2 days for the famous highlights of Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a great place to visit either as a destination on its own, or, as many people do, as a nice 2 day stop over between flights.  I’ve lived in Hong Kong for 8 years, so . . . I’m biased . . . but also leaves me well placed to give you tips on how to have the best experience

For this review, I’m focusing on 10 classic highlights of Hong Kong and can give some tips that will improve your experience.  But my biggest tip overall is that Hong Kong is not just skyscrapers and neon signs – more than 3/4 of HK is undeveloped, 40% is national parks and a mini tropical paradise if you just jump on a ferry or take a short taxi ride.  For some ideas that will give you an even better HK experience, see the travel entry for 2 days hidden highlights of Hong Kong – you maybe surprised at just how world-class an experience you can get from these little islands

2 days hidden highlights of Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a great place to visit either as a destination on its own, or, as many people do, as a nice 2 day stop over between flights.  I’ve lived in Hong Kong for 8 years, so . . . I’m biased . . . but also keen to share some tips to make sure you get the best from the place
The biggest overall tip I can give – many people when they think of Hong Kong think of the skyscrapers, the busy neon light lined streets, the sheer hustle of one of the most densely populated places on earth etc etc – and it is indeed all of these things.  But it is also 75% undeveloped and 40% national park.  In short, it is a world class city, with a tropical paradise a short ferry / taxi away.  That is why, for this review, I am focusing on some of the more unusual things to do in Hong Kong for a first time visitor
Should you want to check out the classic Hong Kong highlights – see my entry for 2 days for the famous highlights of Hong Kong

7/8 week itinerary for the highlights of South East Asia

South East Asia has to be the premier world traveling region.  A big call?  For sure, but consider what genuinely world class offerings it can provide:

 

  • World class beaches and coastal areas – think of THAT beach in Ko Phi Phi and HaLong Bay, one of the Natural Wonders of the World
  • World class food – think Thai, Vietnamese, Malay and the genuine fusion into the mix with the large established Indian and Chinese communities
  • World class ancient sites and history – think of the temples of the “8th Wonder of the World” of Angkor Wat, and the breathtaking site of the pagodas stretching across the plain in Bagan
  • World class cities and party locations – think of Singapore as the city of the future and the Full Moon Parties on Ko Pha-Ngan

 

And all this in a place that is super safe, outrageously friendly, easy and cheap to travel in.  A must for any keen traveler and the below itinerary will give you the highlights – enjoy!

Nights out in Tokyo

What a place – as you walk the crammed streets, ride the insane subway, visit the various bars / restaurants / shops that cater for any niche, you start to realise just how big and varied Tokyo is.  It also has so many different centres in their own right that you could spend weeks wandering around and only see a sliver of the place.  Instead, best thing to do is just get yourself lost in the mayhem of it all

For each of the 4 times I’ve been to Tokyo, its mainly been for lash / partying, which felt like a blur, so I won’t try and write a review.   Instead, I just have a few tips / thoughts:

  • Nights out:
    • Kick your evening off with the Robot Restaurant.  It’s hard to describe – it’s kind of like a robot / giant animals / skaters / burlesque show with booze, and, I think food, added.   All very odd, but heaps of fun and is in Shinjuku (next to Golden Gai) so a great place for going out
    • Golden Gai is a great spot for drinks – 200 tiny bars crammed into within something like 5 very small streets right next to each other, some with only room for 4/5 people.  Quite a unique experience
    • Geronimos in Roppongi was great atmosphere.  Good fun banging the drum
  • Be prepared for lots of taxis – Tokyo is huge and getting from area to another can take a while
  • Places I enjoyed:
    • The famous Shibuya Crossing is worth a visit
    • Tokyo Skytree is good for a view of the city
    • Getting up early for the fresh fish market
  • Gutted each time I missed the Sumo Wrestling.  That looks awesome
  • Accommodation – there are so many places to stay in Tokyo that there is something for everyone and really depends on what your itinerary and budget is, so I won’t go into specific recommendations.  But, I would recommend the capsule hotels – the ones where you sleep in a capsule rather than a room.  The shared services, such as onsens are usually superb, and its just a fun very Japan-style experience
  • Short trips from Tokyo.  If you do have more time, I really recommend
    • Taking the 2.15 hour bullet train to Kyoto for a classical Japan feel, seeing the imperial heart and sampling some of the Japanese whiskies in the famous Suntory distillery – for more details and tips, see the individual travel entry for – Cycling around Kyoto and sampling whiskies in the Suntory Distillery
    • Climbing Mount Fuji in Summer – you go from central Tokyo to the summit and back easily within 24 hours for what is a real bucket-list item.  For more details, see this individual travel entry – Climbing Mount Fuji in Summer

A week in Bhutan

Stunning Himalayan scenery and a traditional culture that permeates throughout your whole visit – a visit to Bhutan is a great experience and one that is anchored in the Bhutanese prides in maintaining its traditional culture, environment and people’s happiness rather than focusing on purely economic factors.  This extends to the tourist industry where the minimum spend of USD250 and a strong government hand restricts some of the more commercialised downsides of the industry and makes it feel like you’re stepping back in time to this slightly forgotten Himalayan kingdom

