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Trip Report Japan and Hong Kong, September 2014

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We spent nearly two weeks in Japan (Tokyo, Takayama and Kyoto) and Hong Kong in September. I had very low expectations for the trip -- for some reason, despite the urging of so many people we trust, Japan was never on my list of places to go, and I was wary. I couldn’t have been more off base: it was the best traveling I’ve ever done, a place I’d gladly move to. I’ve never done this before but I’d like to get down the basic details about the things we did; both to remember a genuinely wonderful trip (so many of our big adventures end up being a touch disappointing, I must confess) and to help encourage someone else to take a chance on Japan. I did so much planning in advance -- Japan can be a difficult place to navigate -- and it would be a shame for all that effort to end with our trip. So here it is, a potentially boring account of a really cool thing that my husband and I did when we were 29.

Some warnings: I'm a writer, and despite my best efforts to leach the personality out of this, I fear I've failed. I tend to write short (I'm a journalist) but somehow this has ballooned way up in word count. I swear occasionally. And some background about me, so you can judge whether or not my advice might be applicable: I live in New York. I've been to Asia twice before this trip -- once on a trip to India and once on a trip to Bali, Malaysia and Cambodia. (We really love Asia and are planning to go to Vietnam next.) I have a soft spot for nice hotels and am fairly serious about food. I don’t take myself very seriously and am always the first to make fun of myself; therefore, take all my opinions with a grain of salt: they're mine alone, and I do have specific tastes.

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    Part 1: Tokyo

    We left New York on a Wednesday around noon. Dave, a doctor in the last years of his training, was exhausted from a rough stretch at work and I was nursing what I thought was the start of a cold. About a week before we left, Dave and I were texting, and I said something to the extent of, “See you in Tokyo!” And that is kind of what happened. Fellowship’s a breeze.

    We flew Al Nippon direct from NYC to Tokyo and it was awesome. Maybe not quite as great as Korean Air, which we flew to Bali in 2013, but really pleasant. We sat in two seats by ourselves, ate soba and edamame in the air and watched bad movies. It was on time -- a theme of our stay in Japan that would quickly go to hell in Hong Kong.

    We arrived in Japan late in the afternoon on a Thursday and successfully navigated our way to our hotel via train and subway. It was confusing and slow-going at first but we were expecting that; at one point it took us 20 minutes just to find where to buy tickets. We didn’t realize our seats were assigned. Honestly, that’s part of the fun of Japan though: it keeps you on your toes and makes you feel really accomplished when you do start figuring things out. I get bored easily -- it’s taken me a while to realize I don’t actually love a pure beach vacation -- so I liked having to work a bit, though it definitely got frustrating and difficult at times.

    Our hotel, the Grand Hyatt in Roppongi, was super convenient to the subway. We were using Hyatt cash + points + a free night and debated staying other places -- we even booked at the Andaz initially -- but I’m so glad we ended up at the Grand Hyatt. It was much nicer than I expected -- quiet, upscale, luxurious. The area is International and somewhat newish and fancy -- honestly, I thought it was a fine introduction to Tokyo after such long travels. I love cities and people and busy-ness but I don’t think it’s weak to make your home base somewhere that feels comfortable. The room was lovely -- they had left us little gifts, including beautiful candies and chocolates, the toilet was a ridiculously high-tech contraption that readied itself for us every time we entered the toilet area. Taking a shower in the massive marble bathing area was heaven after the flight.

    The service at the hotel was also very good -- we had no problems and consulted the concierge regularly (eventually we resorted to having them print us out maps for nearly all our restaurant destinations - very helpful.) I had ordered a personal Mi-Fi device from Global Advanced Communication a few weeks before we left and it was ready and waiting for us at the front desk when we arrived. That’s one of my big Japan tips -- $60 for nine days and we were able to Google Map the s**t out of everything to our heart’s content, all from our own phones. So clutch. One of our other indispensable resources was a book called Food, Sake, Tokyo: the restaurant and shopping recommendations there never let us down.

    That first night, we were pretty tired (though only one of us -- the one who frequently switches from day shifts to night shifts -- successfully fell asleep that night; the other, more anxious half of our family was predictably wired) so we popped out to the shopping center that the Hyatt is built into to grab some food. After some indecisive wandering around we ended up at Afuri Ramen, which I later realized a friend had actually recommended. It’s not traditional Ramen but it is delicious and you order from a machine in the front. A perfect quick first meal in Tokyo.


