Japan The Nomadic Life Travel

Traveling Solo in Tokyo


On a whim, I traveled solo to Tokyo this past December on the last leg of a three month trip. With no price difference on American Airlines to have a two hour layover or a five day layover in Tokyo on a flight from Hanoi to Washington DC, I just had to take advantage of this essentially free flight. Long stopovers such as this are a great travel hacker tool, and although a stop in Japan would be pricer than schlepping around Southeast Asia, ultimately, it was still a thrifty way to see one last place.

If Japan is Anything Like Japan Airlines, then I’m Already in Love…

My impressions of Japan start at the airport. First of all, because of a super-spacey mental lapse on my part, of which I’m still kicking myself in the butt for, I showed up a day late for my flight (don’t judge). I realized this about 10 minutes away from the airport in Hanoi and promptly started to inwardly panic, faced with the dreaded scene of how an African (and most likely, Vietnamese) airline would handle this: counter attendant scolds me, then ushers over someone else to consult my predicament in a language I don’t understand.

The attendant, somehow sensing my anxiety, smiled again and said “it’s going to be OK”

Second person walks away and comes back with two other people to consult. The four of them keep discussing. Meanwhile, the line behind me is getting angry and finally they send me to some dark corner of the airport to settle the matter, where again, the counter attendant needs to consult everyone in the vicinity before deciding my fate, which is ultimately: buy a new ticket for tomorrow’s flight.

Fortunately, this was Japan Airlines. No one consulted anyone else, an emergency plan for idiots like me apparently part of the protocol. They just smiled and asked very apologetically if I wouldn’t mind paying a $100 flight change fee.

“Perfect!” I exclaimed. The attendant, somehow sensing my anxiety, smiled again and said “it’s going to be OK”. I hadn’t even left the airport yet, and I was already in love with Japan.

Getting Lost in Asakusa


Fast forward to Tokyo. The city was just waking up. Businessmen with sleek suitcases sipped espresso at the airport train station while I waited. Once on the train, neatly stylish women in long skirts and boots, or young girls in school uniforms filled the seats as we sped towards Tokyo. Everyone seemed preoccupied, texting, listening to music, reading, or jotting down notes in small notebooks. Even with all the movement, it felt so peaceful.

The train let me off in Asakusa, a neighborhood outside the center of Tokyo most well known for it’s attraction, the Buddhist temple Sensō-ji, and narrow maze of shopping streets.

Armed with confusing directions from the hostel and an address that Google Maps didn’t understand (Japanese addresses are organized “district-block-building” and look like “10-5-8”) I got terribly lost and wound up walking in circles for awhile before finally getting it right. But getting lost on foot is just the point of visiting Asakusa.

Each small street presents the potential for new discovery, and if they do eventually lead you to Sensō-ji, you’ll be rewarded with a magnificent old temple surrounded by gardens (and tourists…)

Still not tired of visiting Japanese temples — which are distinctly different from their Southeast neighbors — I later sped off to Kamakura for a day trip and enjoyed seeing even larger, less crowded temples.

Things to Do in Tokyo: A City Full of Distractions

Tokyo Skyline

It’s near impossible to be bored in Tokyo. Whatever your interests are, there’s something for you. Personally, I have no patience for museums, but prefer to spend city travel in bars, restaurants, parks, and sometimes shops. I also didn’t seek out any of the cliche-ishly crazy aspects of Tokyo, but still found great things to do (solo!). My personal favorites:

  • Seeing Tokyo from above — The new Tokyo Skytree offers visitors a great view of the Tokyo skyline, but you have to pay. For a free option, try the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (photo above taken from the top!)
  • Sipping on a Japanese craft beer — I had no idea craft beer was gaining enough popularity in Japan that there were multiple bars specializing in it. Time Out Tokyo has a great list of craft beer bars. I sampled Craft Beer Market and Harajuku Taproom. Craft Beer Market won out for price, while Harajuku Taproom had a better location and ambiance.
  • MochiEating Japanese food — I won’t pretend like I always knew what I was eating (one Tokyoite I met took me on a dinner where is sole goal was to order the “strangest food on the menu”) but I can confidently say, Tokyo is full of great food, and manta ray jerky is delicious.
  • Exploring the city, one station at a time — Each area in Tokyo has it’s own feel. In fact, many visitors to Tokyo explain it as a huge mass of micro-cities. Harajuku is quirky, Asakusa is quaint. Get on the train and explore.
  • Staying out all night — Since the trains close pretty early, you may have to. But that’s OK, Tokyo has a low crime rate and there’s enough nightlife (Karaoke, anyone?) to keep the fun going until dawn.
  • Browsing the latest trends — Tokyo is full of shopping. Sibuya 109, though well trodden, features a lot of Japanese designers and give visitors a great taste of what’s hip in Japan.
  • Buddhist temples and parks — As a whole, Tokyo is a sprawling concrete jungle, but pockets of green and calm are blissfully easy to come by. There are Asakusa’s Senso-ji and Harajuku’s Yoyogi, just to name two, but take to the streets and explore.
  • Tokyo neighborhoods — Each neighborhood within Tokyo has it’s own distinct personality and feel. This microcosm of unique places are one of the many reasons that makes Tokyo a fantastic city to explore endlessly.
  • The Ghibli Museum — I adore Spirited Away and basically anything Miyazaki directs. Expectedly, Tokyo has a museum dedicated to Miyazaki films where kids are encouraged to get lost and explore. Buy tickets well in advance, though, since they can sell out days — even weeks — in advanced. [Photo below]

