Our trip to Asia was long in the planning. Sam has always wanted to travel to Japan and Vietnam has been on my wish-list for as long as I can remember. In the spirit of compromise we decided to do both in one big trip!! The basic itinerary was a week in Japan, a week in Vietnam then a final few days in Toyko from where we would be getting our flight home.
In order to avoid writing a single monster blog post I have decided to divide my thoughts on what were two and a half of the best weeks of my life into five posts:
· Onsens and the Kumano Kodo;
· Koya-san and Kyoto;
· Vietnam beach and jungle;
· Our cookery course in Hoi An (aka, the best day ever!)
So, Japan. I didn’t really have any idea what to expect. Sam had planned this part of the trip and I was along for the ride. And what a ride it was.
Our first night was spent in a traditional Ryokan (a Japanese guesthouse) an hour and a half (two hours if you are in English tourist with a Japanese Sat Nav!) drive from Tokyo. Having taken a night flight straight after a Friday of work we arrived weary and jetlagged and were immediately transported into another, fairy-tale world. A beautiful Japanese lady in a kimono took us to our simple, elegant room and gently urged us to change into the robes we would wear for the exquisite 14 course dinner we would shortly be served.
Dinner was followed by our first onsen experience. Onsens are the natural pre-cursor to the spa; hot springs in which to bathe. This particular onsen was nestled into the side of a beautiful mountain and it is hard to describe the dreamlike quality of stepping into the perfectly warm water, thousands of miles away from home on a dark and starry night. The Tombses big adventure had begun.
We started our trek at the stunning Nachi Falls, which are surrounded by Buddhist Temples and the captivating smell of incense. Having taken in this incredible sight then hiked onwards up steep hills densely packed with verdant green trees, a landscape which over the course of the two days began to feel comfortably familiar. The reward was stunning views out towards the sea glistening in the distance. For the whole of our trek we barely saw another soul and it was immensely rewarding to feel we were somewhere so completely different; particularly at dawn on the second day. That said, the pilgrims were not wrong when they described the trail as “arduous”; it isn’t for the faint hearted but it is 100% worth the effort. I feel we saw a side of Japan that few tourists do and I am immensely grateful for it.