Asia – The Barefoot Nomad http://www.thebarefootnomad.com Travel. Tech. Family. Fun. Thu, 18 Jan 2018 04:03:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 When is The Best Time To Visit Dubai? It’s Not When You Think http://www.thebarefootnomad.com/asia/when-is-the-best-time-to-visit-dubai-its-not-when-you-think/ http://www.thebarefootnomad.com/asia/when-is-the-best-time-to-visit-dubai-its-not-when-you-think/#comments Tue, 19 Dec 2017 22:00:00 +0000 http://www.thebarefootnomad.com/?p=15575 Wondering when is the best time to visit Dubai?

Spoiler: It’s not when you think.

Well, the truth is you can go anytime, but to really have the best experience, you want to be there when the weather isn’t too hot, so you can hit the beaches as well as the mile long designer malls.

Since air conditioning is common throughout the city, and people do in Dubai year round, it’s definitely accessible for most of the year.

When should i visit Dubai As such, the only drawback to visiting Dubai in the winter is that it also coincides with their busiest season. With that kind of weather and so many unique things to do in Dubai, it’s no wonder everyone wants to visit during winter.

However, if you really want to enjoy your trip, the best time to visit Dubai is from early November to late March. That’s when the average highs make going outdoors a joy, and give you plenty of things to see and do both inside and outside the city.

The Best Time to Visit Dubai

Already sold on booking a trip to Dubai? Then check out hotel and flight deals for getting to Dubai on the biggest travel search site in the Middle East, Wego. If you’re still not convinced, read on!

Dubai’s weather

It’s no secret that Dubai is a hot place. Both figuratively and literally. Temperatures routinely go above 105°F or 40 Celsius over their summer (June to September) while daily highs during winter hit the low 80s and high 70s. That’s plenty high for hitting world famous Jumeirah Beach or spending the afternoon driving the nearby sand dunes in the adjacent desert.

Dubai white sand beaches and skyscrapers in the distance

Dubai Beaches

If you’re still not convinced about the best time to visit Dubai, just remember that Dubai is nicknamed the Desert City for a reason. Dubai literally lies in the middle of the Arabian Desert. As such, there’s no shortage of sand, and though the days can get hot, the nights definitely stay cool outside of their hot summer season.

Dubai is also naturally a dry place, and you can expect nothing but sunshine most days of the year. That said, it does get damp in the hot summer months, so there’s another reason to go to Dubai during the winter.

Dubai’s tourist season or high season

What’s the best season to visit Dubai?

It stands to reason that Dubai’s largest tourist season coincides with the weather. Dubai’s high season runs from November to March as well.

As such, the only drawback to visiting Dubai in the winter is that it also coincides with their busiest season. With that kind of weather, and so many unique things to do in Dubai, it’s no wonder everyone wants to visit during winter.

Airfare  and hotel prices reach their peak prices during Dubai’s high season. However, the big plus is that everything is open during the winter in Dubai. Lots of shops and attractions close down during their summer months when most people aren’t willing to brave the heat.

That means that if you go from November to March you’ll get a chance to visit any of Dubai’s three3 water parks as well as the hugely popular Global Village. There’s also LEGOLAND Dubai (read our review of LEGOLAND Florida here) and the world’s largest indoor theme park, the IMG Worlds of Adventure. You can also get your Bollywood on at Dubai’s Bollywood Park!

Global Village Dubai

Global Village Dubai

Dubai’s shoulder season

Dubai’s shoulder seasons, which are unofficially April/May and then September/October, can get pretty warm. If you love the heat, this might be the best time to travel to Dubai, since things quiet down in the city around this time. That means shorter lineups at the attractions and better deals for flights and hotels.

It’s also a great time to enjoy mornings at the beach and early evenings walking around Dubai’s marina and boardwalks. Dubai truly comes alive as the sun sets.

Of course, it also means that certain places and attraction are either shut down or on reduced hours, so you have to weigh everything out. If you want to see Dubai in all its glory, while also working heavily on your tan, while also saving a few dollars, then Dubai’s shoulder season might be for you.

Dubai Marina at night with lighted walkways and anchored boats

Dubai Marina at night

Dubai’s low season

Don’t like the outdoors anyway or just love a great deal? Then Dubai’s low season, which runs from June to September, might be for you. Sure, lots of things are closed down due to the summer heat, but the world class malls and shops are still open and you can get some killer deals on everything from flights and hotels to store wide sales.

Even better, you can often score some fantastic deals on airfare during low season.

If you’re more highbrow, Dubai has you covered as well. Dubai isn’t known as the cultural center of the Middle East for nothing. There are dozens of galleries, art exhibits, cinemas, music halls, cafes and clubs all around the city that aren’t as dependent on the weather. You can also do everything from indoor skiing to indoor skydiving in Dubai year round, and still enjoy early mornings at the beach and late nights walking along the paved paths and boardwalks along the Persian Gulf.

Dubai Mall

Dubai Mall

Best time to go to Dubai

No matter which season you head to Dubai, there’s bound to be something for you to do in this cosmopolitan, man-made marvel of a city.

In winter, you can enjoy sand boarding down the slopes of Big Red, the colorful 91 meter high sand dune just outside the city, or traveling back in time and enjoying the rich scents, sights and sounds of the ancient souks still found at the heart of Dubai.

In the shoulder season, you can visit any of Dubai’s theme parks and enjoy the empty lines, as well as carefree mornings basking in the Arabian sunshine along the miles of Persian Gulf beaches, while still enjoying the marvels of Dubai at night.

In Dubai’s hot summer season, you can forego the lines and prices and enjoy everything a cultured city like Dubai has to offer. Just realize that you’ll want to spend all your time inside to fully enjoy the city in the summer months.

In short, Dubai has something for everyone all year long and having the third busiest airport in the world means that getting to Dubai is as easy as booking your airfare.

Looking for something unique to do in Dubai? Check out our post on unique things to do in Dubai here.

Where to stay in Dubai!

The Dubai luxury hotel

If you’re looking for a luxury hotel in Dubai with a beach and Spa, you can’t do much better than the highly rated Nikki Beach Resort and Spa Dubai. It’s gorgeous, rates well, and many rooms include breakfast. Just be ready to shell out $500 a night or more.

See availability and prices.

The Affordable Alternative

The Dusit D2 Kenz Hotel Dubai is a solid budget choice. It’s got free WiFi and free parking, and often comes in at under $100 a night, and gets great ratings for staff, location, and large rooms.

See prices here.

The family hotel

The Jerimiah Creekside Hotel rates extremely well with families. It has large rooms, good staff, plus fast check in. It should run abour $150 a night.

See prices here.

The Hostel

You can’t do much better than Dubai’s At the Top Hostel. There are Privates, Twins, Quadruples as well as Female/Male/Mixed Dormitories for 2, 4, 6 & 8 guests, and it’s a few minutes walk to the public beach with famous Barasti beach bar. WiFi and breakfast are free.

