#FAIL: 7 Classic Dumb Tourist Moves

In our two months of travel across Japan and Southeast Asia, there were more than a few times when we were sadly underprepared, naive...or just plain dumb. Here, a few times we were reminded we were tourists: Almost sleeping on the street. On our trip from Tokyo to Nikko temple we planned to play it by ear, either staying at a hotel or taking the four-hour train back to Tokyo that night. By about 4 p.m., we decided to visit nearby Lake Chuzenji and the Kegan waterfalls and stay the night. When we arrived, we realized we didn’t have any cash. We figured, no problem--we could easily find a hotel and spend the night. Wrong. We wandered ... [Read More]

Dalat, Vietnam: A Small City for Great-Outdoors Tourists

Ever heard of Dalat, Vietnam? No. We hadn't either--but it ended up being a welcome, refreshing stop on our Southeast Asia journey. This small French colonial city in the mountains isn't often on the list with cities like Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hue and Hoi An--and it wasn't on our list of places we wanted to visit in the seven days we'd scheduled for Vietnam. But since three of my best friends since middle school (in Tucson, Arizona!) miraculously happened to be traveling in Vietnam the same time as my husband Olivier and I, it ended up the second Vietnam city and the final spot on our Asia trip. My friend Ashley penciled in a ... [Read More]

Halong Bay Is How You’ve Always Imagined Asia To Be

In a three-and-a-half hour drive from Hanoi, in the north of Vietnam, we visited one of the most magical places on our tour of Southeast Asia--and what's considered one of the seven "New Natural Wonders of the World": Halong Bay. An archipelago of more than 1,600 limestone islands. These steep cliffs rising out of the sea formed as tectonic plates crashed into each other hundreds of thousands of years ago and merged upwards. This was what I had always imagined of the natural beauty of Southeast Asia. The best way to see Halong Bay is by boat, and there are countless one- to two-night boat tours to/from Hanoi. We booked ours, with ... [Read More]

Angkor Wat Wasn’t Our Favorite Temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia

The archeological ruins of Angkor, Cambodia—near the city of Siem Reap—is the place that put temple-hopping in Southeast Asia on the tourist map. And for good reason: Deep in the jungle, it’s impossible not to feel like you’re on a movie set. But Angkor is actually much bigger than the most famous (and very big) main temple of Angkor Wat--voted by Lonely Planet as the number one tourist destination in the world. Seeing such an incredible example of human vision, artistic ability and strength rivaled our expedition among the 2,229 temples of Bagan, Myanmar. One thousand years ago, king Suryavarman II--ruler of the Khmer empire, one of ... [Read More]

Is It Cruel to Ride Elephants in Thailand?

In the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai, we did something I didn’t think I would on our Asia trip: We rode elephants. When we saw elephant riding advertised in other cities, it seemed definitely suspicious and possibly cruel, though I didn’t know enough about the practice be sure. But in Chiang Mai—the Southeast Asian city most teaming with American and Chinese tourists—elephant riding is advertised everywhere. And it was a suggested activity in our Lonely Planet tour guide. Which couldn’t make it so evil…could it? So we decided to try it. And I have to say though it was incredible, I’m regretting the experience today. We booked with ... [Read More]

Visiting The 2,229 Mystical Temples of Bagan, Myanmar

We spent one week this June in Myanmar, first Yangon and then Bagan. Being closed off from the rest of the world for most of the 20th century and nearly all of this century has led to many strange and wonderful cultural differences in Myanmar. It also means that, compared to almost every other beautiful spot in the world—from Paris to Chiang Mai—it’s relatively untouched by tourism. Relatively free from the cheap souvenir shops lining the streets of most other major cities (though there are plenty of locals outside of temples hawking clothes and postcards), free from the “adventure tourism” traps we saw in other places like Thailand. ... [Read More]

8 Ways Myanmar Is As Strange (& Wonderful) As You Imagine

For nearly 50 years, Myanmar (once known as Burma) was under a brutal, isolationist, socialist military dictatorship cut off from all outside contact. Although Myanmar held its first democratic elections in 2011, and trade opened up with Europe at that time, the U.S. to this day maintains a number of restrictions. When we visited in May, we were unable to withdraw local money from our HSBC accounts or use our debit/credit cards AT ALL. Just picture that: No plastic, anywhere, for a week. Definitely a first for my husband and me. Indeed, a country isolated from the rest of the world, including American imperialism, for most of the 20th and ... [Read More]

