Haircut in Hanoi – The Best Haircut of my Life

It’s been a little while since I wrote anything on here, I’ve got a bigger post planned soon about arriving in Hanoi and visiting Halong Bay, but I just had to share my story from today. What should have been a normal task became a unique experience.

When I left to go travelling in June I decided to celebrate my escape from custody from work by not shaving or cutting my hair the whole time I’m away. For the first time in my life I have the decent beginnings of a beard (although even 4 months in I still look more homeless than distinguished).

Recently that plan seemed ill advised and the new joy of knotted hair and worried glances from passing locals only added to the urge to cut it. Plus my photos to remember this trip with are plagued with an unkempt hairy yeti (thanks Lisa!)

So this morning, on the recommendation of my wonderful hotel receptionist, I set out for a haircut in Hanoi, and I have never had a haircut like it.

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Climbing Hong Kong’s Victoria Peak

Hong Kong is more than the city you see on TV.

Taken from Hong Kong Island looking across the bay to Kowloon

More than 200 islands make up the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong however due to the steep hills and mountainous terrain the majority of development is limited to Hong Kong Island, the cityscape famous in every photo, Kowloon (the peninsula which looks out onto Hong Kong Island from which many of those photos are taken) and the New Territories, the land joining mainland China.

Having spent the last few days walking around the steep climbs of the populated area I dread to think how steep the unpopulated parts are, my legs are already numb!

The iconic skyline of Hong Kong is the ‘Central’ business district and it sits at the base of one of the tallest peaks in the region, Victoria Peak – also known as Mount Austin.

Victoria Peak behind the Central district

Before heading out to the more extreme hikes I set out to climb The Peak.

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Exploring Hong Kong’s Incredible, and Free, Parks

Although I landed in Hong Kong 4 days ago the first two nights don’t really count. On the first day I didn’t arrive until the mid-afternoon and by the time I had checked into the hotel I only had enough time to see the buildings at night and stumble upon a protest before it was time to sleep.

The next day doesn’t really count either as it involved becoming a human pin cushion again for a Hep B vaccination booster and the fun of my first of three rabies jabs. Fortunately having to get the rabies course did give me an excuse to extend my stay in Hong Kong.

So although it was Day 3 officially it was the first day of actually being able to explore and appreciate this unique city, a strange combination of British and Chinese influences. And already I have come to appreciate what an amazing city it is.

Hong Kong photographed from a plane
Hong Kong from the sky

The day started early and it was already hot and humid, perfect weather for the miles of walking through the city I had planned! The first stop was Hong Kong Park, like many city parks I would come to visit in Hong Kong it contained many surprises.

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Hong Kong’s Central Mid-Levels Escalator System

Did you know Hong Kong has the world’s longest outdoor covered escalator system? Well now you do!

It runs over 800 metres up the mountain side to connect the Central business district with the wealthy Mid-Levels area. And now you can experience it for yourself without even leaving your computer on the newest video by escapefromcustody!

If the above video doesn’t work please click here.

My Week in Seoul, South Korea (and a little bit of North Korea!)

Following a much needed rest at Incheon Airport’s Spa on Air I took the Airport Rail into Seoul, an express train which takes about 45 minutes and cost around £3 one way, I’m still struggling to get used to the cost of things away from the UK!

Checking into the hostel I then explored a small part of the river side and found dinner before calling an end to Day 1.

Day 2 began with a trip to the War Memorial of Korea. The name is slightly misleading as it is more than just a memorial with a fantastic museum over 3 floors going through the history of war on the Korean peninsula from early ages to the Korean War.

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A Guide to Spa on Air – Incheon Airport’s Secret Treasure

Passing through security at Tokyo Haneda airport shortly before midnight I realised that saving a few pounds on the flight was little comfort to the fact it was still a couple of hours until departure with a planned arrival at Incheon Airport just before 5am. It would then be a long wait until I could check in to the hostel in Seoul that afternoon; dirty, exhausted and cursing my past frugal self.

Fortunately, however, I had found rumours of a secret treasure hidden in the airport for weary travellers like me, Spa on Air, a place to shower, relax and sleep after arriving or before departure.

Unfortunately finding the place was a lot harder than it should have been and there is little information, even on their website about details, so I’ve decided to make this short guide to help anyone else who finds themselves with half a day to get through at Incheon Airport.

What is Spa on Air?

Spa on Air is a small airport spa on the basement level of Terminal 1 at Incheon Airport. It has toilet, shower, hot tub, sauna and sleeping facilities for a reasonable price to help recover from a flight or get ready before departing. It is land side so you don’t need to go through security to get there.

How much is Spa on Air?

I paid 20,000 Korean Won, just under £15 at time of writing, for 8 hours. 7 hours was 19,000 and the price reduces the less time you need. You can also pay for private sleeping rooms which of course cost more.

