May 30, 2015

Japanese road trip! Osaka and a castle

The first stop on a recent Japanese road trip was the city of Osaka, which is Japan's second largest city. And with a population of 19 million, probably one of the worlds largest cities, too! Originally a merchant city, Osaka still has a large network of canals, that we enjoyed exploring.

This is the popular Dotonbori area. The sign of the runner is a famous landmark in Osaka, and we saw lots of people copying the pose for their pictures!

The street right behind the canal, was very lively with lots of shops and restaurants. We loved wandering in this area.

Now for one of Osaka's specialties, takoyaki, or octopus balls.

They consist of octopus and veggies cooked in batter in a special pan, and topped with various toppings. Takoyaki is a popular Japanese dish, and is said to have originated in Osaka.

Our toppings were mayo, soy sauce, green onion and bonito, which is dried fish shavings. Ella actually remembered the name from a documentary she saw on our favorite channel, NHK World. Good job Ella! I would rate the takoyaki as okay. The flavor was great, but I just don't care for the rubbery octopus texture.

This area was so fun and entertaining for an evening stroll.

Yes, there is always a face cut-out sign in Japan. And the girls want their picture at ALL of them.

The view from the famous Ebisu Bridge.

There are three Lady Liberty's in Japan. We've now seen two of them, one more to go!

***Side note- ALL cabs in Japan have white, lacy seat covers over the seats. They are always pristine and I've no doubt that they are laundered daily. Also, the drivers ALWAYS wear a suit, tie and white gloves. I love this place!***

Continuing along our road trip, we stopped in the town of Himeji to tour the beautiful Himeji Castle, also known as the "white egret castle" because it looks like a bird taking flight.

Himeji is the largest and most visited castle in Japan, and was originally built in 1333, it has been restored many times since then, but this is still the original structure. This picture shows the original feudal town, with several moats in place.

We had our own personal tour guide, Takata-san, and he was wonderful. He works as a high school English teacher in the town, and really brought the castle and the old stories to life for the girls. Takata-San even shared a ghost story about the castle. Ella and Eva were thoroughly entranced!

The inside of the castle had such beautiful wood work.

Himeji Castle was used more as a military stronghold, than a residence. The kingdom was not considered conquered until the enemy troops reached the top floor, where the lord resided. So, a lot went into the design of the castle to keep enemies out.

The structure of the castle is made of wood planks that fit together like a puzzle. No nails were used to secure the building, and it has withstood centuries of earthquakes, wars and natural disasters. The girls enjoyed trying these hands-on replicas.

The moat rocks are also put together like a puzzle, and were carved to fit to perfection.

Seeing how perfectly these rocks fit together was truly fascinating!

This was the princess' room, we liked the models. It is rumored that Princess Sen had over 100 ladies-in-waiting! Must be nice!

Walking up to the main castle, we learned more about the defensive strategies of the architecture. They thought of everything, including uneven stairs, hidden staircases, etc., to keep the enemy at bay. The girls loved hearing about these secrets.

Lots of weapon racks inside.

This pillar is in one piece and extends the entire height of the castle. I don't even know how that was possible!

The top floor, where the lord would reside, housed a shrine for protection of the castle.

Also, great views from the top!

This staircase was built in such a way that you could not see the exit. It looked like a dead end from the top, to further confuse the enemy. 

"Mom, take our picture."

After a fun afternoon exploring the castle, we got back in the car to our final destination, Hiroshima. 

May 25, 2015

One night in Bangkok (yes, I HAD to say it)

 One night in Bangkok, and the world's your oyster...or so the song goes. (If you're not a product of the 80's, disregard). Since we couldn't bear to leave the beach earlier, we only had a few hours to explore this city, which is clearly not even close to enough time.

First things first, though, Check out the hotel pool! 

We decided to walk around our hotel neighborhood and see what we could find. 

We came across a lovely city park that seemed to be dedicated to all forms of exercise, randomly including a few very large monks. 

There was a running path all around the park, and a nice lake in the middle. 

There was some sort of Zumba class going on, with LOTS of participants. I desperately wanted to join in. 

Bangkok's answer to Muscle Beach? There were also, volleyball nets, basketball courts, even badminton!

 But, I loved all of the plumeria trees in bloom. Tropical vegetation is always so lush and beautiful.