Totoro at Ghibli Museum, Tokyo, Japan

Why Tokyo Rocks for Solo Travel

My favorite quote about Tokyo is from Matthew Amster-Burton in his food-centric, Toyko travelogue Pretty Good Number One (a must read for anyone about to travel to Tokyo):

Tokyo is the opposite of the DMV. It is the least annoying place I have ever been.

Ditto. Even the parts about Tokyo that I first believed would be chaotic and overwhelming, like cramming onto a rush-hour train at Shinjuku, were still efficient and not obnoxious at all to navigate. More amazing still was how quiet the station and trains were, even with a mass of hundreds of people shuffling to and from trains.

What this also means though, is Tokyo is a fantastic place for the solo traveler. In fact, I made a list of all the reasons why Tokyo is a great destination for solo travelers — even women traveling solo.

  • Being alone isn’t weird
  • And even if it was weird, no one would tell you that you’re being weird
  • The Tokyo Train System is the most user-friendly public transportation in the world. Buy a Suica or Pasmo card at the airport. You’ll be refunded for your deposit when you return it later.
  • There are unlimited sights and attractions to see — you’ll never be bored or able see it all
  • Friendly and polite locals — seriously. This is the total opposite of the DMV.
  • Tokyo is the safest city in the worldSo safe, some budget travelers sleep outside in the summer months to save money.
  • For places to sleep, there are a variety of hostel and Couchsurfing options. I stayed at Khaosan World,  in part because they had a sale, but also because of its ambiance and non-party hostel vibe. I loved it enough that I’d stay and pay full price if I ever go back — especially since the bunks are comfy, spacious, and allow you a good amount of privacy for a shared room.
  • Lots of couchsurfing and expat meetups, if you care to meet someone outside your hostel.

In sum: Tokyo is easy to fall in love with, and undoubtedly one of the best destinations for solo travelers — if not the best.

Tokyo Crosswalk

Tokyo Park


Have you traveled alone in Tokyo? What are your tips?

Adventure Travel Asia Laos The Nomadic Life Travel

Thakhek, Laos: The Bermuda Triangle of Rock Climbers

Month three of a round the world journey

In November of this year, Liz and I landed in Hanoi to embark on our third month of travel, and we were tired. We had hit a wall, and wanted nothing more than to be somewhere warm, forget about bus schedules and border crossings and stay in the same place for a week. Of course, whiling away the hours with beer on the beach isn’t really our style, and in any case, a cyclone was hurriedly rushing toward the coast of Vietnam at that time, so we decided to hop a train and a bus over to Thakhek, Laos.


monks in laos

Why Thakhek?

Because of the rock climbing.

thakhek climber

Of all the places to visit in Laos, Thakhek isn’t as popular as Luang Prabang or Van Vieng — but that’s part of its charm. Thakhek town has a lazy, river-side vibe, and most often draws visitors for the border crossing between Laos and Thailand, “the loop” — a circuit you can travel by motorbike visiting nearby caves — and trekking. Of course, with these caves come mountains, and with these mountains, rock face. Fortunately for us, a German couple had tapped the climbing potential of the area outside of Thakhek several years ago and not only bolted dozens and dozens of routes (and were still bolting more when we showed up at their door) but had built a hostel for visiting climbers: Green Climber’s Home.

Thakhek cave

Green Climbers Home

For us, Green Climber’s Home was like a dream hostel. A bed in their dorm or a rented tent was affordable. The food was also cheap and featured a ton of fresh, healthy options (we were mildly obsessed with the green salads and mango smoothies). Almost all of the routes were within a five minute walk of where we slept, and the hostel had any and all climbing accessories like climbing harnesses available to rent if you didn’t bring it with you. Best of all, our fellow guests were there to climb, talk climbing, and climb some more. Maybe I’m a bit biased, but I’ve always felt that climbers are some of the most down to earth, friendly people around, so to stay in a hostel full of them just meant extra good vibes. Not to mention, the clever bar games that came out after a few beers: who can coil a rope the fastest; bouldering around benches/tables; or attempting to pick a small box off the floor with our mouths as a tipsy test of flexibility.

Green climbers home tent

It’s probably no surprise then that almost everyone we met there was staying or already had stayed longer than they planned. Even we tacked on an extra three days (minimal compared to a few other personalities who had already logged a month at the place). Basically, it was one of those places you could easily forget about time and stay forever at. It was like a Bermuda Triangle of rock climbers who had disappeared from the rest of the world — especially since no wifi meant deconnecting.

In short, Green Climber’s Home was exactly where we wanted to be to wade out our travel fatigue.

