Scaling Fuji and Bopping in Bangkok

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Liz Santos of Alexandria is the latest contributor to our Your Vacation in Lights feature, in which we invite Travel section readers to share the dish about their recent trips. It's a big, confusing travel world out there, and you can help your fellow travelers navigate it. Your hot tip can be the next guy's day-maker; your rip-off restaurant, the next family's near miss. To file your own trip report -- and become eligible to win a digital camera -- see the fine print below.

THE TRIP: Three weeks traveling solo through Asia.

WHERE? Japan, Thailand and Cambodia.

WHEN? August-September 2006.

IT MADE IT ALL WORTH IT WHEN . . . I walked across the bridge to Angkor Wat. The ruins were stunning set against a bright blue sky. It was the low season, so I had the grounds to myself.

I GRITTED MY TEETH HARDEST WHEN . . . climbing Mount Fuji. I decided to climb at night so I could be at the top for sunrise. The brochures say grandmas and little kids can make the 12,388-foot ascent in five hours or so. On a cold, wet, pitch-black night, by myself with only my wounded pride and several ham sandwiches to keep me company, it took me eight hours to reach the top.

FAVORITE HOTEL PERK: The Executive Lounge at the Tokyo Hilton, which has breakfast, snacks all day, hors d'oeuvres, happy hour, free computer and Internet access and the nicest staff ever. They overlooked my shabby clothing and let me hang out.

MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT: In the powder room at the Executive Lounge at the Tokyo Hilton. It has a fancy electric toilet with a bidet. I wasn't sure how to flush, so I waited by the door for one of the staff to come by. Very humiliating.

FAVORITE MEALS: Eating in the basement level of Tokyo's department stores, which have lots of takeout counters, delis and food gifts. My guilty pleasure was tonkatsu, a fried, breaded, tender and juicy pork cutlet. I ate at least one every day I was in Japan.

COOLEST ATTRACTION: Aside from the temples, shrines and ruins throughout Asia, Khao San Road in Bangkok is guilty fun. Backpackers from across the world flock here -- it's the Asian version of Bourbon Street. The people-watching is great and the beer is dirt-cheap. Sure I worried about E. coli and salmonella as I ate pad thai and chicken satay from street vendors. But it was tasty and cheap, at less than $1 total, and left money for the $1 Heinekens.

CULTURAL FAUX PAS: Overtipping in Cambodia. Despite your good intentions, it can be taken as an insult -- Americans flaunting their riches.

BIGGEST CULTURE SHOCK: The absolute poverty in Cambodia -- seeing adults and children maimed from land mines, then seeing the poorest of the poor making offerings of food and flowers to Buddhist monks each morning. It's hard not to have your world view transformed when you realize that you have so much more as an American than you really need.

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Want to see your own vacation in lights? We'll highlight one report, along with a photo from the trip, on the last Sunday of the month. To enter, use the categories above as a guide (use as many as you wish, or add your own; for a complete list, go to and send your report to Your Vacation in Lights, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071; or

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