8km in a taxi. The public transport is overcrowded at all times of the day and takes nearly as long with a risk of pickpocketing as well. On top of that security guards are everywhere stood with their shot guns. The pollution is widespread with Jeepneys sending out black plumes throughout the day.
It depends how you set the criteria. Based on road traffic accidents then South Korea comes out on top. If you then consider crime and road traffic accidents then the Philippines is pretty scary especially in Manila. Nepal regularly had road traffic accidents. Nepal and The Philippines have a less developed infrastructure whilst The Philippines has a huge corruption problem. Everything was bought. You bought your driving licence, you bought the bus licence and the bus route licence. You paid off the mechanics for your MOT. The result was deadly accidents, at least one occurring when we were there.
Nepal has but two paved roads, one that goes from Kathmandu to Pokhara and another in Kathmandu. Most other roads are just tracks and succumb to landslides making travel very dangerous. The terrain mean the drops of the road are hundreds of metres high. The size of the road is usually the width of the bus. The trio to Syabrubesi was indeed the worst because of overcrowding and the huge drop. The second worst bus journey was to Sagada, the smell burning brakes and the couple of hundred metre drop made it a terrifying trip.
I think the Philippines edges it as it was the only country where our mode of transport crashed. The driver trying to overtake as a lorry came around the corner. He pulled in to hit a tuk tuk and smashed the bus door.
Nepal is very cheap with expensive meals costing £5 for steak and chips. Meals at the high end were £2-£3 but you could pick up a meal for just £1.60. Accommodation was also pretty cheap. If you stayed in a hotel with a generator it would set you back between £10-15 per night for a double room. Hostels without a generator were much cheaper costing around £5 per night for a double room.
Most expensive country
Japan followed by South Korea.
Even hostels cost around £25 and above per night with mid-range hotels costing at least £40 a night with them rising at the weekend.
However, food can be bought from the convenience stores and offer noodles and salads. They also have meals to be heated including pasta dishes. They cost around £2-3 a meal. Restaurants cost more with Co-Co curry costing £6 a dish. This was the cheapest restaurant we saw.
It was actually harder to eat inexpensively in South Korea as convenience stores do not offer the range of foods that Japan had.
Most memorable point
Reaching the top of the Thorung-La pass. It took us 9 days of walking to reach this point before we had our hot lemon at 5416m high. This is half the height that planes fly at. It was fantastic to stand there with snow all around us. The path down was hard-work indeed with lots of slipping and sliding. I don’t think I will forget the euphoria and sense of achievement plus the beauty of this place nor will we forget Harry our porter, Marco our friend we trekked with and the crazy Dutch guy who cycled there!