How does Spa on Air work?

When you arrive you’ll be asked how long, in hours, you’ll need with a price list in front of you. They accepted my credit card and didn’t need to see any passport or boarding pass. You can check large luggage at reception and you’ll be given some towels, some pyjamas, a locker key and access card.

You can keep your hand luggage with you and make sure you have a change of clothes and toiletries in there.

Take your shoes off in reception and go to the relevant locker room where the locker key opens a small cabinet for your shoes. Don’t panic about your hand luggage not fitting, there’s a bigger locker further in the changing room that the same key opens. Both lockers match the number on the key.

Now here’s where it gets a bit interesting. The hot tubs and showers are run in traditional Korean ways, ie communal and nude.

What this means is you’ll see plenty of naked people wandering around. Any self image problems I might have had were removed by nearly 24 hours of being awake and a desire to clean up and sleep.

For obvious reasons I can only be specific about the male facilities but I’m sure it’s similar in the opposite rooms.

Once stripped off enjoy a hot shower and then you can sit in one of 3 hot tubs until you’re suitably poached. Although it was quite busy I never had to share as people moved through quite quickly.

When you’re done and possibly showered again change into the pyjamas provided. Although I’m 6’2″ and, let’s say, generally larger than the average Korean, the pyjamas fit fine.

Then using the access card you can go into the sleeping area. This is mixed gender and consists of a small room with various mats, sleeping couches and cushions to find a spot and get some rest. The only downside was the noise during the early hours, it appears between 5 and 7am are the busy times with people coming in and leaving. Things quieted down after 7/8am and room emptied out gradually over time.

The only thing I’d change if I returned would be reserving a private room ahead of time so it would be quieter and less disturbed.

Nevertheless I did manage to get a few hours sleep and on waking returned to the shower, got dressed and collected my luggage.

A nice touch is free amenities in the changing room including combs, hair dryers, various beauty products and water. There are vending machines for forgotten toiletries such as toothbrushes however they only accept cash in Korean Won, not great if you’ve forgotten to change up any money first!

Overall a great value for a little over £10, much cheaper than a hotel room for half a night and a great way to feel refreshed after a long day.

Where is Spa on Air?

Go to floor B1 in Terminal 1 of Incheon Airport on the Eastern side.

From International Arrivals this is down 1 floor. For some reason there are no signs from arrivals to get you to the right place so follow signs for Airport Railway down to B1, just don’t follow them any further once you’re on the right floor!

There are various elevators and escalators which will take you down from Arrivals or Departures.

If you’ve arrived by AREX you should already be on the right floor.

On the map above the Green 9 on the bottom left is the location of the Spa. Click to enlarge.

Update Oct 9th 2019: This is by far the most popular post on this blog, if you found this I hope it proved helpful. Please let me know in a comment how your experience was and have a great trip!

Swimming at the base of Mount Fuji

Swimming at Lake Kawaguchiko

Despite having dreamed of travelling for a while before starting this journey I had done little actual planning on what I was going to do when I got anywhere. I am also the kind of person who likes to have a plan when they arrive somewhere.

These two contradictions have resulted in much unnecessary stress along the path so far!

So it was that on my last day in Hawai’i I was sitting in my hotel room, laptop browser open with hundreds of open tabs, belatedly trying to plan the coming week in Japan. Thankfully many people more organised than I am have written thousands of posts with example itineraries for the lazy, last minute, traveller.

One excellent guide by Truly Tokyo was a day trip from Tokyo to Lake Kawaguchiko. Not only does the guide explain how to get there it has photos of each step and maps too. Perfect for people like me who cannot speak Japanese, do not know where they are going and are trying to avoid wasting days once they have arrived having nothing planned.

Full of confidence I followed the guide and arrived at Kawaguchiko Station around midday, after the bus battled through rush hour Tokyo traffic for twice as long as planned. If anyone reading this ever has the same idea then make sure you book the earliest bus possible to avoid the jams!

The temperature had reached 30 degrees Celsius with bright sunshine, a welcome change from the monsoon rain that had drenched me in the days before and drowned my Bluetooth headphones which I had relied on for my only form of English entertainment in foreign lands.

You can get a hop on/hop off bus ticket at Lake Kawaguchiko however for the same price you can hire a push bike for the day, and I much prefer the flexibility of going when and where I want. After paying 1,500 Yen, about £12, I had my bike and map in hand.

Lake Kawaguchiko is beautiful and, unlike the coast of Honolulu which was mostly private with limited public access, the lakeside is mostly publicly accessible with many entry points to the water and public footpaths with decorative plants.

Another welcome change from Honolulu was the use of cycle paths which don’t just disappear when reaching a junction on 6 lane roads merging with highway entrance and exit ramps – an occurrence far to common when cycling in Hawai’i and resulting in many near heart attacks.