 

You’ll have to go with an agency (and pay the minimum spend of USD250 per day), but considering you don’t have to travel as a group, can arrange your own itinerary and the $ includes everything other than flights, it’s a good deal.  We went with Swallow Tail Travels on a 7 day / 6 night trip for USD1400, who we would recommend.  This is the itinerary

Climbing to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery

A stunning location and really is a must visit if you’re one of the few people to visit this hidden Himalayan kingdom

Top tips:

  • You’ll need 5/6 hours for the overall hike  – we started at 9am, took around 1.5 hours to the monastery, and were back down before 2pm.  It’s steep in parts, but very manageable – around 15,000 steps and 150 flights climbed according to the iphone
  • Halfway stop – there’s a nice spot to take a break and have some tea, cakes etc, plus some cracking views, around halfway up
  • Highest elevation is around 3,120m / 10,230 feet, so should be low enough to avoid any altitude sickness, but also good to help you with acclimatising for some of the other hikes across Bhutan
  • The Monastery itself is cool – clearly the surrounding views and views of the monastery are the highlight, but the monastery itself is very cool.  Loads of hidden rooms to check out and the courtyards have  super relaxed feel
  • Its probably the “busiest” place for tourists you’ll find in Bhutan
  • More detailed guide – quite a comprehensive guide on hiking to the Tiger’s Nest here from the guys from EarthTrekkers

Bali – in and around Ubud

I love Bali – the dense jungle hiding vibrantly green rice terraces, old Hindu temples, and a chilled out Balinese hippy-yoga-heart-rate-so-low-you’re practically-dead vibe throughout.  Closest thing you can get to the Jungle Book and Ubud is the centre of this

 

Hit the world-class restaurants in Seminyak and surf bliss of Uluwatu (see brief entry Bali – in and around Seminyak / Kuta for some tips), but make sure you actually stay in a jungle villa in Ubud (would recommend Villa Kalisha)

Bali – in and around Seminyak / Kuta

Kuta and Seminyak are the places that most first time travellers to Bali spend their time looking for that idyllic beach vibe.  Problem is that they are becoming super commercialised and, to be honest, the beaches can be a little underwhelming compared to others in the region mainly because of the sheer number of fellow tourists and amount of plastic waste.  My tip would be to spend your time either to the south in the Uluwatu area for  some truly beautiful spots and to visit UluWatu itself and Padang Padang Beach, or just to the north in Cangu, which has a similar beach to Kuta and Seminyak but is worlds apart in vibe

 

All that being said, Seminyak in particular is worth some day trip visits as it has some truly world class restaurants and beach bars – Potato Head is in my view the best beach bar in the world, with Kudeta not far behind.  Sardines, Sarong and Mehra Putih are restaurants I’d also really recommend.  And . . . if you must . . . visit Kuta if you’re on a stag do or just generally want some dirty lash

Cycling down the Taroko Gorge

Taroko Gorge on the east coast of Taiwan is stunning.  Steep, bright and beautifully cut marble walls, lush vegetation, mountains, and cascading waterfalls all the way down.  Cycling this is one of the highlight experiences for any trip to Taiwan

 

One big tip – stay at the Taroko Lodge who can drop you off at the top of the gorge for a nicer cycle downhill.  Whilst not super hard, the cycle up from the Visitor Centre, at the entrance to the valley, to just past the Tianxiang area, where most people finish, is around 20km / 1.5miles and with a net uphill of around 500m / 1650ft.  For sure its a nice challenge for the 1.5 hours or so, but it can be a little bit of a slog uphill.    If you stay at Taroko Lodge, which is a nice old-school homestay, they can arrange to rent you bikes and drop you off anywhere on the gorge, which takes the slog out of the whole experience.  I took a very leisurely 2.5 hours to cycle from the bridge by Tianxiang back down to the Lodge.  Bloody loved it

Cycling around Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is one of the most recognisable ancient sites in the world and the surrounding area is said to be the greatest concentration of architectural riches anywhere – as one would expect, its a fantastic place to visit.  The problem is though, as with all such world-famous sites, how to enjoy it without having the commercialised tourist machine spoil the experience.   You’re looking for that feeling of wonder and adventure as you explore from one ancient temple being torn apart by the roots of giant jungle trees to the next, not trying to jump in between mega-phone wielding Chinese tour groups and trying to be original in your latest reason for why you don’t want a local Cambodian man to sell you a plastic statue

 

Whilst for the main temples, such as Angkor Wat itself, the crowds are largely unavoidable, the best way to avoid the crowds is to hire some bikes and cycle around the cycling circuit(s).  The roads are great, the distance is flat and easily manageable at 17km – 26km and you find yourself very quickly getting away from the crowds.  You can also largely make up your own route for large parts of it depending on how you’re feeling.  In fact, our favourite part of the trip was heading in the “wrong” direction and finding many of the less well-known temples largely to ourselves

 

Angkor Wat is awesome, it’s even better cycling it