    Our plan, like everyone coming from the West, was to hit the Tsukiji fish market super early on our first morning while we were still jetlagged. So, just as I was falling asleep at 4 a.m., our alarm went off. Check to make sure Tsukiji is open -- it closes on random days. We cabbed it over there (the subway doesn’t run that early -- I’m proud to say this was our only Tokyo cab of the trip!) and immediately started waiting on line at Sushi Dai. Two and a half hours later we were rewarded with the best sushi of our lives and probably the best meal of the trip. Maybe it was my state of sleep-deprived delirium, but this was one of the most delicious and fun experiences of my life. A tiny sushi counter with a jovial sushi chef behind it. We sprung for the full omakase (I think it was about $40 or $50 per person, and remember there’s no tipping) and I’m so glad we did. That was our first taste of matcha - Japanese green tea mixed from a powder - and I couldn’t stop mainlining it. The miso soup, which we drunk from bowls, was the most flavorful I’d tasted. (Dave accidentally tried to eat the fish carcass at the bottom.) We tried all kinds of new fish. The only thing I didn’t like was the eel, which I’m sure means I just wouldn’t like eel anywhere.

    We wandered around the actual fish market and the outdoor market afterwards, checking out octopus and big dead fish and all kinds of weird stuff we couldn’t identify. I bought some cheap but lovely teacups for my parents. Then we walked over to a nearby park - Hama-rikyu Onshi-teien. The weather was perfect and so was the field of orange poppies. Dave thought it was nicer than Central Park but I’m a pretty loyal New Yorker.

    After that we subwayed over to the Meiji Shrine (we found it was worth buying the daily subway pass nearly every day for the main Tokyo subway -- it won’t let you take all the lines but you can get by on it. I think it was around $7.) We loved the Meiji shrine -- cool and peaceful and lush and it absorbs all the tourists. Actually, in Tokyo we never really felt like tourists -- we felt totally foreign of course, and like we didn’t know any of the rules people were operating by, but we somehow never really saw crowds of tourists and it was liberating in a way to be the only ones around who understood our language. We saw everything with wonder and were like a little army of two.

    If you’ve talked to me since I moved to New York 3.5 years ago I’m sure you know this, but it bears repeating: I’m obsessed with walking. Obsessed. In New York this summer I walked about 10 to 15 miles a day and I forced Dave to trudge along with me on this trip. I’ll defend the practice -- it’s the best way to see a new city, it saves money and it allows you to eat a ton more. This is when your Wifi and Google maps come in handy. We walked through Harajaku -- I resisted the ridiculous-looking crepes and we people-watched a bit, it’s definitely a must-see but I didn’t find we needed a ton of time there -- and then to Shinjuku, where we found ourselves returning to a lot for restaurants, bars, etc. It might be worth staying there if you don’t have an allegiance to the Hyatt but, like I said, I also liked staying in a bit of a quieter area, with such great subway access.

    We started a department store crawl -- lunch (bento box for me, noodles for Dave) on the roof of Takashimaya, I think (great view) and then sweets on the perfectly manicured rooftop garden of Isetan. I get the impression Isetan is like the Saks of Japan -- the food floors were like a museum. We apparently don’t have a taste for true Japanese sweets because we weren’t crazy about the azuki paste sponge cake thing we split but were both really into the Boston cream donut-ish thing we got from one of these Japanese bakeries that makes Western style treats. (Food Sake Tokyo had a whole section about them so we decided it was legit.)

    We tried to go to Shinjuku Park but it was closed for a dengue outbreak. We were sad to miss it but happy to not have dengue. (Of course, a few days and a few mosquito bites later, I started asking Dave about the symptoms.)

    We walked back through Harajuku again (I again resisted a crepe) and then down this street with beautiful designer buildings that I really liked. That night, we had dinner in Roppongi at Tsurutontan Udon where we both accidentally ordered cold udon. I liked it, but Dave wasn’t a fan. We ate with our shoes off and it was fun. It took us forever to find the restaurant (Google maps did often lead us astray -- I think it helps if you copy and paste a name in Japanese characters) but eventually I came to see that that was half the fun (and it definitely works up an appetite.) Like nearly all the restaurants we ate at, it wasn’t that expensive -- maybe $30 for two, including drinks.

