Tokyo

Friday I arrived in Tokyo. It was a welcome break from Hong Kong which felt a lot like Manhattan. The neighborhood I was staying in in Tokyo was much more roomy. It was a chilly 45 degrees and I ended up buying a sweatshirt.

I had chicken cutlet with curry and rice for dinner and then spent some time planning the rest of my week.

Saturday I started out by visiting the Imperial Palace. They only let people in the Imperial Palace twice a year and as things have been working out, I will just miss it. We are allowed to walk around the palace though which is like a nice park.

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Then I went out to Shinjuku and had some sushi near the Hanazono shrine. After the sushi I walked around Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. They had a few sections but my favorite was the traditional Japanese garden.

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I stopped for coffee and then had some brisket at a Japanese steak house. Later on the recommendation of someone at my hostel, I went down to Omote-Sando street which was decorated nicely for Christmas.

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While walking around I found a Wolfgang Puck Express restaurant, where I had some apple crumble and ice cream.

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Sunday I took a day trip to see Mount Fuji. I met Brian from New York and Rosy from Chicago, and someone from Germany, and we spent most of the day together. We drove up as far as you can drive, to the 5th climbing station, and had a wonderfully clear view of the mountain.

 

 

 

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Afterward we had a tasty lunch of toubanen, udon noodles, tempura and rice.

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We took a ferry to a cable car which we rode to the top of a mountain. There was no view there due to a snow storm that rolled in. I was not dressed for snow or snow like temperatures.

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We took the bullet train back to Tokyo where I had fried dumplings, a giant ball of sushi, and french fries.

Monday I started out with ramen for lunch. It was much better than top ramen. Then I went to Joypolis, a Japanese amusement park. I tried going to a barbeque place for dinner but it ended up being another Japanese steak House, so that was expensive but delicious.

Finally I went to robot show at Robot restaurant. They opened with a robot band followed by saki shots, and finally the robot show.

The robot show started with an amazing drum performance on top of robots. The second act was a battle between robots and humans, my personal favorite version of apocalypse. Then there was a Michael Jackson tribute, followed by a finale of seemingly everything. It was strange and excellent.

We couldn’t take pictures of the robots.

Tuesday I started out by going to Tokyo Skytree.

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For lunch I had Pork Okonomiyaki with shrimp. Then I went to see the Meiji shrine.

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Wednesday I took the bullet train to Kyoto. It was only a day trip but I covered a whole lot of ground. I started with a morning tour of Nijo Castle, where the Shogun lived.

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Then the Golden Pavilion, a Buddhist temple that was reconstructed after it was burnt down.IMG_4645.JPG

And finally the Imperial Palace, where the emperor lived and still hosts visitors.

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The tour guide went over some of the history of Japan, the rule of the Shogun for 700 years, the moving of the capital from Kyoto to Tokyo, and the last Shogun returning power to the emperor.

After the tour I had conveyor belt sushi which was delicious. There were a few with surprise wasabi, which was tastier than I remembered. Or maybe we just have terrible wasabi in the US.

Next I went to the Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine and accidentally climbed Mount Inari. Accidentally in the sense that I didn’t know that was the task at hand when I started walking through the gates.

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I took the subway back to Kyoto station and went to go see Higashi Honganji, a Buddhist temple. Now at this point I’ve seen so many Buddhist temples that I could probably sign up, but it was close to where I needed to be, so I went.

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Then I stopped for some dumplings and went to see the pogoda.

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I had a goodbye Asia steak and beer. The steak was wagyu and came in a skillet. There are plenty of places I’d like to see in Asia. The opening round was excellent, and there are places I didn’t know existed before that I’d like to visit.

I took the bullet train back to Tokyo.

I didn’t explicitly set out to educate myself on World War II last August, but that’s what has ended up happening over the last four months. So while I was in Japan, World War II first runner up, I figured I should continue with that.

So Thursday I went to the Yasukuni Shrine where Tokyo’s World War II museum is. What I found was mildly terrifying. I spent two hours reading a white washed accounting of World War II. They have the first locomotive from the Thailand Burma railway on exhibit with no mention of the war crimes committed by Japan used to build it. There was no mention of the million people that were killed in the occupation of Hong Kong. They also make an argument that the US forced them into bomb pearl harbor.

