Hong Kong, China and Japan Jaunt
So this was quite an ambitious trip involving lots of flights and moving around. Didn't realize my travel buddy was scared of flying until we were on a plane so might be wise to check that first ha ha.
It all started with Hong Kong. This was a total highlight of our holiday for decadent fun! Found the Hong Kong expats to be a friendly bunch of people and we got invited to various things such as a whiskey tasting night and even met some celebrities to hang out with! Lan Kwai Fong seemed to be where people went for a drink after work and it was busy and full of Brits. Apart from the nightlife we visited Lantau Island to see the Big Buddha which was worth the steps for the view. Stayed at the Marco Polo Hongkong hotel which was near the shopping district and had a lovely rooftop bar and big rooms so were happy there.
From Hong Kong headed to Beijing where we went to see the night market. Seeing is believing with the various bugs and other revolting things on sticks to eat if you are feeling a bit peckish. We were typical tourists taking pictures of it all. Of course we did the other usual tourist spots such as Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven and the Great Wall of China. However, my favourite thing was going to the park to see everyone exercising. Not western style exercise but old age pensioners doing the fan dance and tai chi. It is such a good idea for older people to meet in parks and socialise and exercise together its a shame this is something that we don't see in the UK.
From Beijing we headed to Chengdu to see the pandas. You can pay extra to have one sit on your knee and feed it bamboo which was fun. I seemed to prefer the red pandas as they seemed to have more personality! At Chengdu you can also visit Wuhou Temple which I really enjoyed as it has lots of food stalls and shops en route selling interesting and rather strange things and there were some nice bars to stop in for a beer.
Note that in China if you look different to the locals, everyone wants to have their picture taken with you. My friend had corkscrew curls and that made her extra popular! It can become a bit annoying, you have been warned.
After China we headed to Japan and went straight to Kyoto. For me this was the highlight of our trip as we wandered down Gion Mako and saw lots of real geishas working. We even paid to dress up Geisha style and had our pictures taken which was quite a strange experience. Also did the usual tourist fare such as the Golden Pavilion and the Kyoto Imperial Palace. I was obsessed with the beautiful architecture of these historical places and the roof design, just wow. It was interesting to see lots of young girls wearing kimono traditional dress during the day wandering around Kyoto. These were just normal people and not geishas and did not wear the white makeup or hair style. The kimonos are so pretty I had to buy one to take home.
From Kyoto we headed to Tokyo which I expected to be my favourite place but found I preferred Kyoto. Went to Roppongi for the nightlife and Harajuku for people watching. Coming out of a club in Roppongi was quite disturbing as we found lots of people just passed out on the floor, literally sleeping outside just as they had fallen whilst intoxicated. Very strange. Had a relaxing walk in the Meiji Shrine after all the partying this was nice and peaceful. Experienced a light earthquake whilst staying on the 42nd floor of our hotel which freaked my friend out even though I tried to explain to her that our hotel had been specifically built for earthquakes and no way would it fall down!
I think out of all these countries the one place which has had a long standing impression on me is Kyoto because the old traditions of wearing kimono and geisha are alive and kicking alongside modern restaurants and bars. It also had lovely peaceful tourist spots to wander within a fairly close proximity. Kyoto is just wonderful and definitely recommend a trip there!