    Saturday - I again neglected to sleep on Friday night but was still convinced by this point that I wanted to move to Tokyo. The day was cloudy but the expected rain (which I had been fretting about) held off. We went to Senso Ji in the morning -- probably the only place in Tokyo that did feel touristy, everywhere else you’re just kind of melting into crowds of (beautiful, skinny) Tokyoites. We spent 45 minutes afterwards trying to find Magurobito, a sushi conveyer belt restaurant that turned out to be about three minutes from where we were originally standing. We loved the restaurant -- taps of hot water for tea at each setting, delicious, relatively cheap otoro. The meal cost as much as our old neighborhood sushi joint (Matsu, for you Upper East Siders) in New York -- insanity.

    We headed to Ginza for lots of shopping afterwards. This may shock some of you, but I’m rarely into shopping on vacation -- that’s like for my normal life, you know? But I wanted to buy everything in Japan. It’s just all so...nice. The packaging is gorgeous and done just so. And I realized that so many of the little things I love -- pocky, washi tape, stationery -- are Japanese, or better in Japan at least. We picked up some beautiful postcards, coasters and a calendar at a few stationery shops, one of which (I think Otoya) was five floors. Dave wandered through eight floors of an electronics superstore, Bic Camera. (A bit overwhelming but interesting.) I bought matcha for my parents at a sleek tea place recommended in Food Sake Tokyo. We picked up dessert buns for ourselves -- so good. In a department store -- I think Mitsuyo -- we stocked up on instant miso soup and soba noodles.

    We spent a little time relaxing back at the hotel in the drizzly late afternoon. We hit the hot tub together and I took full advantage of the women’s locker room, which had a steam room, sauna, two plunge pools and two ridiculous massage chairs. There was this little waterfall thing that washed your feet.

    That night we went out for tempura in Shinjuku -- I think it was Tempura Tsunahachi, it was in Food Sake Tokyo and wasn’t the expensive option listed. We waited a bit and it was completely worth it -- delicious, crisp tempura and so fun to sit at the counter and watch them fry it up. I loved the accompaniments too, especially the pickles.

    After dinner, we had a hilarious experiment in Japanese photo booths, wherein we lost $2 and our dignity. Dave also lost at an arcade game and nearly got addicted before I pulled him out of there. (It’s just Pokemon, not worth it babe.) We stopped by a bar called 8 Bit Cafe that friends had been to but it was pretty strange so we left after Dave drank our required beers. Lots of stuff in that area has cover charges.

    Sunday was a beautiful day, sunny and warm at times but not humid and usually with a little breeze. We started off at the Imperial Gardens, which were pretty. Then we headed to Shibuya to see the famous crossing, which was sufficiently crazy. I wish we had made the effort to take a look from the Starbucks to see the scene from overhead -- I stood on a cement road block to take pictures but they didn’t come out that well. We had lunch in a department store food hall -- sadly finding the tiny, hidden sushi counter we had been hunting for immediately after paying for takeout sushi. Oh well, it meant we got to indulge in shumai too and eat on the roof. We peaced out of Shibuya pretty quickly -- it was cool to see but a bit gritty and overwhelming.

    Whoa, I’ve reached the point in writing where I’m realizing a- how hungry this is making me and b- how f-ing long this is. I’m sorry. I considered just giving up on this little exercise altogether but Dave is urging me onwards, so here we go, tired fingers and all.

    We walked back to Shinjuku and swung into the Park Hyatt hotel, the one from Lost in Translation. It was super fancy, with ridiculous views, but it didn’t make me sad not to be staying there (it didn’t seem that close to any subways, for one thing.) I wanted to go to the Tokyo Metropolitan building to check out the view from there but Dave suggested we go to Akabura instead. It was a good call. Retro video games in crowded, smoky claustrophobic rooms, creepy sex shops, so much anime. We stocked up on Pocky and Tomato Pretz and then headed back to the hotel to freshen up for dinner, which was in a neighborhood that was a quick walk from Roppongi. We had a bit of a translation issue at first (I think the hostess thought we were looking for the subway, so she walked us there!) but eventually ended up with some good cold soba with dipping sauce and tempura. From there we subwayed it back to the Hyatt. The cover was exorbitant and the drinks weren’t $25 tasty but the stunning views and great live music was worth it -- I’d definitely return for a special evening.