The controversy is documented in other ways, such as honoring over 1000 soldiers who have been convicted of war crimes.

Visiting Germany previously, you get the sense they know they’ve committed horrible crimes in the past. There was no sense of that in Tokyo, and the lack of it was upsetting.

I followed that up with a Christmas party organized by our hostel. We went to see some Christmas light displays. Japan is less than 5% Christian but you can tell they love Christmas.

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After the light show things went Western pretty fast. We had burritos and nachos followed by pizza and sake for dinner. Then we ended up in an Irish pub.

Friday I took a Japanese cooking class with two other Americans. We also made Japanese sweet potato rice, a soup, some folded eggs, green beans, and a lemon dessert.

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Then I started a two day transfer to New Zealand, with a fourteen twenty hour layover in Shanghai.

As usual, Google maps saved me a lot of trouble in Shanghai. If you’re going to visit China, pay for a VPN, it’s worth it to use Google which is otherwise blocked in China.

I made it to my hotel at 3am. Thankfully I bought a 5 hour energy back in Hong Kong, so I had part of that and went out to The Bund.

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After three hours of sleep, I woke up to see The Bund again in daylight. On the way I walked through a park where people were have a dance party. Another group of people were exercising. A third group were having band practice.

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I tried to see the Yu Garden as well but I was distracted by a nearby market. By the time I found the entrance it was time for me to leave.

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On the way to the airport I took the Shanghai Maglev, the fastest train in the world. The radio whole waiting at the station included “Take me home, country road”.

Then I set off for an 11.5 hour flight to Auckland, New Zealand. It turns out the flight was delayed by 6 hours, which is upsetting mostly because I could have spent that in Shanghai. I was enjoying some free airport spaghetti though.

Even though I came into Tokyo with a very sparse plan, I felt like I was always busy and in the end I ran out of time. Also one day in Kyoto wasn’t enough, but I hadn’t planned on visiting Kyoto at all, originally, so I’m very happy with how it went.

Here are more pictures from Tokyo.

Hong Kong

After a month in Southeast Asia I went east to Hong Kong. Hong Kong is kind of part of China but kind of it’s own thing. They have their own government, border control, and currency, but rely on China for defense. China also has a heavy influence on the Hong Kong political system.

My attention span usually ran out right about here during the planning phase. It turns out that happened in real life too… It took me a few days to get onboard with the next month and a half of travel.

It turns out it’s easy to get a visa to China from Hong Kong. I almost went to Beijing but I didn’t bring winter clothing with me.

Wednesday I walked around Hong Kong. I had intended to go on two walking tours but I missed one and the other was cancelled. The highlights of Wednesday were a delicious hamburger and a delicious burrito. The hamburger made the list of my top three favorite hamburgers, along with Burgatory and the Ships Inn (Scotland). The burrito was Cali-Mex and delicious. Still, not great choices when you’re on the other side of the world.

Later I went to Victoria Peak which overlooks the city.

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Thursday I had some pork dumplings for lunch and then went on a walking tour of kalwoon. The tour was mostly “Hong Kong: the dark side of capitalism” apparently featured in the New York Times. It went into explaining how the cost of living is the highest in the world, and how the government designed it to be that way to keep property taxes sky high. The result is that people are renting out cages or coffins, forced to split tiny apartments multiple ways, or just homeless. The idea of the tour was to draw attention to these things in contrast to the skyscraper lined harbor.

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It ended in a meat and fish market.

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After the tour I went to eat dinner in the Temple Street Market. I had steamed shrimp with garlic.

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Friday I went to see the symphony of lights, a nightly light show on the waterfront. My hostel recommended a roof top bar nearby and I watched it from there.

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Saturday I went on a tour Hong Kong’s harbor area. It went over the political history of Hong Kong, how they were a British colony before being handed over to China, and what that looked like. A big theme of it was how they were supposed to become a democracy and how China hasn’t let that happen, going so far as jailing protest leaders.

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One of the stops was the Chinese military base. The tour guide had a neck mounted mic (used through the tour) and was telling us about the descent right outside the wall, so that was an experience especially since Hong Kong is decidedly not a free country.

Then I went to visit the Chi Lin Nunnery, and spent some time walking through the garden there.

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For dinner I had steak, shrimp, and fish hibachi. I would end up having that a few different nights.