See prices and availability.

at the top hostel dubai

UAE society celebrates the return of British Polo Day | Dubai

British Polo on Camel

The Best Time to Visit Dubai Since air condition is rampant throughout the city, and people do live there year round, it’s definitely accessible for most of the year however, if you really want to enjoy your trip, the best time to visit Dubai is from early November to late March. Dubai - when to visit. Well, the truth is you can go anytime but to really maximize your experience, you want to be there when the weather isn’t too hot so you can hit the beaches as well as the mile long designer malls. ]]>
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15 Unique Things to Do in Dubai That You Never Knew Existed http://www.thebarefootnomad.com/asia/15-unique-things-to-do-in-dubai-that-you-never-knew-existed/ http://www.thebarefootnomad.com/asia/15-unique-things-to-do-in-dubai-that-you-never-knew-existed/#comments Thu, 25 May 2017 20:30:00 +0000 http://www.thebarefootnomad.com/?p=14056 Thinking about where to go on your next adventure? Craving sand, opulence and adventure?

Want to spend your days in luxurious pools and exploring world class aquariums while spending your evenings in some of the trendiest clubs and lounges on the planet? If so, have you considered checking out some unique experiences in Dubai? Dubai is not only one of the fastest growing cities on the planet, it’s also become a hot travel destination.

We’ve known dozens of bloggers and travelers who’ve visited this popular United Arab Emirates city and loved it so much they keep going back. They speak so highly of Dubai that we’re sorting out which one of many fantastic Dubai holidays that we want to take first.

15 Unique Things to Do in Dubai

We’ve wanted to visit Dubai for years, and every year it creeps higher on our family travel bucket list. With giant skyscrapers surrounded by the blindingly white sands of the Arabian Desert, Dubai is as unique as it is exotic and is high on our list of you-gotta-see-it-for-yourself places.

So whether you’re there for work, for play or just to take in the sheer grandeur of this desert oasis, here are 15 unique things to do in Dubai.

Go skiing in the desert

Indoor Ski Dubai
No, I’m not talking about sand skiing, though you can do that in Dubai as well. Ski Dubai, in the massive Mall of the Emirates, have built a 22,500 square meter indoor ski area complete with lifts and tubing runs.

As Canadians who live next to one of Canada’s best ski hills (Big White), indoor skiing is a strange concept. We’ve always associated skiing with big blue skies and towering mountains, but we’d love to give indoor skiing a try as well.

This has to be one of the most unique things in Dubai. You can even go zorbing on ice or race your friends down a subzero dual zipline. If that’s not enough, get up close and personal with penguins at the penguin encounter. I think our kids would go just for the penguins!

Get frosty

When we first started looking into visiting Dubai, we checked the temperature as we’d heard it can get warm. Apparently, that’s a bit of an understatement, as temperatures ranging  around 41 °C (105 °F) are quite common. Wow!

Dubai UAE temperatures

If you’ve had enough of the scorching sun, you can cool down by popping into the Chillout Lounge, which is built entirely from ice with an ambient temperature of -6 °C (42 °F). With Dubai summers hitting +42 °C (106 °F), the 36 °C (64 °F) temperature difference can be quite a shock to the system. Don’t worry, they give you warm clothes to wear and serve hot soup, sandwiches, a variety of desserts as well as some delicious mocktails.

Get wet

Wild Wadi Water Park

We love water of all kinds, and you can usually find us snorkeling, kayaking, or even boogie boarding at the beach.

The problem with Dubais is that it’s mostly all desert. That said, there are plenty of ways to keep cool in the water.

You can spend the day hydrating your skin at one of Dubai’s 3 large waterparks. From big slides to big pools, you’ll have guaranteed big fun. Just remember to bring your suncreen.

Get pampered

Need to relax after a long day of seeing the sights in Dubai? Relax in one of the many beauty spas found throughout Dubai that offer lava shell massages or facial treatments using 24k gold leaf. Yes, a facial using real gold. Don’t worry, you’re worth it.

Get unkinked

Tired of regular yoga?

Micki’s a real yoga fan (she does yoga almost every day) and suggested I add this one to our list: Swing Yoga that can be found in many fitness centers around Dubai.  If doing yoga while hanging upside down or half tied in knots doesn’t put a smile on your face, you need to re-evaluate your definition of fun!

It takes a village

Spring Break UAE
Looking for something to do between November and April? Global Village might be exactly what you’re after. This huge family entertainment and cultural attraction allows you to visit the entire world concentrated into one place. Complete with kiosks representing over 30 countries, you can shop, dine and be entertained at one of the many live performances from around the world.

Milk it

Regular old water not cutting it anymore? Try a goat’s milk bath in one of the special Jacuzzi’s at the renowned Talisse Ottoman Spa. Not only will it will make your skin more beautiful than ever but you’ll be as refreshed as Cleopatra was when she first started taking milk baths a few thousand years ago.

Fly like a board?

For this next one, I’d suggest a big dollop of adventure, and some good hand eye coordination. Even Micki, who’ll try almost anything once, has some reservations about trying this next activity.

If you are a fan of waters ports and you love extremes, you can combine the two and try flyboarding over the Persian Gulf while you’re in Dubai. If flying high above the water on a board connected to a watercraft by a long hose fills you with excitement, then consider yourself excited.

Defy gravity

ifly
If flyboarding doesn’t cut it for you, you can also try indoor skydiving.

iFly Dubai is home to the very first double vertical wind tunnel in the world. Scared of heights? Don’t worry, for the majority of the time you’re only ever a few feet off the ground, however for a little more adrenaline you can go way higher.

This one honestly sounds like a blast, as I can see our oldest, who’s 11, loving the sensation!

Dune Riding

Desert Safari
Dubai likes to do things over the top. It’s one of the reasons we think it would be a fantastic city to visit, and soon.

7 star hotel, check. Tallest building in the world, check. Giant artificial archipelago of islands in the shape of a palm tree, check. Well, Dubai is also home to a vast and sprawling desert. The Arabian Desert is just on it’s doorstep and you can go on a desert safari in air conditioned comfort as you ride the dunes while searching for Aladdin’s treasure. Feel free to imagine the vehicle as your own personal roller coaster, I would.

Be a race car driver

Fulfill your lifelong dream of driving a Formula 1 car while speeding around other super cars with the professionals at Dream Racing. Not only will you be driving a car that’s probably worth more than your house, you’ll also be going faster than you ever dreamed possible.

I think we’ll keep this one for the adults in our family.

Ice Cream Gold

 

If you’ve been following us for a while, you may have picked up on the fact that we love our ice cream. In fact, we’ve even visited countries based on ice cream recommendations (check out dondurma ice cream in Turkey!).

In Dubai, the city’s wealth is evident everywhere you look. As such, gold is rampant, even on ice cream. The cities most expensive ice cream dessert, at around $800 USD each, can be found at the Scoopi Cafe, one of the unique restaurants in Dubai.