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    Part 2: The Japanese Alps

    Monday - We checked out of our hotel and managed to get all our stuff to the train station without too much trouble (we left right after rush hour.) The train to Nagoya was so fast! Dave had a bento box on the train and I had a nutritious lunch of Pocky and stolen nuts from the hotel locker room. The views on the train from Nagoya to Takayama were beautiful and the stack of New Yorkers I had brought on the trip weren’t yet too picked over -- I read some great stuff, including a whole article on walking.

    Takayama was cute. We checked into our first ryokan, Oyada Koto No Yume, which was close to the train and, we would later learn, nicer than ryokan number two (Yamakyu, which we had tried to book for the whole thing on a recommendation from friends but couldn’t, as they were full for the first night.) We walked down some of the old streets in town -- the buildings were beautiful -- and tasted sake out of square wooden cups in a quaint courtyard. Dinner was a cheap, delicious affair -- yakisoba with pork and fried eggs at a place by the train station, plus the most delicious gyoza of our lives with juicy pork filling and a super thin skin. We slept on tatami mats on the floor (some of us better than others.)

    Tuesday was sunny and cool to start. We had an obsene Japanese breakfast at our ryokan -- thin slices of miso beef we cooked ourselves on little stoves, salmon, a broth with a surprise layer of tofu on the bottom, miso soup, pickles, green tea. Dave ate in his robe -- I was busy throwing a mini-tantrum over the weather and other hardships. We checked out of the hotel, stored our stuff and took the bus to Kamikochi, which was stunning though packed as it was a Japanese holiday. I was worried about the crowds but they didn’t ruin our fun -- in fact it was fun to have little groups calling out “Konichiwa!” to us as we passed on the wooden walkways. We indulged in a lunch of champions -- Sapporo, soft-serve cones and tomato pretz. It really was my dream outdoor experience -- easy, beautiful with food and beer en route. If I could do it over again, I would have left a little earlier and spent some time at an onsen -- there was an outdoor, co-ed referenced in our Lonely Planet that I really wanted to go to and I heard the one where we switched buses was nice too. On the bus home, people all of a sudden started pulling down these little hidden seats that amazed me and Dave. We were glad to have gotten in line when we did and got seats, other people were turned away from our bus. Back in Takayama, we checked into our other ryokan and had a delicious, multi-course dinner -- I made note of the sweet fried shrimp and the tempura plate. We played Words with Friends back in the room and went to bed -- Takayama isn’t really a nightlife destination.

    Wednesday -- Breakfast at the second ryokan wasn’t quite as good but it was still fun to eat on the floor. I started the day with a walk but unfortunately a sign warning of bears deterred me from entering the main park. It was an overcast day so we had our ryokan call the place we were to take a cycling tour from to make sure it was still on (this is what I had been fretting about for days) and it was! Honestly, Dave makes fun of all my worrying, which is legit, it’s an anxiety disorder, let’s call it like it is, but usually it comes with a bit of truth. The cycling tour was indeed a highlight of the trip and I would have been sad to miss it. It was from a company called Hida Furakawa. The scenery was gorgeous and our guide (who spoke good English but with an Australian! accent! because he learned English there) was phenomenal. All this stuff that would have been hokey and illegitimate in the states was truly amazing and genuine here, from learning how the houses were built from interlocking wooden parts to touring the lobby of a Japanese farm house to the little canals full of carp. We were with one other pair of people, from Australia (everyone we met was from Australia or England) and shared tea prepared with water from a spring outside just as it was starting to drizzle. We came back and were sad to find a few lunch places I had wanted to try closed (we think because it was the day after the holiday? But it does seem like things close randomly there) so we returned back to the yakisoba place for more gyoza - not a bad call. I still wanted to hit an onsen but the bus times wouldn’t allow it (the last one back to Takayama leaves really early) so instead we hopped on a short bus to the Hida folk Village to explore the old houses there -- it was empty and a little mystical in the drizzle but it didn’t take us long to work our way through the whole thing. Japanese architecture is incredible. I had worried Takayama would be sad or lonely if the weather wasn’t great and my suspicions were pretty much confirmed -- everything closes so early, we could find a bar or anything to hang out in, and our room was starting to feel pretty uncomfortable and claustrophobic. (No sex in the ryokan, you guys. Kind of like the champagne room but with tatami mats.) We did have a nice dinner at a random yakitori place -- so many grilled things on skewers! Eggplant, chicken, Hida beef, mushrooms, fried shrimp -- we kind of couldn’t help ourselves. $3 beers for Dave, $3 sake for me. That’s about the time we became convinced that it was impossible to have a bad meal in this country. Miraculously, this face wash that Dave had left at our other ryokan was found -- they had told us they didn’t have it when we first went to try to retrieve and now, in typical Japanese fashion, apologized to us as if they had killed our first born (when, in fact, we were the ones to blame for leaving it there in the first place.) There was much bowing and Dave and I left stifling giggles. We had thought about heading out to the onsen the next day but instead decided we were ready to move on to Kyoto.