Matt finally got some fried chicken from a street food stand. He had been wanting some this whole trip, but said that this was definitely worth the wait! 

I loved looking at all of the street food, so interesting. 

We ended up at the hotel pool for a drink and some swimming for the girls. 

They thought that swimming in the dark was SO adventurous. 

At the airport for our flight back home, once again, the costumes are very King and I-esque. 

So, THIS is how well we fit on the regional Asian airlines. Overnight train, anyone? (No.) Luckily, this was only for a two hour flight back to Singapore, our hub.

I really loved the energy of Bangkok, and can't wait to return to spend more time. (At the hotel that night I played the song, "One Night in Bangkok", to the girls. The part that says "So you'd better go back to your bars, your temples, your massage parlors"....Ella laughed and said "Oh, that's SO true". I had to laugh, she has a better understanding of that song at 8, than I ever did!) And so concludes a wonderful Thai adventure with such amazing memories made.

May 24, 2015

Hua Hin, Thailand's original beach destination

Hua Hin originated as a beach destination for royalty to escape the brutal Thai heat, back in the early twentieth century. And with such close proximity to Bangkok, it remains popular today with locals and tourists alike. After (barely) surviving the overnight train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, and the connecting train to Hua Hin, I was ready for some beach time! We were greeted at the hotel with some chilled washcloths and a cool, sweet tea. Ahhh, things were looking better already!

We had a breathtaking view from our room. 

The hotel grounds were lush and beautiful.

Swimming was the first order of business. To the right of Eva was the water slide. The girls probably slid down that slide 200 times during our stay!

We loved evening walks on the beach. I can still feel the warm, balmy air.

Good morning sunshine. What a way to start the day!

We loved the pool area at the hotel. Definitely an ideal beach vacation. We were surrounded by families and older people, the perfect demographic! We always enjoy talking with older couples who are generally a wealth of travel information (and not of the overnight train variety!)

A swim at 8:00 in the morning? Why not?!

We spent most of each morning walking along the beach looking for treasures.

This particular treasure really started to smell after it come home with us!

We happened upon a jellyfish that had washed ashore, which the girls really loved investigating. We touched the smooth, slimy surface, and also rolled it over to see underneath. Fascinating!

The view from my beach chair. Yes, please!

Pony rides, anyone? Not today, Eva. Sorry.

This fair child was not made for hours of sun exposure! 

Hua Hin has a population of about 51,000, so it is a large enough city to have things to walk to (like markets and cafe's) but small enough to have a quaint feel.

Our daily walk to a nearby Thai massage place.

On, the second day we opted for the one hour ($6) foot massage, rather than the full body. It did not disappoint. Matt is hooked now, too!

I became addicted to these sesame and honey (?) coated peanuts in the hotel lounge. We saw them many places in Thailand, sure wish I had some right now.....

On Sunday, I was passing through the hotel lobby and noticed this sign for a small church service. I decided to check it out for a few minutes.

They generously offered me coffee, tea, and refreshments, immediately.

This little church was so filled with God's love, I am still affected by my experience with them. So many members embraced me, (and I mean embraced me in a bear hug,  even with my sweaty beach clothes), and joyfully said "Jesus loves you." I felt like a long, lost sister, and I guess in Christ, I am.

 The praise and worship songs were actually shouted by many. They seemed so deeply moved and grateful to be there. The experience made me contemplate my own worship and how often I "go through the motions", while distracted with other thoughts. 

 I was really struck by the poverty in Thailand and the poor living conditions for so many. The church was in the process of building a children's home in Hua Hin, which will house, feed and educate up to 45 children in the area. If any of you feel so led, please consider a donation to this wonderful project. Power of Love International Church Website:  E-mail:

Out of curiosity, I only meant to peek on the service for a few minutes, but ended up staying for the entire two hours. I feel so blessed to have been a part of their congregation, if only for a day.

Outside....more of God's abundant blessings.

We are usually not typically beach vacationers, but how can you beat this view?!

And more lovely walks on the beach. Dusk is my favorite time of the day.

Our breakfast spot.

We kept pushing back our departure time, because we just couldn't bring ourselves to leave. It was such a relaxing and rejuvenating time and we loved every moment here.

Goodbye, Hua Hin. We hope to return very soon.

Now back to Bangkok for our flight home. (PS- We hired a driver this time and it was a much nicer experience than the train, and only took three hours instead of four. Just for the record.)