The dessert is a sundae made with vanilla bean ice cream from Madagascar, saffron from Iran, rare black truffles from Italy and 23-carat gold flakes and powder. The Black Diamond might be a golden delicacy few get to savor however it doesn’t stop people from checking out what other heavenly delights can be found at this trendy ice cream boutique.

Camel ho!

UAE society celebrates the return of British Polo Day | Dubai

After our experience riding dromedary camels in the Sahara desert of Morocco, we’ve become big fans of these gentle animals. Even our then four year old loved camel riding!

Thanks to the desert that Dubai calls home, it’s no surprise that camels played a role in Dubai’s rise to fame. Whether you’re watching a camel race complete with robot jockies, or catching an exciting match of camel polo, in Dubai, their love of camels goes beyond their love of sports. Lucky for you, you can also ride your own. and I guarantee riding one is a memorable way to spend a day.

Submerge yourself

One&Only The Palm

As water lovers, we’re excited to check out some of Dubai’s best swimming pools.

With it’s taste for opulence and the fact that there’s sunshine nearly every single day of the year, it’s no surprise that Dubai is home to some of the most beautiful swimming pools on earth.  Try swimming in a pool surrounded with nothing but sand dunes as far as the eye can see, or in the shadow of the largest building on earth. You can also swim on sky high terraces or lounge in luxurious comfort only a stones throw from the sea.

Tip: Check out some of the world’s most beautiful swimming pools on our Amazing Pools Pinterest Board!

Smell the flowers

Dubai Miracle Garden

When I think of Dubai, I think of desert and scorching temperatures, but that isn’t necessarily the case. In fact, Dubai has one of the world’s most famous and beautiful flower garden.

Visiting the the worlds largest natural flower garden at Dubai Miracle Garden is a must do for anyone who loves flowers. This sprawling, ever changing flower garden featuring giant buildings covered in flowers as well as fields of mesmerizing flower patterns might make you think you’re Alice in Wonderland rather than a scorching desert.

Find yourself

Feeling a little overwhelmed by all the things there are to do in Dubai?

Well, here’s a bonus one to help get you into the right frame of mind. Dubai’s Illumination Center is the city’s premiere holistic center. From yoga to feng shui they offer classes in nearly everything to get you centered as well as counselling and therapy classes.

Things to know before you go to Dubai

The largest and most populated city in the United Arab Emirates, Dubai has become one of the premier financial as well as a transport hubs in the Middle East and it’s also home to the tallest man made structure on the planet, the Burj Khalifa at 829.8 m (2,722 ft). Just look at that view!

View from the Burj Kalifa looking down on Dubai with skyscrapers and a very big and blue pool

View from the world’s highest outdoor observation deck (Burj Khalifa) on the 124th floor at 452 m

With over 95 shopping malls and souks, dozens of mega structures, and a plethora of award winning restaurants and some amazing beaches, Dubai makes a great stopover and an even better vacation.

From taking a 4 wheel drive offroad safari across the desert to going sailing on the Persian Sea, there’s a lot to do both inside and just outside the city.

With hundreds of flights daily going to and from Dubai, what are you waiting for? It’s time to add Dubai to your travel list too.

Have you been to Dubai? Let us know if you had any unique Dubai experiences.

15 Unique Things to Do in Dubai

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A Guide to Tokyo’s Best Neighborhoods http://www.thebarefootnomad.com/asia/a-guide-to-tokyos-best-neighborhoods/ http://www.thebarefootnomad.com/asia/a-guide-to-tokyos-best-neighborhoods/#comments Tue, 28 Mar 2017 17:00:00 +0000 http://www.thebarefootnomad.com/?p=13178 A guide to the best neighborhoods in Tokyo

Visiting Japan has been on our family bucket list for as long as I can remember.  At the top of that list is Tokyo, one of the world’s most interesting cities. But what many people don’t consider is that Tokyo itself is made of many diverse neighborhoods, each worth visiting in its own right.

A Guide to Tokyo’s Best Neighborhoods

Let’s look at some of Tokyo’s most interesting neighborhoods, and the things not to miss while visiting them.

Shibuya

Pedestrians cross at Shibuya Crossing. It is one of the world's most famous scramble crosswalks in one of Toyko's most interesting neighbourhoods.

One of the fastest-moving and most exhilarating city districts in the world, Shibuya is exactly how we would imagine the center of the world’s largest metropolis to be: full of bright lights, attractions and an enormous crowd of people, locals and tourists alike.

Shibuya Crossing is the world’s busiest and largest pedestrian crossing – the perfect meeting point for those planning to dive headfirst into the Tokyo nightlife as well as for sampling local food at its best or for embarking on a shopping spree in the district’s legendary mall, Shibuya 109.

One of the most colorful spots in the district is Harajuku, a meeting place for young people dressed in the most colorful modern clothes and a pop-culture hub like nowhere else in the world.

Ueno

Cherry blossoms in Ueno Park in Tokyo

Ueno is Tokyo’s cultural center, home to dozens of concert halls, art exhibitions, temples and museums. Ueno is also home to the Tokyo National Museum and Ueno Zoo and many say the district is busy yet peaceful at the same time.

When you are tired of visiting cultural venues, the best way to relax is by taking a walk in Ueno Park, a huge garden of cherry trees that blossom from March to May, attracting lots of people to admire the beautiful blossoming trees that are so iconic in Japanese art and culture.

Marunouchi

The Imperial Palace in Tokyo

Wedged between the Imperial Palace and Tokyo Station, Marunouchi is among the city’s oldest districts and also a busy commercial center with designer boutiques and elegant restaurants.

Shimokitazawa

If you’re looking for a more bohemian, less crowded district and want to see a different face of Tokyo, Shimokitazawa fits the bill. The dominant style here is vintage and the entire district is beautifully disorderly. There are art exhibitions, live music venues, tiny vintage shops and cozy cafes everywhere.

Sumida District

Photo by Keith Broad on Flickr

Photo by Keith Broad

This neighborhood is a must-see for those interested in Japanese culture. There are bathhouses and traditional wooden buildings, plus wonderful opportunities to explore Japanese sumo traditions. As well, there are beautiful parks and gardens that combine to provide an artsy and comforting experience.

The district is also home to the Edo-Tokyo Museum, a history museum that shows what Tokyo was like in the Edo period that spanned the 17th-19th century.

Tsukiji

Seafood is just as much part of the Japanese culture as sumo wrestling, kimonos or ikebana, and there is no better way to check out Japan’s fresh seafood scene than in Tsukiji, the world’s largest seafood market.

The wholesale area is home to hundreds of small stands that sell all sorts of local delicacies and the marketplace is also famous for the tuna auction held early in the morning every day. The market is also said to have the best sashimi (thinly sliced raw meat or seafood) in the world.

