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

Kuala Lumpur

KL is ok if passing through as you can head up to the KL Tower for views of the city and the world’s former tallest buildings the Petronas Towers.  But it’s a bit of an unpleasant hodgepodge of super modern malls and skyscrapers with still quite underdeveloped and at times poverty spots right in the city

 

If looking for a South East Asia big city break, put Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Yangon, Ho Chi Minh, Singapore and Hanoi (for its old town) ahead of KL

A week in Japan from Tokyo, to Mount Fuji and Kyoto

Japan is my favourite country to travel through.  A big call I know.  Whilst it may get pipped by some of the bigger countries when it comes to natural vistas and cultural pursuits, there are three things that cement it as number one:

  1. The people and surrounding culture is one of respect, politeness and calm – just travelling through Japan you find your blood pressure dropping, being more considerate and the pleasures that come with this
  2. Stuff works in Japan – it’s not just the trains being on time to within the second, it’s everything!  I know there is something wonderfully memorable about travelling with a few hiccups as part of the adventure., but there is also something rather pleasant about having a country like Japan to explore knowing it’ll be super easy (and safe)
  3. The food!  I know the French think they are the best in the world.  They are not
There’s a lot to see, but if you have a week, I’d recommend this itinerary which lets you see 3 highlights of Japan and with a bit of adventure thrown in

Classic highlights of Paris

One of the world’s most famous cities and with some of the most recognisable landmarks anywhere, Paris is quite simply one of world’s must-visit destinations.  However, it is unfortunately quite common for people to leave Paris a little disappointed.  In fact, Paris Syndrome (“a sense of disappointment exhibited by individuals when visiting Paris”) is a thing.  This is less down to the lack of allure from the big ticket highlights, and more people’s disappointment that Paris doesn’t meet their romantic dream-like expectations of the peaceful walk along the tree lined streets all to themselves as they drift to find a hidden restaurant with that perfect table sat out the front under the stars with perfect views of the Eiffel Tower . . . ahhhhh how wonderful . . . oh and with the subtle music playing in the background and that perfect (reasonably priced) meal . . . ahhhhh, yes, how dreamy.  Of course, the reality is that Paris is a big expensive modern city with millions of fellow tourists wanting a piece of the action and the ever-present risk of the moody grey Northern French weather

 

So, whilst I think many people do get that perfect visit, many don’t as they either don’t know the secrets or don’t have a local to show them round.  I’ve visited Paris several times, but haven’t really had that local knowledge, so I’m going to score the visit based on that which, in summary, is still “one of the world’s must-visit destinations” based on its big ticket attractions, but don’t build up your expectations to the point that you leave with Paris Syndrome

Munich Christmas Markets, Beer Halls and visiting Neuschwanstein Castle

Nowhere does Christmas better than Bavaria.  Sipping on warm Glühwein as you wander around the oldest Christmas Market in Munich with its 140 stalls spread out across the central Marienplatz and with the ice skating ring nearby are wonderfully atmospheric; jump into the Hofbrauhaus Beer Hall for some oompah bands and great atmosphere; and the trip over to the Neuschwanstein Castle, the inspiration for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle, surrounded in snow is practically the definition of fairytale.  Hard to think of a better experience in the northern hemisphere in December

A day for Astana’s grand-scale architecture

A series of spectacular, but out of place, buildings rising up from the desert around them, Astana (now named Nur-Sultan) is less about the city itself (as there wasn’t really anything here before 1994), and more about the grand scale architecture build by some of the world’s leading architects to promote Astana as the nation’s capital . . . and to basically show off.  A bit like a low-scale version of Dubai.

 

If passing through, its worth a half day to check out, but little reason to travel here purely for Astana

A day in Tianjin

I stayed for 6 months in Tianjin and, being honest, I wouldn’t recommend even a day trip.  There is an old town which is not particularly well done, a river walk which is ok, a viewing platform on the radio tower which has good views, and some districts which demonstrate its cosmopolitan past.  But overall it is just one of the giant Chinese cities, often polluted and without any clear reason to visit.  Should you be considering a day trip from Beijing, I would say prioritise your time for Beijing itself or the surrounding Hebei province

The sights of Shanghai in a day

It was such a long time ago that I last visited Shanghai, that I won’t write a full entry for the city.  Only to say that its a must if visiting China – not only because it is often a transport hub you pass through, but as a destination on its own.  It won’t be the classical China you were expecting – it will be far more than that as this city typifies the modern day China – brash, modern and full of energy.  It’s not an exaggeration to say that Shanghai at times feels like New York City on steroids as it rapidly catches up on just about every metric you can think of

 

Obviously its always better to have more time, but I reckon you could blast the highlights of Shanghai in a day (leaving yourself with some appetite for seeing the rest Shanghai has to offer when you return).  The things I really recommend focusing on are:

  1. The classical walk along The Bund to see the magnificent skyscrapers looking across the river
  2. Wandering through East Nanjing Road in amongst the neon signs and sheer commercialism of it all
  3. Having dinner and drinks in uber stylish and pretty French Concession
  4. Taking in the views from the observation deck of the Shanghai Tower (the world’s second tallest building) or Shanghai Word Financial Centre
  5. Eating some of the wonderful Shanghai dumplings filled with scrumptious soups