The unrelenting sun, combined with a few miles of cycling up and down the hills, had made things rather uncomfortable and the water was too inviting to ignore. After starting with an exploratory paddle I could resist no longer and ended up stripped to my underwear and going for a swim, much to the amusement of several groups of Japanese tourists who appeared on a bank nearby and took photos of me!

I later found out my perfect secluded spot was right next to a major tourist attraction and I had not planned my public show location very well at all.

Now it turns out that it might be slightly illegal to swim in Lake Kawaguchiko and the other lakes around Mount Fuji, a fact I obviously didn’t know until afterwards. It seems that some people have tried swimming across the lake itself and succumbed to hidden currents and thermoclines ending in a few fatalities so the authorities banned any swimming at all.

That said it was incredible to be swimming in beautiful clear waters, in glorious sunshine with the awe-inspiring view of Mount Fuji rising up in the distance. Obviously I would not advocate for anyone else to repeat my mistakes but it was a wonderful way to cool down and enjoy the scenery.

After drying off in the sunshine and continuing to explore various attractions around the lake it was time to get the bus back in to Tokyo. The only regret of the day was not booking a later bus and having to miss the sunset over Mount Fuji, although now I have a reason to return another day.

Tokyo itself has been an amazing city. The food is delicious and amazingly priced, public transport is fantastic and cheap, it is easy to get around once you have figured out roughly how things work, and I cannot say enough how helpful, friendly, patient and polite the people of Tokyo have been with me.

Sadly my rushed schedule, and limited budget, mean my time here is coming to an end already and I am writing this waiting to get the train to the airport for my next flight. The adventure continues…

Hawai’i – The 39th, and final, State

Click to enlarge

Despite officially being the 50th, and last, state to be added to the Union (60 years ago yesterday actually – Happy Birthday Hawai’i State!) Hawai’i has an even greater honour now, being the 39th and final state I visited during my journey across the United States.

After nearly 3 months, over 12,000 miles of driving and 10,000 miles flying the Rainbow State ended a trip I had been dreaming of most of my life. Sadly I was not able to visit all 50 states in one hit, mostly due to the sheer cost of travelling the states.

The difference between the USA, where it cost a rough average of £40-50 per night, compared already with some of Asia, such as Japan and South Korea which have so far averaged accommodation around £15-20 a night, in addition to travel costs, food prices and hidden charges such as “resort fees” mean the money has certainly disappeared quicker than expected!

On the plus side it means I have an excuse to return in future and do some more exploring.

The one thing that has remained true throughout the journey has been the kindness and friendliness of all the people I have met, from the staff at hotels and attractions to random members of the public who stop just to have a chat. It is something I have never really experienced in the UK and it took some getting used to, for example having a happy conversation with someone stopped at a traffic light who just wanted to say hello as I walked past because they liked my T-Shirt!

Unfortunately spending so long in the USA has also highlighted some of the ways they are so different from us and make you miss home. The biggest thing which hit me was the shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas where 22 people were killed and 24 injured in about 6 minutes around 1040am.

It was only a few weeks since I’d been in a Walmart in El Paso myself and highlighted how easy it may have been to get caught up in something like that.

Unfortunately these shootings aren’t even rare;

As of July 31, 2019, 248 mass shootings have occurred in 2019 that fit the inclusion criteria of this article. This averages out to 1.2 shootings per day. In these shootings, 979 people were injured and 246 died (for a total of 1,325 victims). (Emphasis mine)

I have, however, thoroughly loved the time I spent in the country and I am happy to say there was only 1 occasion where I met someone who didn’t greet me with a smile (a very unhappy security guard who did not appreciate me cutting through his parking lot when walking back to the hotel one night in Texas).

I have driven through some of the most beautiful places including The Arches National Park, seen some incredible sights such as the amazing SpaceX rocket launch and booster landing, and been lucky enough to experience unique opportunities for example being flown across Alaskan glaciers in float plane. It is impossible to pick a favourite but these moments will stick with me for life.

I have also learnt enough about American Presidents to last me another lifetime!

It was with a growing sense of nervousness, then, that I boarded a plane towards Tokyo, Japan and left the familiarity of the USA behind. No longer would I know the language (my two words of Japanese being sufficient to say “Hello” and “Thank you”), be able to read the signs (“左に出る”?!) or get help from people when I am lost.

Thankfully the amazing people at Google made this easier than ever. I don’t think I’ll ever stop being amazed at the way it can direct you not only to the train station but let you know which train, platform and even recommend the best carriage! Then the Translate app which allows you to hold the camera up at any text and it will translate it in real time, it is a life saver.

I am also humbled by the people of Tokyo. A massive city of over 9 million and yet they are all polite and welcoming. We may not speak the same language but you can feel their respect and desire to help. I have only been here for 3 days and I already love the people and culture.