Sunday I went to see the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery. I didn’t actually count the Buddhas, I believe them though.

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Then I had lunch at Tim Ho Wan, which is a restaurant that has a Michelin star, and is supposed to be the cheapest Michelin star restaurant. The menu was in Chinese, so with the help of Google translate, I ordered a Pepsi (intentionally) and some fatty rib bones (I was hoping I ordered ribs).

I’m not exactly sure how I was supposed to eat the ribs. Thankfully they seated me with a family from Hong Kong who helped me order pork and shrimp dumplings. All together it came to about $7 USD. The dumplings were delicious.

Monday I went to see Hong Kong’s Big Buddha. It took a long cable car ride to get there, and there was a nice village near by.

Tuesday I went on the Dragons Back hike. I met serval people from Singapore, one from Canada, one from Boston, and someone from Guam who looked and sounded like a very tan Robert California (James Spader) from The Office.

The hike was 8.5km and had a lot of ups and downs, like walking on a dragon’s back.

For dinner afterwards I had Hong Kong barbeque at Joy Hing. The menu was in Chinese again but I was thankfully able to order in English. I had delicious pork, or maybe duck, but I think pork. Then I went to an American diner which I’ve had breakfast at a couple of times and had some coffee. Because coffee.

After a pot of coffee I was all powered up, so I went to a sky bar which I was referred to by a swedish traveler who I met randomly three different times. From there I found a giant Christmas tree.

Wednesday I went to the coastal defense museum. It gave a history of Hong Kong going back to the Ming dynasty in the late 1300’s. It covered the opium war, the second opium war, up through World War II and the surrender of Hong Kong to Japan.

I spent the rest Wednesday and Thursday recovering from a cold, but I did see the new Star Wars movie. I also had Barbeque pork buns which is like bbq pork in a pastry, and shrimp dumplings which were both delicious.

Next I’m heading east to Tokyo.

Here are more pictures from Hong Kong.

Koh Phangan

I went to several beaches on Koh Phangan. These are from Leela beach. It seems that monsoon season ran a little long this year so there were only two nice days, but they were excellent.

The first day someone brought along a travel guitar. It was like Ryan and Xander were there, all the way down to the playing of “Tribute”. I was like, “This is a stretch, but do you by chance know ‘Tribute’ by Tenacious D?” And they were like “lol yup we just played that the other night”.

Then the next day we went to Sunset Beach.

Both days had excellent sunsets.

I had originally planned to visit Koh Toa as well, but after talking to people I decided not try to squeeze it in on this trip.

There a beach party to celebrate the full moon ending at sunrise, and a jungle party the night before.

With the goal of staying up until sunrise at the end of the week, and my bedtime coming in being around 10pm, it felt a lot like training for a half marathon.

Or the NCAA tournament… survive and advance. Sunrise accomplished. By sunrise accomplished I mean it was cloudy so we couldn’t actually see the sun, but we could see the wall of the monsoon quickly approaching us. It was like the horizon slowly getting closer, and then quickly getting closer, and then downpour rain as you’re running off the beach.

Hong Kong is next.

Chiang Mai

I added Chiang Mai to my travel plans back in India, largely due to the recommendations of friends. I arrived in Chiang Mai on Thanksgiving. I had some delicious chili chicken, so close enough. Then I went to see Wat Chedi Luang Worawihan.

Friday I went to the elephant sanctuary. I met Mary and Maura from Ireland and people from Chicago and California. For the most part it was just me and Mary and Maura.

The elephants we met were a family of six. There was a two year old baby elephant, and an elephant that was pregnant. Most of the elephants were formerly used for elephant rides. They were bought when some laws changed that made keeping elephants more expensive. Elephant riding is considered unethical, and it took the rescued elephants six months to start trusting humans again.

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We started by feeding the elephants. They eat 250kg of bamboo a day so we were just giving them a snack. They would reach out and take the bamboo and bananas with their trunks. The baby elephant took the food directly from the bag.

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Next we went up the hillside to see where the elephants sleep. It was like post snack exercise. For us too.

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We had some potato curry and rice for lunch and then it was time to wash the elephants. Washing the elephants meant we had to cover them in mud, then rinse it off in the stream.

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Finally we said goodbye with more snacks.

Friday night I went to the night market, where there was a ton of live music.