Have you been to Tokyo? Do you have a favorite neighborhood that’s worth catching a plane to Tokyo to visit? Let us know in the comments!

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A Peek Inside Tokyo’s Quirky Themed Cafés http://www.thebarefootnomad.com/asia/a-peek-into-tokyos-quirky-themed-cafes/ http://www.thebarefootnomad.com/asia/a-peek-into-tokyos-quirky-themed-cafes/#comments Fri, 28 Oct 2016 17:00:39 +0000 http://www.thebarefootnomad.com/?p=12401 Today we have a guest post from Michael at Nomad Lifestyle. He has a Tokyo based food and travel blog and writes about his adventures in Tokyo and around the world.

We’ve been obsessing over modern Japanese culture as of late and Michael’s foray into the famous world of themed Tokyo cafés gives us one more reason to visit the land of the rising sun.

Ever wanted to pet an owl while sipping on chai tea? How about cuddle with a kitten before having a slice of cake? Ever imagined eating in a restaurant while a robot battle plays out before you? Yup, he talks about all of them. Enjoy!

This past month I had the chance to visit three very cool themed cafes in Tokyo: an Owl Café, a Robot Café, and a Cat Café. If you are visiting Tokyo, I highly recommend a visit to these three themed cafés. I guarantee it will definitely make for a fun, alternative tour!

Fukuro No Mise Owl Café

A Peek Into Tokyo's Famous Themed Cafés

Photo by Nomad Lifestyle

Let’s start with my first recommendation, visiting an owl café. There is a great owl café you can visit called Fukuro No Mise. You’ll be able to pet the owls as well as have some coffee or tea.

I recommend checking their website to see when an English speaker will be there. Luckily, the day I went there was an English speaker who was able to explain how to handle the owls. She knew quite a bit about them and how to treat them properly.

First, you will learn how to handle them then you will be given time to pet and hold them. It’s important to pet the owls softly and not try to grab them, as you wouldn’t want to provoke them.

A Peek Inside Tokyos Famous Themed Cafés

Photo by Nomad Lifestyle

The owls in the café range from small, medium to large. Having the large owls on your shoulder is quite the experience.

Our appointment time was a total of about one hour. The cost per person was 2,000 yen ($20 USD) and I recommend going to the owl café earlier to get a ticket. Fukuro No Mise is on the Yurakucho line at Tsukishima Station. You can check out the TripAdvisor reviews of Fukuro No Mise here.

Robot Restaurant Shinjuku

A Peek Inside Tokyos Famous Themed Cafés

Photo by Nomad Lifestyle

The next café I had the opportunity to visit was the famous Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku. I highly recommend visiting the GoVoyagin website before going to see if you can get a 15% discount.

I was able to get one and set up an appointment time for the Robot Restaurant (TripAdvisor reviews here). The time you get on your reservation is actually not the time that your show will begin so when I arrived I happened to find myself waiting in line. I was then taken to another waiting area where I was able to get a free drink before the show. Finally, I was admitted to the show.

The show, overall, was quite an experience. The choreographed performances as well as the costume design were great. I do recommend bringing your own food and drinks during the performance because they try to upsell it during the four 15 minute breaks during the show. The price with the discount was around 6,800 yen ($68 USD) and the show lasted around 2.5 hours.

To get to this show, you can head over to Shinjuku Station on the Seibu Shinjuku line or the JR line. It is located in the Kabukicho area of Shinjuku.

For more info check out their site.

Cat Cafe Nekorobi

A Peek Inside Tokyos Famous Themed Cafés

Photo by Nomad Lifestyle

The final café I was able to visit during my tour was the Cat Cafe Nekorobi.

Since living in Tokyo, I haven’t had the opportunity to see many cats, so this was a wonderful experience. There are many cat cafes in Tokyo but I visited the one near Sunshine City in Ikebukuro. The name of the café is Cat Café Nekrobi.

Inside, there are many cats that you can play with of different colors and sizes. There are also toys available, but I didn’t have much luck engaging the cats with the toys however, the kitten was adorable and did play with the toys so that was my highlight.

You can also take pictures with the cats although that was a bit of a challenge, since they were either sleeping or running around the area. While I was there, there were many couples so I think it’s a couples thing to do in Tokyo.

The cost of entering the cafe is 1300 yen ($13 USD) which will allow you to spend one hour with the cats. In addition, there are free drinks, WiFi available, and lockers.

This café is located about 10-15 minutes from Ikebukuro Station. It’s close to Sunshine City Shopping Mall. For more info check out their site.

That wraps up our Tokyo themed café tour. I highly recommend visiting these cafés when you make it to Tokyo on your next trip!

About NomadLifestyle

Nomad Lifestyle is a Tokyo based food and travel blog. Its aim is to find delicious food in Tokyo as well as discover fun places to visit!

Check them out if you like this story!

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Tokyos quirky themed cafes

Source photos by Nomad Lifestyle

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10 Tips for Traveling Japan by Train http://www.thebarefootnomad.com/travel-tips/10-tips-for-traveling-japan-by-train/ http://www.thebarefootnomad.com/travel-tips/10-tips-for-traveling-japan-by-train/#comments Thu, 01 Sep 2016 17:00:00 +0000 http://www.thebarefootnomad.com/?p=12208 Japan is a country as famous for its history as it is for amenities. Whether you’re thinking of checking out the upcoming 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, seeing the 2,000 temples of Kyoto or whether you’re heading up north to see the country’s infamous cranes in the Hokkaido Prefecture, one thing you’ll need to know before going there is that the Land of the Rising Sun is a lot larger than you think.

Extra tip! If you’re traveling Japan, you may want to get a WiFi Hotspot that travels with you whenever you go. We use and love the Tep Wireless WiFi Hotspot, which offers WiFi for up to six devices at a flat daily rate.

Check Tep WiFi prices here.

Read our review of Tep WiFi hotspot here.

Luckily for everyone, Japan is well connected via an extensive train service and, more often than not, you’ll be traveling there in both style and comfort. Home to the first bullet trains, you’ll be pleased to know you can also travel the length of the country on some of the fastest trains in the world.

Japan Bullet Shinkansen Train with Mount Fuji in the background

Get a rail pass

Planning on seeing a lot of Japan’s famous sights in a relatively short time? Japan’s famous train lines are some of the best ways to see the country on a budget. While individual trains aren’t overly expensive, think about getting a rail pass that allows unlimited travel to maximize your savings.

If you want to see more than Tokyo and Kyoto, look into the Japan Rail Pass. The six companies comprising the Japan Railways Group (JR Group) together operate train lines all around the country and are a great way to save money if you’re hopping all over Japan.

Note! Since you can’t purchase a Japan Rail Pass inside of Japan, you need to make sure you bought it outside of Japan and then when you arrive, you need to turn in your Exchange Order to receive your Japan Rail Pass. It’s simple to do and you can do it at the exchange office in any of the major JR stations.