We Got Scammed in Thailand

If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. That was what my parents drilled into my head as a kid. I listened and rolled my eyes back then. Today, considering myself a traveler—my husband I and just moved from New York City to Paris, and we've been traveling all over Japan and southeast Asia for two months—I thought I would know a scam when I saw one. Yet still, we got conned by something too good to be true. Forgetting my father’s advice (and not reading enough of our guidebook before leaving) bit my husband and me in Bangkok, Thailand. Hard. Step 1: The “Castle Is Closed” Scam For our one-day stay in Bangkok, we visited ... [Read More]

What to Do If You’ve Got One Week in Bali

We’re not exactly the lounging type of tourists—we’d rather grab our bicycles and get completely lost. So if that’s your idea of an ideal vacation, our Bali itinerary in Ubud and Seminyak is for you: TIP: Hire a driver. For $40 per day, one will happily take you to all of the Bali tourist destinations. Many speak decent English (check beforehand if possible—ours was a friend's recommendation). DAY 1: Ubud Arrive and maybe hit up the pool, then grab dinner at your hotel and pass out. Because let’s be real, Bali is FAR from Europe or the U.S.—so you’re not going to be doing much that first day. We stayed at The Purist, just outside of ... [Read More]

What About Doing Nothing for a Change?

Normally, Olivier and I are not the type who opt in for long beach vacations. In fact, we joke that it wouldn’t be a de Bellefonds trip if we weren’t constantly getting lost climbing hills on our bikes, traveling 12 hours a day. But after a month of doing exactly that in Japan and Hong Kong, we wanted to sit still, preferably somewhere sunny and warm, for a few days. Which made the beaches of Thailand sound like paradise. We decided to skip Phuket (according to our book, an orgy of alcohol) and Phi Phi (very touristy) and settled on the island of Koh Phagnan. It’s known mostly for its hedonistic full moon parties, but we weren’t there for ... [Read More]

A Tourist’s Guide to 3 Days in Hong Kong

With a few local friends and inspired by the New York Times’ recent 36 hours in Hong Kong article, Olivier and I decided to stop through for the weekend to check out the food/art/hiking scene. I fell in love—though it’s a gritty cacophony of colors and sound, Hong Kong is vibrant, lively and creative. I pictured it as New York City in the 1970s, back when the city was an artist enclave…and before it became sterilized, homogenized, spoiled by the wealthy (I still love you NYC!). We talked to a few locals and added these to our Hong Kong itinerary: 1. Hike Dragon's Back You might not think of hikes when you think Hong Kong, but a good ... [Read More]

Would Visiting Hiroshima Change Your View on the Atomic Bomb?

This week President Obama announced that he would be making a historic trip to Hiroshima—the first time a sitting American president has ever gone to the city since the 1945 bombing during WWII (Jimmy Carter dropped by, noted a photo on the wall of the city’s Atomic Bomb Museum…but it was three years after he left office). Although Obama has made it clear that he will not be apologizing for America’s actions, some are still concerned that visiting the city is an implicit apology (and, they say, that’s not acceptable, given they believe dropping the bomb precipitated the end of the war and saved American lives). A week ago, my husband and I ... [Read More]

5 Reasons Kyoto Is the Paris of Japan

After the hustle of Tokyo—which, in many ways, reminded me of New York—we were thrilled to land in Kyoto. It was a warm spring evening, and as every other couple I heard spoke French, I couldn’t help but think: If Tokyo—with its bright lights, all-night convenience stores, skyscrapers, chic restaurants and overachiever residents— is New York, Kyoto is Paris. Here, five ways Kyoto is like the Paris of Japan (or why Paris is the Kyoto of France...): 1. It’s a woman. As the Angela Carter said…London is a man, Paris a woman and New York a well-adjusted transsexual. Kyoto is a woman, too, with a romantic, well-dressed vibe. Like Paris, all of ... [Read More]