I only have a few more days left in Japan before moving on again and I look forward to seeing what awaits…

4 Days in the Florida Keys

For a while I had the dream of driving a convertible through the Florida Keys. I cannot remember where this desire came from but figured this adventure was the best opportunity to do it!

At the end of July I packed up my things again and headed out in my 5.0 litre Mustang (have I mentioned the Mustang before?) to see the Keys, a collection of islands linked by road US 1. The night before I had rapidly Google’d ideas to plan out activities for every day.

The first realisation is that the Keys, although islands off the Southern coast of Flordia, do not have many beaches. The surrounding reef system prevents any big waves and the shallow floor around the islands means beaches are not formed.
The second thing I realised is that, like a lot of America, the vast majority is privately owned with no public access. If you want to stop and explore you are very limited.
The first day was disappointing as everywhere that looks fun to walk around is fenced off with strong warnings of vehicle towing and prosecution for trespass.
There was one pleasant surprise in the Laura Quinn Wild Bird Sanctuary which is free to the public (although they do ask for a donation), a charity which looks after injured and ill birds. They had a selection of birds including pelicans, owls and hawks which was fun to walk around.
It was around this time I realised my next mistake. Travelling in July in Florida is very uncomfortable! It is mid-hurricane season and the weather was extreme. Temperatures started at 35c each morning rising to the mid 40s by lunch with high humidity. After a few hours you would have the daily thunderstorm before everything heated up again. It was so hot that walking into the water felt like walking into a bath.
All this together made walking around or having the roof down in the car were unbearable at times! In the end I think I spent more time with the roof up and the AC on than making the most of the convertible. I did discover the joy of air conditioned seats though.
The next day, still feeling despondent about the situation, I drove to one of the middle islands, Big Pine Key, and it’s neighbour No Name Key. These islands are the primary home of the endangered Key Deer. As you could probably tell by my Instagram feed not only was I fortunate enough to find one it was friendly enough to say hello and pose for hundreds of photographs and even nuzzle my hand before wandering off back into the undergrowth.
The next day I returned to No Name Key and found families of deer who grazing at the roadside. Once again they are friendly enough to approach and give you a sniff before deciding you are not food and walking off. If you ever go you stand the best chance of seeing them around sunrise or sunset. Having tried being outside in the midday sun I can fully understand their desire to avoid it!
I then carried on South to the last island, Key West, which holds the Southern Most Point of the Continental US, only 90 miles from Cuba. After the mandatory photo next to the monument I ventured off into town and came across the second highlight of the Keys, the Butterfly and Nature Reserve. This beautiful tropical conservatory holds hundreds of butterflies of different species, a variety of birds from the parrot-like to two flamingos, and even a turtle or two. It is a truly relaxing place to sit and appreciate nature. I am still trying to work out how to have a garden like this at home!
One thing that also stands out about Key West is the free range chickens that roam the island. With no natural predators they have taken over the town.

After my time on the Keys I headed back towards Miami to return the car and take a plane for the next part of my journey. Along the way I saw signs for the Everglades Alligator Farm and decided to stop. I am very glad I did. They have hundreds of alligators from tiny babies to 16 foot 50 year old adults. I took an air boat ride through the everglades, learnt how to catch an alligator (a skill I do not want to put to the test) and saw a host of unexpected animals like bobcats and emus.

Finally I made it back to civilisation and rested up before my flight the next day. I was due to fly from Fort Lauderdale to Anchorage, Alaska stopping overnight in Seattle, Washington (a place I had the good fortune of visiting only a few months ago so didn’t need to stop properly in) and decided to save money on accommodation for the night and sleep in the airport.This was a truly stupid idea.

There is no where to sleep in an airport, the seats all have arms to prevent you laying down, the floors are cold and hard, constant announcements on the tannoy and I couldn’t even rely on coffee to see me through as Starbucks closed overnight. In the end I was awake for about 30 hours before finally getting to my bed in Anchorage and falling into a long sleep.

I am writing this having spent the day seeing what Anchorage has to offer. It is a small city and the Downtown area is very easy to walk around, a rarity for America which seems to enjoy making walking almost impossible at times The city is surrounded by the Pacific ocean to the South and mountains around the rest. The scenery is beautiful. I am hoping to visit the countryside tomorrow. I only have a few days here before flying off again to more tropical surroundings.
I have found the key to avoiding home sickness and loneliness from travelling on my own is to keep busy. With that in mind I have been trying my best to fill the whole day with activities. What I have also found, however, is that this constant “doing something” together with having to pack and move almost every day has resulted in a feeling of exhaustion and homelessness. A feeling I have decided I need a holiday from!

I have updated My Journey So Far and have now passed over 7500 miles on planes, nearly 12,000 miles driving and have walked over 100 miles and I am only 2 months in!