Book early

Seats fill up fast, especially around the holidays so don’t wait until the last minute to reserve otherwise you might be walking instead of riding some of the world’s nicest trains. Most reservations can be made in advance and offer refunds if your plans change. If you have a Japan Rail Pass, reservations are free and they give you the option of selecting your seats which some of the other companies charge a premium for.

Avoid rush hour

Ever try to drive your car in rush hour? Trains are no different and if you’re taking a short commuter metro train try to avoid doing so during rush hour (7:30-9:30 and 17:00-20:00).

Rushhour on the trains in Japan

Everybody is tired from a long day of working and the lines can be huge depending on which city you’re in. If you’re just sight seeing, try to leave a little earlier or a little later so you don’t have to compete with all the people going to work or coming home.

Use your pass for other modes of transport

The Japan Rail Pass isn’t only good for long distance trains and the short metro routes, it’s also valid for buses around the country as well as ferry service from Hiroshima to the island of Miyajima. So even if there’s no train service to a particular region, you might be entitled to use it in another mode of transportation. You’ll need to check out your Rail pass’s privileges since they often vary from card to card.

Don’t be late!

It’s no secret that Japan’s train lines are some of the most punctual in the world. With the shortest train delays around the globe, chances are pretty high that when the train is supposed to leave, it does. With passengers complaining the minute a train is a few minutes behind and hour long delays often making the evening news, the Japanese pride themselves on their efficiency. Bottom line, if you’re counting on the train running behind to make it to the station on time, the only thing left behind will be you.

Choose your train car carefully

When you’re standing in line getting ready to board the train and you don’t have reserved seating, escape the crowd and get yourself in front of the first or last train car. With the middle cars typically the closest to the entry or exit, they’re always the busiest and fill up first. Want to guarantee a spot for you and your friends or family? Save yourself the aggravation and get yourself to one of the end cars.

Bring food or snacks

While nearly every long distance train has some sort of food service and most offer an airplane style tray to eat on, you’ll often spend a lot more than if you bought the food off the street or even in the station.

Ekiben, essentially train station food in a box, is a staple in Japan and some stations are famous for their delicious meals in a Bento Box. However, not all trains or stations offer the same level of service so you might want to pick up your box outside the station before you get on board.

Japan Ekiben Bento box full of rice, meats and wooden chopsticks

For a bigger selection of Ekiben, large retailers often have deli sections where you can pick and choose what goes into your Bento box and there’s often a few such retailers close to the train station.

For shorter trains such as commuter trains, it’s not a bad idea to bring along a bottled beverage and light snack since there are no facilities on board to purchase anything. Just make sure you take your trash with you when you leave since it’s considered very rude to leave anything behind.

Get the app!

Now available in English, Navitime for Japan Travel is a great app available on both Android and Apple devices. Not only does it list every train route in Japan, it lists every station, provides an offline list of free Wi-Fi zones adjacent to all the train stations, gives alternative routes in case your train is delayed and even provides a list of sight seeing places you shouldn’t miss.

Check out Navitime for Japan Travel on iTunes here.

Use your pass for extra discounts

Some passes, like the Japan Rail Pass, qualify you for additional discounts on accommodation and even tours. A lot of the passes have hotels close to the train stations so after crossing the country you don’t have very far to go to get a good nights sleep at a discount before exploring the city you’re in the next morning. Discounts vary with every pass so make sure to check what your pass offers you besides for a spot on the train before purchasing one.

Choose your train carefully

Not sure of the difference between a green car carriage and a regular one? Green Car class seats are equivalent to business class seating on planes and offer more legroom, extra facilities, are quieter and generally cost more. They also all need to be reserved in advance while regular class are usually based on a first come, first served basis.

In terms of trains, Japan’s famed Bullet Trains or Shinkansen as they’re known locally, lead the pack in both speed and services. The Shinkansen lines generally work off separate tracks than the regular lines and, as a result, the Shinkansen stations tend to be a little farther out of town. Like the regular lines, the Shinkansen lines offer both express services which stop at a reduced amount of stations or ones that stop at most stations.

The fastest regular trains (non-Shinkansen) offer limited-express services and are known locally as tokkyu or shin-kaisoku. Then there’s the kaisoku lines which offer rapid service followed by the ordinary express trains called kyuko. The slowest trains pretty much stop at every station and are known locally as futsu or kakueki teisha.

Final words of advice

Whether you’re heading to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 or wanting to see the amazing cherry blossoms next April, you’ll find that Japan’s train services are indeed some of the best in the world. With all train signs in both Japanese and English, they’re also some of the easiest to navigate and once you get on one, you might never want to stop.

10 Tips for Traveling Japan by Train

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Sagemon Girls Showcase Yanagawa City in Japan http://www.thebarefootnomad.com/asia/sagemon-girls-showcase-yanagawa-city-in-japan/ http://www.thebarefootnomad.com/asia/sagemon-girls-showcase-yanagawa-city-in-japan/#comments Thu, 25 Feb 2016 17:00:00 +0000 http://www.thebarefootnomad.com/?p=11296 When I saw the tourism video titled Sagemon Girls, the movie Lost in Translation is the first thing that came to my mind. Take it as a good thing. It’s one of my favorite movies and perfectly captured the sense of being culturally adrift in a foreign country.

Watching people finding their way through a chaotic and sometimes incomprehensible experience is both entertaining and mesmerizing. It also happens to be one of my favorite reasons for traveling.

It also seems to go hand in hand with Japan’s colorful and often quirky reputation. So take a look at the Sagemon Girls video below and let us know what you think.

The video features 3 colorful Sagemon Girls dancing to the sights and sounds of Yanagawa City during their lively Gemon Festival that takes place from mid-February until the beginning of April.

The video was also made with the help of more than a thousand residents of Yanagawa City, in Kyshuu Japan, with the help of famous choreographer air:man.

The festival includes Hinamatsuri on March 2nd though it’s more widely known as Doll’s Day or Girls’ Day throughout Japan and features events such as the Hajime-sai, the Water Parade and the Memorial Service.

Festival barge in Yanagawa Japan

If you’ve never been, Yanagawa City is famous for its miles and miles of canals and the riverboats they call donkobune.

It’s also equally famous for its display of finely crafted Heian era styled dolls that are displayed in shops, businesses and private homes throughout the city during the festival.

GIrls with colorful Sagemon Ornaments in Japan

As well as dolls, in the video you see sagemon ornaments everywhere. These small hanging ornaments are famous in Yanagawa and the gorgeous handmade balls are hung as a good luck charm for girls on their first birthday.

3 dancing girls Yanagawa City Japan

Thinking of checking it out yourself? We don’t blame you. The city and the festival both look amazing.

Where is Yanagawa City?

From Tokyo, Yanagawa City is an hour and 45 minutes from Haneda Airport to Fukuoka Airport, then five minutes from the airport to Hakata Station by subway. You can take the train from Tokyo as well. It’s almost a five hour ride from Tokyo to Hakata Station by the JR Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen Line.