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Saturday we walked around the city center and went to see a few more temples. Then we went to the Saturday night market which was incredible. It was probably my favorite market so far. I stumbled upon Wat Sri Suphan. Right after I paid to go in I was pulled into a Buddhist ritual. A description of that wouldn’t do it justice, here’s what it looked like though.

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And because I’m out in the world, after that I met some friends (England, Austria, Holland) to watch Thai boxing.

On the way home I had some delicious milk roti.

Sunday I went on a night tour of Wat Umong and Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. From the second one we had an excellent view of Chiang Mai. They dropped us off at the Sunday night market which was not as good as the Saturday night market.

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Monday I flew back to Bangkok, where I had Masaman and Thai tea for dinner and then took the ferry to a sky bar.

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Tuesday I went to see the house of Jim Thomson, an ex CIA agent who lived in Thailand and was a collector of things. He was likely eaten by a tiger in the Malaysian jungle. It was near my previous hostel so I stopped for one of my favorite meals (its still cooking when they give it to you).

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I also stopped for some iced lemon tea which is so sugary and good its like diabetes in a glass.

I’m going on vacation next week to some Thai islands, Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, and Koh Toa.

Here are more pictures from Chiang Mai.

Bangkok

I’ve been traveling for three months now. Bangkok was full of people either starting or ending their travels. After a light few days in Kuala Lumpur I sprung back into action in Thailand.

I started out by having another tasty pepper rice dish, this time with beef that cooked as it sizzled in the skillet. I only remember to take a picture of it once it’s finished. I also met Steve from LA and Tia from England at my hostel.

Thursday I went to Wat Pho with Tia. On the way we walked through some Thai market with some street food. Mostly because our Uber driver kicked us out early.

Wat Pho was impressive. We went to see Reclining Buddha and entered the temple, then we took the ferry to Wat Arun.

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Wat Arun looked great from the outside, but that was pretty much it since you couldn’t enter it.

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I had stir fry shrimp in garlic with rice for dinner. We met Lilly, also from England, then took a tuk tuk to the Khao San Road night market where they were selling everything from massages to roasted scorpions.

Friday I started a three day tour of Western Thailand. After a van ride to the hotel in Kanchanaburi I went on a bike tour. We saw an old World War II bridge built by prisoners of war for the Japanese, rode over to Khao Poon cave where the Japanese stored medicine during the war, and visited a World War II cemetery.

Saturday we started out by going to see the Sai Yok Noi waterfall. Then we went to the Hellfire Pass museum.

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When the British surrendered Singapore to Japan in World War II they had over 120,000 troops. Many of them were moved up to Thailand to be used as slave labor for construction of a Railroad between Thailand and Burma. The Japanese were brutal, and the museum is dedicated to the prisoners of war and Mylasian “recruits” who died to build it. The railroad was over 400km long but it was broken up after the war. About 100km of it is still maintained and functional today.

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Then we went swimming in a hot spring and a cool stream. After that I went on a two hour hike though a bamboo jungle up a mountain to a small Thai village where we had dinner. I slept in a tiny bamboo hut.

Sunday we trekked through the jungle again and then took a bamboo raft back to town.

I had barbeque chicken and sticky rice for lunch, and took a ride on the “death railway”. Then finally I returned to Bangkok.

Sunday night I met two people from Germany and Jasmin from Scotland, and Monday we went to see the Grand Palace. We ate lunch in Chinatown, having fried pork with rice. Then we took a short walk through Lumpini park before it started to rain.

After a short nap we went to a German brewery that had Thai country music. American country music too, “Achy Breaky Heart” was playing when we walked in. The food was Thai though and the beer was German. The wizen beers and crab fried rice were amazing. The best part though was the live performance of music.

Music included Bon Jovi, Katie Perry, Elvis, The Village People, and various unknown Thai and other artists. We stayed until they closed.

Tuesday I went on a national park tour with Norma and Rosa from New York from Puerto Rico. Their house in Puerto Rico had been destroyed in the hurricane, but everyone was ok since they had been living in New York. Puerto Rico is still largely without power, so let me take this time to remind everyone that House districts PA-12 and NJ-2 are both in desperate need of flipping.

I had been up pretty late the night before and I forgot what exactly I had signed up for, so I had to take a short nap on the way there to prepare for the following surprises.

