Friday, April 12, 2013

K: Oh, the places you'll go!

It's Day 11 of the A to Z Blogging Challenge, in which I'm focusing on overseas destinations I've visited. Just as the British like Bs, the Japanese like their Ks!. 

K is for Multiple K cities in Japan, Koh Samet, Kuala Lumpur, and Kuta

Kyoto, Japan (1986-89)

Kyoto was one of my favorite Japanese cities. Now, looking back, I wish I'd spent more time there--we were only an hour away by train from Osaka. Each time visitors came to Japan, we would take them to Kyoto, which was once the imperial capital of Japan. Full of beautiful shrines, temples, gardens, and historic streets, I could never get enough of this place!
Sanjo bridge over the Kamo river in present-day Japan

And in ancient Japan
On our second trip to Kyoto, my traveling buddy Debbie and I got off the bus at the wrong stop and happened across this amazing  temple, Sanjusangendo, which was founded in 1164. The original temple burnt to the ground in 1249, but the present building (Japan's longest wooden building) dates from 1266. The temple is full of 1,001 statues of Kannon (or Buddha), which were carved in the 12th and 13th centuries by a famous sculptor, Tankei.

Second trip to Kyoto in fall 1987, after one month in Japan
Debbie, you look so cute!
Kyoto has a silver temple (Ginkakuji) and a golden temple (Kinkakuji). Ginkakuji is known for its moon-viewing traditions, which are believed to make the temple glow silver.

Another one of my favorite temples, Kiyomizudera, was founded in 798, but its present buildings date from 1633. There is not a single nail in the entire structure.
From down below
From above
Kiyomizudera perch (1988)
Kiyomizudera when my parents visited Japan, 1988
Debbie and I also took a bus up into the mountain, Hiei-san, on our second trip. It was so peaceful and beautiful up there!

Up on Hiei-san
Not only did Kyoto feel more like the old Japan than where I lived (Wakayama and then Osaka), but it also felt more cosmopolitan. It has great shopping, food, and culture! I'm homesick for Kyoto!

Kaizuka, Japan (1986)

A few months after arriving in Japan, we went to Kaizuka for our first Japanese festival, which was unforgettable. Hundreds of people in hapi coats filled the streets, pulling large shrines through the streets of the city, yelling "Sore-ya!" The streets were festooned with strings of colorful paper lanterns, and street vendors sold festival food such as yaki-tori (grilled chicken), tako-yaki (octopus balls) and taiyaki (fish-shaped pastry with red bean filling). As gaijin (foreigners), we were quite an attraction, even more so than usual. The Japanese pulled us into the lines and encouraged us to help pull. I felt like a rock star. It was a wild party, helped along by plentiful sake. Unfortunately, I also experienced my first (and not last!) Japanese groping during the festival--a dirty old toothless man kept kissing my hand, and then he grabbed one of my breasts. Fortunately my two tall friends helped fend him off. With the exception of that incident, the festival was great fun.

In the midst of the craziness!
Kobe, Japan (1986)

Kobe, 19 miles from Osaka, is the fifth-largest city in Japan. Even though city records go back to 201 AD, I think of it as more of a modern city than others in the Kansai region. Kobe was one of the first cities to open for trade with the West following the end of the policy of seclusion and has since been known as a cosmopolitan port city. In December 1987, I sailed out of the port of Kobe on a trip to visit my sister Nadine in China--the ferry went from Kobe to Shanghai in two days.

In 1995, the city was hard hit by the Great Hanshin Earthquake, when over 6,000 people died (mostly in Kobe). The school of one of Mike's private students (he was a child when we lived there), Katsutoshi, was destroyed in the earthquake (150,000 buildings were damaged), so his parents asked if they could send him to visit for awhile. He stayed with us for several days until we arranged for him to have a homestay with a couple who had lived in Japan and who taught at the Portland Lutheran School...that way he could actually go to school rather than hang out all day watching TV.

Damage from the earthquake
Kada, Japan (1986-87)

Kada, a fishing town, was farther away from Wakayama (where I lived during my first year in Japan) than Isonoura Beach, but it was a much more pleasant destination. Kada Beach was less crowded and cleaner, and it had a fascinating shrine (Awashima), which has become a sort of doll repository. It's believed that dolls have spirits and you can't just dump them in the garbage. The shrine is also a popular place to pray for relief from "women's issues," infertility, miscarriages, etc., and to remember and honor lost babies. To us, it was a picturesque spot!

Awashima Shrine

In addition to dolls, they also have a phallus collection--perhaps for the gynecological problems!
 (The ones with the hair and testicles are particularly troubling!!)