The Best Place to Run in Kyoto

With the many stoplights and Japan’s unbending rule to follow traffic signals (NO jaywalking like NYC), you need a park—a big one—to go for a run. My first stop, via recommendations online: The Imperial Palace, which just happened to be across the street from our apartment. However after one quick lap around, in less than 20 minutes, I needed more. And found myself at the banks of the Kamo River. Just five minutes away from the palace and central to all the tourist spots in Kyoto, the Kamo River (which means duck river...and there are many resident ducks) is the ideal place for a run. The banks are 19 miles long, plenty to get your ... [Read More]

6 Must-Visit Tourist Spots in Kyoto

In a city with over 1,600 temples—including 17 on UNESCO’s World Heritage list—you run into a shrine on every other block. So if you’ve only got a week to explore, how do you decide which spots are worth visiting (and avoid temple overload)? While we were limited to  what was recommended to us by word-of-mouth and our travel book, we found a few we were absolutely. In. Love. With. Here, our list of must-see places in Kyoto; plan to arrive at each by midday at the latest since most tourist spots (especially temples) close between 4 to 5 pm: 1. Kamo River & Botanical Gardens (Central Kyoto) Looking for a great Kyoto running spot for a ... [Read More]

People of Kyoto

During our week stay in Kyoto, Olivier and I chatted with many locals, just like in Tokyo, who gave us insight into their city and culture. A few favorite quotes (that we got with a lot of help from Google translate): Esa, 32; Owner, Odin wine bar and Bahamut restaurant Odin and Bahamut are, as my husband eagerly noted, a nod to Final Fantasy (all Esa's music are instrumental versions of its songs; the bar, dark and filled with swords from the game he bought on Amazon and other fetish-y type decor,  feels like a video game). Olivier and Esa geeked out over video games. The first night we were too tired to stay for a drink, so we ... [Read More]

VIDEO: Use Chopsticks in 3 (Not So Simple) Steps

Last night Olivier and I wandered into Kyotomi, a restaurant in the Gion neighborhood serving traditional Kyoto obanzai ryori (several small dishes of seasonal/local fish/rice/tofu as a prix-fixe menus). The chef was very kind, talking with us for the two hours we were at his counter; he has owned the restaurant for the last 30 years. But as he watched us eat, I could tell there was something wrong. He didn't seem upset...but just...anxious. Like he couldn't stand to look at us anymore. Turns out he actually couldn't. Every year the guy competes in Shiki Hōchō--also known as "the way of the knife," a knife cutting ceremony long performed ... [Read More]

Getting Around in Japan (Is Not Easy)

Whether you're in Tokyo or Kyoto, Sapporo or Koyasan, getting around in Japan can be a bit tricky (and pricey) as a foreigner. Your options: 1. Walking. Sure, this works if you're exploring one hood. But if you need to get from one side of town to the other, walking isn't practical. Especially in Tokyo, which is HUGE (you can easily spend at least 45 minutes by subway getting most places)...but even in Kyoto (each of the sites recommended in our Fodor's travel guide as being in the same neighborhood were easily an hour walk away from each other). 2. Renting a car. You gotta be prepared for this one: You can only rent a car if you have ... [Read More]

Koyasan: Stay the Night at a Buddhist Temple 3 Hours from Kyoto

Why to Go to Koyasan Spend the night at a Buddhist temple with monks, eat their meals, watch them pray, soak in hot springs. And visit a breathtaking UNESCO world heritage temples and graveyard in the mountains. How to Get to Koyasan from Kyoto 3.5 on the subway. Use Google maps on your phone! Get to Tengachaya Station (outside of Osaka). Then take the Nankai-Koya Line to Gokurakubashi Station. From there, take the Nankai Koyasan Cable car to Koyasan station. At Koyasan station, there will be English-speaking attendants waiting with a map to tell you which bus stop to get off at for your onsen temple-hotel. Note that it's equally easy ... [Read More]

Weird Conversations at a Small Japanese Town Where We Didn’t Plan to Stay (But Did)

There really isn’t much to see in Sapporo, the capital city of Hokkaido in northern Japan. Besides the Sapporo beer factory, the town is a collection of 1950s dilapidated office buildings featuring a small red and white replica of the Eiffel Tower with a restaurant on the third floor. As we quickly realized when we arrived, most tourists only drop through on their way to ski in the nearby mountains, or to soak in a hot sulphur bath at an onsen in a lakeside ryoken (a Japanese natural springs spa hotel). You need to have a car to do both—and you need an international driver’s license, which neither Olivier or I have—to rent a car. So we found ... [Read More]