First we stopped at a morning market. We had fried banana and banana covered in sticky rice.

Next we went on ox cart ride. I drove for a little, then Rosa. If things don’t work out in life I might have a future as an ox cart driver. Its my third choice behind “person that unspools the cable for television cameras at sporting events”.

Then an ATV ride through the jungle. I may have hit a tree at some point. I’ve only driven a quad once before in the Moroccan dessert, I’m not very good at it. After they restarted my ATV everything went much better.

Lunch was excellent. Rosa tossed some green things in soy sauce onto a super heated wok, detonating it with a huge fireball. It was delicious, and went well with the chicken fried rice.

The waterfall was the only thing that I had expected to see at the start of the day. We did some rock jumping to get a better view.

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Then we took an 8km white water rafting trip. The tour guide seemed annoyed when me and Rosa tried rowing, so he ended up doing most of the work. There were no other rafts for us to run into so everyone was safe this time.

Wednesday I took a day trip to Ayutthaya with my hostel. Ayutthaya was the capital of Thailand before Bangkok. There were about 30 of us which made it a lot of fun. I met people from Tiwan, the Philippines, Ireland, Germany, Mexico, Canada and California. I even met the rarest of people, an American taking one week of vacation.

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We went to go see the ancient ruins of two old temples, and watched someone make cotton candy the hard way. We ate lunch in the market, and I had barbeque chicken on a stick, roasted corn on the cob, and a fried ball of cheese.

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Next I’m spending a few days in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, then coming back to Bangkok for two more nights. Spoiler alert: its amazing.

Here are more pictures from Bangkok.

Help save net neutrality

Seriously, I can’t believe I have to spend time on this.

When you get your electric bill, the electric company charges you the same price if you’ve used your electric to run a power tool or a refrigerator. They don’t charge you more for lighting, and they can’t dictate what you use your electric for. It works the same for the internet, but that’s about to change due to the FCC.

For example, if you want to use Facebook, that could cost you extra. YouTube, Netflix? Pull out your wallet, because those will cost you. Sites critical of ISPs? You may not be able to see them at all.

It isn’t some theory, it’s how it already works in Portugal.

Pretty much every part of my work involves using the internet, from the development that is done to the product that is delivered. Traveling is no different. If I need to go somewhere, anywhere, I need to look it up and how to get to it, and if it’s somewhere I want to go.

Please support net neutrality so I can continue to work and travel, and so you don’t get price gouged for googling something.

Kuala Lumpur

I originally wanted to go to Kuala Lumpur to see the Petronas towers. They’re mostly known for keeping away dementors so it’s a generally happy place. Then I read my neighbor Erin’s post on Kuala Lumpur and saw her in front of a giant golden statue. That became the thing I wanted to see most, and was one of the things last year that made me start looking into the viability of this adventure beyond just the idea.

So I started out by going to the Batu caves. There was a giant golden statue outside, and 272 steps. They were very difficult in the jungle heat. I passed many monkeys in the way up. One of them was thirsty. Me too monkey, me too.  At the top were a couple of temples, and the views were excellent. Slightly lower down there was a second cave which was giving tours, so I hopped on one of those. It took us inside a cave and talked about the creepy wildlife that lived in there. There were also some excellent examples of stalactites and stalagmites and whatever they’re called when they connect. It had started raining while we were in the cave so I had a very wet decent of those steps followed by a walk back to the bank train station. Dinner was Malaysian spicy kam heong chicken rice.

Next I went to the aquarium. They had a huge tunnel that you could walk through that showed you sea turtles, sharks, stingrays, and other giant fish.

Finally I made it to the Petronas towers. It’s true that you can’t see the Petronas towers from inside the Petronas tower, but you caaan see the much less pretty KL tower 😀

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I had some time so I watched the new Thor movie. I had never seen a Thor movie but it turns out you don’t need to. Once the sun set they had a brief musical fountain water light show.

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On my way home I passed some street musicians who were preforming songs I couldn’t understand, but I stopped and listened for a while.

Anyway, other backpackers had given me low expectations of Kuala Lumpur. I didn’t enjoy it as much as Singapore, there wasn’t as much to do, but I’m happy I came. I’m spending the next three weeks in Thailand.

Here are some more pictures from Kuala Lumpur.