From Osaka, Yanagawa City is about an hour and 15 minutes from Itami to Fukuoka Airport. It’s about a two hour train ride from Shin-Osaka to Hakata Station by Shinkansen.

This post is sponsored by Yanagawa City, but that doesn’t change our love of quirky videos, and our burning desire to go to Japan.

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Sharing Secrets In Okinawa http://www.thebarefootnomad.com/asia/introducing-okinawa-the-secret-is-out-video-series/ http://www.thebarefootnomad.com/asia/introducing-okinawa-the-secret-is-out-video-series/#comments Fri, 11 Dec 2015 21:00:00 +0000 http://www.thebarefootnomad.com/?p=10806 The Secret is Out video series.]]> Taketomi Island Okinawa by Guwashi999 on Flickr

Photo by Guwashi999

I’ve wanted to visit Okinawa for a few years now.

There’s a lot about these Japanese islands that has captured my imagination. Not only is Okinawa home to one of the world’s largest group of people over 100 years of age, the islands are known for their laid-back vibe. Okinawa was even featured in The Karate Kid II, and it has some of the most abundant coral reefs found in the world.

So when Be Okinawa reached out to us to introduce their new The Secret is Out video series I was happy to take a look. The video series focuses on how Okinawa is believed to make people feel open and true to themselves.

This first video is an introduction to the series, with some beautiful shots of the island as well.

As someone who’s interested in visiting the islands, I spent a lot of time checking out the destinations in the different videos. You can find each of these destinations in The Secret is Out video series. (More videos can be found at the end of this post.)

Ishigaki Island

Ishigaki Island Okinawa

Ishigaki Island is a fantastic place to check out the unique local Yaeyama island cuisine at food stalls in local markets. The nearby Tamatorizaki Observatory is worth a stop and is well known for its beautiful displays of hibiscus flowers.

Kabira Bay

Kabira Bay Okinawa

Kabira Bay is one of the best-known spots on Ishigaki island. Unfortunately, strong currents mean that you can’t swim here, but you can view coral and marine life from the comfort of a glass-bottomed boat.

Zanpa Cape

Zanpa Cape Okinawa

Located in the middle of Okinawa Island, Zanpa Cape is home to a tall white lighthouse. Nearby, you’ll find thickets of Adan (screw pine) trees. It’s a popular fishing spot. Close by, a Shisa lion-dog guards the entrance to the Zanpa Misaki Recreation Plaza where you can find bikes, restaurants, shops, and even a place to BBQ.

Taketomi Island

Taketomi Island Okinawa

Taketomi Island is about six kilometers southwest of Ishigaki. It’s a tiny island, and totally flat. The island’s town is designated a National Traditional Architecture Preservation District, and it’s a pleasant stroll among the rows of charming houses with red tiled roofs and garden walls of coral stone.

The Secret is Out Okinawa Video Series

Okinawa Tourism invited six people from all around the world to visit Okinawa (US, Singapore, France, Thailand, China and Germany). Each person had a secret they were keeping from their loved ones. The videos in the The Secret is Out series share how these people confess their secret to their loved ones. The videos tell the story of how Okinawa is believed to make people feel open and true to themselves.

Pop and Fern

Pop and Fern are a young couple from Bangkok, Thailand. They visit Okinawa to relax and enjoy some time together before their wedding, but Pop is about to reveal a secret he’s hidden from Fern. This video tells Pop’s secret.

Lonnie and Julie

At 65, Lonnie has never left the USA. Julie, his daughter, flies him to Okinawa to introduce him to travel outside the US, and to tell him a very sensitive personal secret. Here’s the story of Julie’s secret.

Want to learn more?

You can see more on the Be Okinawa YouTube channel.

Photos provided by Be Okinawa.

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10 Best Things to do in Seoul http://www.thebarefootnomad.com/asia/10-best-things-to-do-in-seoul/ http://www.thebarefootnomad.com/asia/10-best-things-to-do-in-seoul/#comments Tue, 06 Jan 2015 18:00:00 +0000 http://www.thebarefootnomad.com/?p=9790 10 Best Things to do in Seoul Korea

We haven’t yet had a chance to visit Korea, so we’re thrilled to bring you a guest post by Laura Bronner of External Expat.

Today Laura dishes on the 10 best things to do in Seoul.

Visit Gyeongbok Palace

Gyeongbokgung or “the palace greatly blessed by heaven” was originally built way back in 1395 as the main palace for the King’s of the Joseon Dynasty. If you want a real look into Korea’s history, Gyeongbok Palace is the perfect place to start. There are guided tours in Korean, Japanese, Chinese and English at different intervals throughout the day where you can learn about not only the King’s that called this place home, but about a lot of Korea’s history during this time period.

Take a walk through the Bukchon Hanok Village

Sandwiched between Gyeongbok and Changdeok Palaces sits this little piece of Korean history. Hanoks are old Korean style homes with a courtyard in the middle and several rooms surrounding it. Think wooden lattice and sliding paper doors. It’s a picturesque place amid an otherwise concrete city. Most of the buildings function as shops or guesthouses now, so you can actually get a glimpse of the way people used to live (and many still do).

Bukchon Hanok Village Seoul Korea

Break a sweat climbing Bukaksan Fortress Wall

Just north of the Blue House (the home of the president) sits Bukak Mountain and Seoul’s fortress wall. When it was built back in the 14th century it connected the four major peaks adound the city: Bukaksan, Inwangsan, Naksan and Namsan. The peak at Bukaksan shows the wall fully restored and perhaps one of the best views back over the city (although in many places you can’t take photographs). It only reopened to the public again in 2006 after being closed for almost 40 years. Bring your passport and your walking shoes.

View from Bukhaksan Seoul Koreav

Take a tour of the Jongmyo Shrine

Korean people once believed that the place of burial was where a person’s body remained after death, but their spirit made it’s way to it’s shrine. Jongmyo Shrine is home to the spirit of every King of the Joseon Dynasty period. Entrance is available only through guided tours (except on Saturdays), leaving the park completely quiet for each tour. It’s still a very spiritual place and wandering the stone paths, walking where the kings walked to honor their ancestors, is an incredibly powerful way to experience some of Korea’s history. Come during the first weekend in May or November and you might get the chance to see one of the ceremonies honoring the kings.

Shop ’til you drop in Insadon

This neighborhood in central Seoul is the best place to pick up souvenirs to take home to your family and friends (or for yourself). Sift through the cheap shops and make your way to the real artisans carving masks in their workshops and painting scenes from a Korea that once was. It’s a strange mix of old and new – coffee shops and heckling shopkeepers stand alongside tiny artist workshops where you can walk in and watch the masters at work in utter silence.