Mask collection

Harbor of Kada
Kada could be reached by motor scooter or train, but I made it there only a few times. Fun memories, especially this trip and beach picnic with Mike--thank God he didn't kill himself on the motor scooter! Now I chuckle, thinking back to the time we borrowed a friend's scooter one weekend...Mike revved the gas without getting on the motorbike first! He went careening into the bushes!
My sexy boyfriend on the beach at Kada
Koh Samet, Thailand (March 1987)

As I wrote about Bangkok, when Debbie and I visited Thailand we were closely chaperoned most of the time and rarely ventured outside of the city. One of the great exceptions was on a trip to Koh Samet, an at-the-time mostly unpopulated island about 140 miles southeast of Bangkok. It was one of the most gorgeous places I've ever been to, made more so by the lack of people. No one on the island seemed to speak much English. When we wanted to eat, we used hand signals to let them know we were hungry, and wait until we were served fresh seafood ala fresco, on the beach.

We stayed in a little hut on the beach, and we spent our days lounging around reading (Gift from the Sea was one of my reads), swimming in the sea, and exploring the island. At that time, everyone (including Mike when he visited Thailand around that same time) seemed to head for Koh Samui or Phuket. Now Koh Samet has 13 restaurants and 41 hotels listed on TripAdvisor. When we visited, it seemed like we were about the only people visiting the island. Koh Samet was our little piece of unspoiled paradise!

According to wikipedia, legend says that Koh Samet was once populated by pirates and treasure is buried somewhere on the island!
Our hut in the background

We got to Koh Samet by train and then boat, and that was as far as the boat came to land--
we had to get out and wade to shore!

So gorgeous!! I want to go back!

On the veranda of our hut

Under beautiful foliage

Sitting at a table on the beach, where we read, wrote, and ate our delicious seafood meals
--my Olivia Newton John era!

Huts in the background

View from our beach dining

Debbie exploring the island
Debbie and I fantasized about taking our future husbands back to Koh Samet one day. How I would love to return!

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (December 1988)

Mike and I visited Kuala Lumpur as part of our Singapore-Malaysia winter holidays trip in 1988-89. We stayed in the Station Hotel, which was a historical old building in the train station. It was a nice hotel, but one night when I got up to go to the bathroom I found not one, but three, large cockroaches in the bathroom! Now when I google Kuala Lumpur, the photos show brand new shiny skyscrapers, but it wasn't like that back in 1988.

I didn't feel terribly comfortable being a woman in Muslim-dominant Malaysia. At one point, when we were walking down a crowded street, Mike got momentarily separated from me. During that one minute or two before we joined again, I was subjected to numerous catcalls. One of them shouted that he'd "like some of that." The men confined the attention to staring when I was with Mike.

We spent three or four hours in the National Museum (Muzium Negara), which was full of historical artifacts and cultural displays, and then to the Lake Gardens, a huge expanse of park with a lake.

I seem to be sorely lacking photos of Kuala Lumpur!
The best thing about Kuala Lumpur (and Malaysia) was the amazing food--a conglomeration of Indian, Chinese, Indonesian, and Malaysian. Now I wish I'd taken more photos of the food throughout my travels! I love Malaysian cuisine, and cheap, delicious food is plentiful in Kuala Lumpur. To learn more about Malaysian food, look at this Anthony Bourdain video tour of a Kuala Lumpur food market.

Typical street food market--yum!!
Kuta, Bali, Indonesia (August 1989)

At the end of our time in Indonesia, we decided to splurge. We stayed in the gorgeous, garden-filled Poppies Cottages...another high point in our trip. Kuta is the popular beach town in Bali, and it's full of lots of obnoxious Australians who head for Bali to party wildly. Pub crawls are constant, and the beach is packed with touts who give massages, sell things, and promote more pub crawls. When my friend Jean was in Kuta during December 1988 (while we were visiting Malaysia), a guy approached her on the beach, trying to sell her something. She declined, and he said, "Okay...lie-ter!" She thought he was trying to sell her a lighter...but instead he was saying "later" in an Australian accent.

It was definitely not our scene. Instead we opted for romance!

Pool at Poppies

Kuta beach

My sexy boyfriend, again! (He was wearing a swimsuit, trust me!)

Outside of our private cottage
Another place I would love to return to!! Poppies is still going strong, and the cottages are only $99/night in the high season!

Visit here to read my A-J posts. Tomorrow, it's back to the United Kingdom for L.


  1. I bet you wish you could have a do-over of these trips now that there's digital photography!

  2. My youngest sister majored in Asian Studies in college and learned Japanese. She intended to study in Japan during her junior year, but her grades were a point below the minimum required to go and she also was not looking forward to leaving her boyfriend behind. Something tells me the boyfriend and the grades were not unrelated... She's always regretted not going, though she puts her Japanese to some use now working in a patent office in Los Angeles.

    I've really been enjoying your travel posts--the richness of both the photos and the written descriptions has made me feel like I'm taking mini-vacations without ever leaving my desk chair. :)