A story of resilience

Green climbers home

At the time we visited, Green Climber’s Home was under some construction. About a year back, a fire that started during some Saint Slyvester celebrations destroyed most of the hostel. However, once word got out to the climbing community, donations came pouring back in to make restoring the place possible. Good thing too, because not only is it a great place for climbers, but a business that cares about giving back to the community and being sustainable. Happily, I noticed on their website that they have finally completed all the restoration since we visited.

Why Thakhek rocks for rock climbers

Thakhek rock climber

Besides this little community of vagabond-rock climbers, one of the reasons why Thakhek rocks as a rock climbing destination is the variety of easy to advanced climbs. There’s something for everyone: 5.7 – 5.9 grade climbs to get comfortable leading on; multi-pitch routes; and some seriously challenging I only managed to watch others ascend. Like most rock climbing in Southeast Asia, it’s also warm and humid for most of the day, but there’s enough routes in the shade to keep climbers out of the sun.

Tips on climbing in Thakhek

happy salt shaker

I won’t waste too much time with the how-to aspect of climbing in Thakhek — The Green Climber’s Home website already has thorough details, bus schedules, and maps in both English and German. But some quick tips to know:

    • No gear? No experience? That’s no excuse. Gear rentals and classes are available.
    • Bring tape — the rock is seriously sharp
    • A 60m rope is fine, 70m is better, and 80m is necessary for few climbs. Rentals aren’t too expensive though, so I’d recommend bringing a 60/70m, whatever you have, and renting the 80m if you happen to need it.
    • You can purchase a guidebook with topo maps of all the climbs at Green Climber’s Home. It includes other parts of Laos.
    • Green Climber’s Home and all of the routes are located 16km out of town. A tuk-tuk should cost about 100,000 kip ($12USD). Limited bikes and motorbikes are available for rent at the hostel.
    • There isn’t a whole lot around Green Climber’s Home other than climbing. Even if you’re there just to bag some new routes, pop by Thakhek on a rest day for some fresh fried fish and a Beer Lao Dark by the riverside!


Asia In Photos Thailand The Nomadic Life

A Skipped Beat in Krabi, Thailand: Tuesday Travel Snapshot

Bringing you a travel snapshot from Beat Nomad’s archives each and every Tuesday:

Thai Street FoodI had a serious space-cadet moment when I was in Ko yao noi, a small island about an hour’s boat ride from Krabi, while traveling around Thailand last September. I said goodbye to my friends, packed up my bag, got on a boat, all ready to fly back to Madagascar and realized “wait — it’s Wednesday, not Thursday… I still have a whole other day in Thailand!” How did I spend it? Eating, of course. Sushi, iced coffee, and noodles were all obsessions of mine while traveling there, but don’t judge me for also getting overly-excited at a packet of freeze-dried raspberries in a 7-11. (RASPBERRIES! NO WAY! I haven’t eaten these in over a year!)

Anyways, this photo was taken at Krabi’s nighttime street food market, right on the ocean. I suspect that most of the food here is a mysterious meat-on-a-stick sort of thing — one of Thailand’s food options that never struck my palate much, but I always gravitated towards for their colorful displays.

Favorite part about Krabi: Oh, besides the food? The night market (not the one shown here) and its overload of sensory experiences, and all the super rad climbing spots (which I didn’t climb) nearby.

Least favorite part about Krabi: This really awkward Barbie-pink pedicure I got because it was raining and I couldn’t think of anything else to do — awkward because of the language barrier and uncomfortable chair.

Asia In Photos Thailand Travel

Scenes from a Beaten Path: Thailand

Girly, Tropical Drink

The humidity felt like a second skin as my new friend and I sat collecting “Chang” and “Leo” cans on a hostel porch. A strange distant sound interrupted our conversation.

“What was that?”
“It sounded like an elephant…”
“Impossible, we’re in a city.”

Twenty minutes later two men passed in front of our porch, leading a baby elephant by with a blinking red bike light attached to it’s tail.

“I suppose it was an elephant.” One of us said, and immediately the mood felt lighter, as though we had just created our first and only inside joke with each other, that we had just experienced one of those anecdotes no backpacker in Thailand leaves without. It reminded us that we were far from home. Reminded me that I was far from my home away from home. When would either of us ever have our conversations interrupted by a baby elephant in America, Switzerland… or even Madagascar? (And for those of you wondering, no, there are no elephants in Madagascar.) Thailand may have been part of a well-worn backpackers route, and I may love to stick my nose up at the throngs of tourists in Paris, Costa Rica, or Thailand from my seriously un-visited small town in Madagascar, but I’ll be honest: I had a damn good time and took photographs to prove it.

Suhkhothai WatBoardwalk SunsetMangrove ForestKoh Yao NoiFood Stall in Krabi

Photos: (1) Girly drink at a bar (2) Sukhothai Wat (3) Boardwalk Sunset in Koh Yao Noi (4) Signs in the Mangrove Forest (5) Women collecting crabs at low tide (6) Nighttime food stalls in Krabi