Stroll along Cheonggyecheon Stream

Take a walk down any of the steps that line this 5.8km (3.6m) stream and you’ll suddenly find yourself in an oasis; a secret little hideaway from an otherwise chaotic city. This whole stream used to be covered by highways and urban sprawl. In 2005, the city turned it back into it’s former glory. Cool yourself off by dipping your toes in during the summer or bundle up and check out the lantern festival held here every autumn.

Cheonggyecheon Stream Seoul Korea

Cycle along the Han River at Yeouido Park

One of the best ways to see the Han River is by bike. Pick up a rental for less than $3 an hour from Yeouido Park or Yeouinaru and head in either direction. You can cross to the other side and visit countless parks that line the shore. If you’re feeling brave (and confident in your relationship) you can hire a tandem.

Do anything in Hongdae

Whether you go there for the shopping, the food or the nightlife, you should go to Hongdae. The area surrounding Hongik University is teaming with young people. Food vendors line the streets wafting the scent of spicy chicken skewers and tteokbokki. Shops explode merchandise onto the streets selling the latest trends or the weirdest socks. There are international restaurant, themed cafes and pubs serving up some of the best craft beer in the city. It’s also one of the city’s best spots for a good night out.

Take in the view at Namsan Tower

The highest viewing point in the center of Seoul is Namsan or North Seoul Tower. Take the cable car or opt to get some exercise and hike up the steps to the base. You’ll feel the burn, but then you don’t have to feel so quilty about splurging on ice cream at the top. If you get there on a weekend you’re very likely to stumble upon a cultural show which includes traditional dancing and martial arts. With a loved one? Grab a love locket (or bring your own) and snap it onto the surrounding fence if you can manage to find the space. Then head up to see yourself surrounded by mountains on all sides.

Love Locks at Namsan Tower Cheonggyecheon Stream Seoul Korea

See a Baseball Game

America’s favorite past time is done even better in Korea. Boasting three home teams, Seoul offers you the best chance to watch a game. Bring in your own chicken and beer or buy it once you get inside and grab a seat near the cheerleaders. Each player has his own songs and chants that every fan diligently recites as they come up to bat. If you don’t know them, have no fear, there’s always a man with a whistle and white gloves showing you how it’s done.

About the Author

Laura Bronner is an American girl addicted to life abroad. After graduating from college she set off on what was meant to be a year of travel. That was four years ago. Since then she has lived in New Zealand, Australia and now calls South Korea home. You can follow catch up with her on Twitter or Facebook or on her blog at External Expat.

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Making Memories Around The World With Locals http://www.thebarefootnomad.com/travel-tips/making-memories-around-the-world-with-locals/ http://www.thebarefootnomad.com/travel-tips/making-memories-around-the-world-with-locals/#comments Fri, 10 Oct 2014 17:00:00 +0000 http://www.thebarefootnomad.com/?p=9364 Twelve years ago we took a trip that changed our lives.

We packed everything we thought we’d need in two backpacks and set out for a year across Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

Before we left, I thought that we’d bring back lifelong memories of bustling cities, beautiful beaches and ancient temples.

And we did. However the memories that have lasted the longest, and had the deepest impact, are those where we connected most deeply with the local people, food and culture.

Paper umbrellas being made in Chiang Mai Thailand

Paper umbrellas being made in Chiang Mai, Thailand

What are some of the things I remember most from our first trip?

I remember watching, literally for hours, as local women in Chiang Mai, Thailand painstakingly made beautiful paper umbrellas, and chatting with them about their work and their lives as we sat. So many of our good memories are about the hidden gems we found by asking locals where to shop, swim and play. Like the quiet, hidden beach in busy Phuket, Thailand, where we snorkeled in the shallow waters as local kids played beside us.

A lot of my best memories are based around food as well, like wandering local street markets in Krabi, Thailand and being served homemade coffee from a grandma in her home in rural Sumatra, or snacking on traditional baby finger cookies at a wedding in the Philippines.

Street Market in Krabi Thailand The Barefoot Nomad

Street Market in Krabi Thailand

To be honest, though, it can be difficult to connect with locals on your own. Often, there’s a language barrier to overcome, and many travelers just don’t have the time needed to make a real connection.

“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” Aldous Huxley

Travel Withlocals.com

I was intrigued when the folks at a new travel startup called Withlocals reached out to us.

What Withlocals does is a very a simple concept, and one that I think offers some wonderful experiences for travelers. Simply put, Withlocals connects travelers with local people and cultures through food as well as activities and tours with locals.

It’s a website that helps you experience the real local traditions and culture of the country you’re visiting, and gives locals a chance to earn a little money.

Withlocals offers experiences in Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines and Sri Lanka.

I spent a while browsing the site and found some fantastic choices for eating with locals, as well as some really interesting tours and activities.

Here’s a peek at some of the activities that caught my eye offered by Withlocals in Thailand and in Vietnam.

Secret Beaches Tour of Phuket

“Discover the untouched and hidden beaches of Phuket. Avoid throngs of tourists and dirty overrun areas. See the places only the locals know, not on any tourist maps. Small intimate beaches, or miles of sandy coastline, its up to you. 

Where there is food, drink or service available, you will be treated like a VIP as a guest of mine. I can speak Thai and have a long history of friendship and business relationships across the island.”

Secret Beaches Tour withlocals

Secret Beaches Tour of Phuket, Thailand. Photo courtesy WithLocals

Khlong Lat Mayom Floating Market Food Tour

“The Khlong Lat Mayom Floating Market is also called foodie paradise for local people. If you love food, then you should not miss this market.

Even though this market is quite small and more riverside eating areas than floating market however it offers more relaxed and local atmosphere compared to other floating markets.”

Khlong Lat Mayom Floating Market Food Tour WithLocals

Khlong Lat Mayom Floating Market Food Tour. Photo courtesy Withlocals

Tangy Thai Home Cooking

“Just one of our many main Thai home cooking dishes is a chicken specialty known as kai betong (named after the town of Betong on the Thai-Malaysian border) that consists of steamed chicken seasoned with soy sauce and then stir-fried with green vegetables. Milder flavor we offer a creamy coconut milk soup made with chicken called Tom kha kai.”

Cook Like a Local WithLocals

Cook Like a Local! Photo courtesy Withlocals

Cook Like a Local!

“Instead of simply sitting down and munching your food away, you are offered the opportunity of cooking your own real Thai dishes! All ingredients will be prepared in a professional manner – healthy and clean. You can learn by watching me cook, or you can help and get to know the basics of local food styles and ingredients.

Ps. This is not a cooking class, we will just simply cook a couple dishes together. Other dishes will be prepared in advance.”

Tangy Thai Home Cooking WithLocals

Tangy Thai Home Cooking. Photo courtesy Withlocals

Eat with Hanoian family

“Eating dinner with us and you’ll not only enjoy the Vietnamese fresh & Healthy foods but also explore more about history, lifestyle, economy, social issues… in Vietnam. I cook Veg and Non-veg.”

Eat with Hanoian family

Photo courtesy Withlocals

Have you ever spent time with locals when traveling abroad? Would you love to try some of the Withlocals experiences?

This post was written in collaboration with the great folks at Withlocals, but they didn’t tell us what to write, and definitely didn’t ask me to sit for half an hour drooling over the gorgeous photos of Thai food on their site.

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Sri-Lanka: Magic and Majesty at the Esala Perahera http://www.thebarefootnomad.com/asia/sri-lanka-magic-majesty-the-esala-perahera/ http://www.thebarefootnomad.com/asia/sri-lanka-magic-majesty-the-esala-perahera/#comments Wed, 24 Sep 2014 17:00:00 +0000 http://www.thebarefootnomad.com/?p=9306 This guest post is written and photographed by Marie-Laure Parsy of Introspections Nomades giving us a glimpse of the beautiful and majestic island of Sri Lanka and the enthralling processions of Esala Perahera. Enjoy!

Heat. Torturous heat, suffocating wetness, simmering earth feasting on incendiary light to yield soft hills of mingling greens.

Sri Lanka Esala Perahera temple steps

Photo by Marie-Laure Parsy

To me, a Frenchie living under the sweet drizzle of England, and soon further exiled to the northernmost coolness of Iceland, the surrounding fug feels murderous. I am hopelessly tip-toeing across busy dusty streets, the soles of my feet finally surrendering to the blasting heat.

I am on a two- week trip to the cultural hotspots of the island of Sri-Lanka, and have spent the last couple of days visiting barefoot (and unfortunately truly sockless) the remains of ancient temples and bygone kingdoms. And I had been humbled. Deeply humbled as I trekked across scorching banks of sand, each grain trying to fuse with the too-tender outer layer of my skin as the midday sun fueled the furnace. Last night, blisters had happily popped up like shiitakes on wet bark.

Sri Lanka Esala Perahera

My itinerary had led to Kandy, capital of the old kings, and a major site of Buddhist pilgrimage. The city is home to the Sri Dalada Maligawa, a large temple located within the royal palace complex. There, is housed the Sacred Tooth of Lord Buddha, a religious relic that traditionally confers divine right to its owner to rule the island.

Every year in July and August, Kandy renews its centuries-old vows of veneration, and as a lavish festival descends upon its streets, fire and men suddenly fuse together in dances under the heavy footsteps of richly-adorned elephants. The Esala Perahera is the largest Buddhist gathering on the island and a true symbol of the Sri-Lankan culture. My visit coincides with the Kumbal Perahera, a magnificent cortège of fire and people that erupts as night falls.

Sri Lank Esala Perahera fire circle

Photo by Marie-Laure Parsy

Along the established route of the procession, the pavements are blackened with the faithful and the curious, a crawling throb that soon stratifies itself to reflect social hierarchy and financial status.

The humble cram themselves on the ground, squatting on plastic, cushioned onto each other. Youngsters, parents and elders squeeze tight between a pressing wall of the devoted and the safely closed-off path of the Holy March. On strategic corners, shopkeepers and landowners lay neat rows of wooden benches and metal chairs, hoping to attract generous budgets or to sweetly fleece the naive.

Sri Lank Esala Perahera lone dancer

Photo by Marie-Laure Parsy

Higher, towards the heavens, balconies get ferociously negotiated. Every spot is haggled over tens of dollars. Stallholders become hawkers and pounce like famished vultures onto each tourist-shaped figure within sight and reach.

“Come with me Madam! Best price! 6500 rupees (roughly 38 euros)! Only for you!”

The streets smell of gas, of dust, of piss and spices, and of impatient devotion. Roofs and window stalls, concrete and brick, closed courtyards and open walls, all get assaulted by buzzing swarms, striving for urban selection.

Sri Lanka Esala Perahera dancers

Photo by Marie-Laure Parsy

It’s time to bear our fangs. We let prices fall into the abyss as our potential providers cockfight each other with zeal, cheerfully shouting insults as their trained noses wrongfully smell a juicy deal.

“Don’t go with him! Shut up you! It’s my shop and my clients! I make it cheaper! CHEAPER!”

Sri Lank Esala Perahera fire performers

Photo by Marie-Laure Parsy

The light falls, the sky darkens, the voices settle. I glance through the window opening, eyes already accustomed to the surrounding darkness before feeling my pupils crystallize and burst. The cemented gully at our feet had come to life, barking loud as its jaws opened, tongues of fire licking the pious crowds.

Troupes of whirling dancers, ferocious fighters, Buddhist flag bearers and delicate fire-charmers besiege the town’s throbbing veins in fervent exaltation. Blazing balls swirl through the air, rings of light wraps their masters in glaze.

Sri Lank Esala Perahera flag bearer

Photo by Marie-Laure Parsy

The first procession towers in radiant majesty as three elephants accompany with luminous pride an ancient casket that substitutes for the Sacred Tooth Relic. It travels on the back of the tallest elephant, the Maligawa Elephant, perched high above dust and gravel, unreachable by hand, barely touchable by sight, a whisper of awe gently breezing among worshippers and admirers alike.

Sri Lank Esala Perahera elephant procession

Photo by Marie-Laure Parsy

Further down follows the processions of the four Devales (Temples) of Kandy, each one clothed in their own shade of light. The Natha Devale, said to be the oldest building in Kandy, comes first. The Vishnu Devale engulfs the watchers in a myriad of blue-coloured silks, the Katharagama Devale presents its peacock dance, and the Pattini Devale closes the march with shyer decorum. The thrum dies, the light sets, the magic slowly fades, a canon fires.

The crowds are unleashed, blackening the main streets in a split second. Where drums had enthralled, now buzz the excited honks of automobiles and Tuk-Tuks, all ready for the mighty onslaught of people.

Sri Lanka Sri-Lanka Esala Perahera elephant

Photo by Marie-Laure Parsy

Back on my bed, sleep escapes me. My hands are cramped from my camera, my eyes are burnt with memories of whirling torches, my ears deafened by the rhythmic bangs of drums and the distant footsteps of beasts. All fades and I seemingly trance out, enthralled, enriched and exulted.

With special thanks to: Šálí and and Lucie Okrouhlíková, “Silnar” Schneider, Eva Klasová, Jason Wotnau, and Martin Hulla.

About Marie-Laure Parsy

Originally a biophysicist from the University of Oxford, my sheer passion for exploration took me wandering from the fjords of Greenland to the high mountains of the Himalayas, hiking across the Sahara dunes and the mountainous expanse of Central Asia. I am a recent winner of Wanderlust magazine’s ‘From the road’ literary competition and a runner-up of the Telegraph Outdoor Adventure & Travel Show “Capture the Moment” photo contest. Always seeking to push my own limits, I am currently preparing a five-month long expedition across the Nepal Himalayas for peerless high-altitude adventure!

You can find out more about Marie-Laure on her website, Introspections Nomades, on Facebook, or on Twitter handle ML_Parsy.

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