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    Part 3: Kyoto

    Thursday --We caught the early train (8 a.m.) to Kyoto and had a gorgeous rainy ride -- all whirls of green trees and rushing rivers and mist swirling by the windows. We took a free taxi to our hotel, the Hyatt. It was nice but not as nice as the one in Tokyo and I regretted not booking this boutique hotel, the Mume, that I had heard a lot about. Apparently they give you very detailed, personal itineraries and the location seemed a bit more convenient. Two guys we met at the Park Hyatt bar in Tokyo had warned us that the city center of Kyoto is ugly and I’m glad they did, otherwise I definitely would have been disappointed and confused. We walked through Nishiki Market and had lunch - a bowl of raw tuna and cucumber slices for me, mixed fix for Dave - at a little restaurant there. We walked through Southern Higashiyama a bit after that, the streets were pretty and there was lots of greenery and big, looming temples, though one Buddhist one we tried to go into had already closed for the day. We split a green tea ice cream at my insistence, though I never had to bug Dave about it again, we instantly developed a two cone a day habit. We were upset to learn from our hotel that the vegetable restaurant we wanted to go to was fully booked (and they couldn’t seem to come up with a way for us to coordinate waiting for a table?) and instead decided to take a chance on an Indian place highly rated on Trip Advisor. Strange, I know, but we had an incredible experience at a similarly oddly situated place in Siem Reap and were hoping for a repeat, which we definitely did not get. Silly us. At that point I was feeling kind of down on Kyoto -- we weren’t prepared for this reservation thing, our concierge didn’t seem helpful, and everything seemed so stressed out. All those things were true, to a certain extent, but everything ended up fine.

    On Friday we slept late and I woke up behaving poorly. We went to a temple that was kind of a bust and then went to an udon restaurant that was definitely not a busy -- one of my favorite meals of the trip, steaming broth with delicious, thick chewy noodles and an incredible array of topics -- julienned daikon, eggplant that had had something delicious done to it, sesame seeds. We just missed a bus and had to wait half hour for the next one, which took us near the Golden Temple. I’m glad we saw it but the crowds are killer, it’s really an in and out thing, on a September weekend at least. We took the trolley (which was fun!) to Arashiyama. We walked through a temple garden, the cool bamboo forrest and took a stroll by the river -- all very pretty nd green. We bused it back to the hotel and then went out to Gion Nanba, a tiny kasakei restaurant in a narrow alley. We sat at the counter and the chefs were amazing. I actually wasn’t crazy about the food -- we opted for the cheapest tasting menu, $80 per person, and there was a lot of eel and jellied things involved, but Dave, a more adventurous eater, liked it and I enjoyed the experience overall. (Does anyone really like raw calimari though?) After dinner we went to Yamatoya, my favorite bar in the entire world. Jazz on a sound system like you’ve never heard before, adorable old Japanese owner manning the bar, hand cut ice, so many records (and a Lady Gaga-Tony Bennett cd that we laughed over with the owner.) We returned home pretty drunk -- I kept drinking gin and sake because I didn’t want to leave. “I wanted to give him all our money!” I told Dave. “We did,” he said. “That’s why we’re walking home.” (Truth: the owner’s wife wanted to call us a cab but we had run out of cash.)

    Saturday - we slept in a bit, ate rolls with unexpected pockets of butter inside them from 711 from breakfast and went to Kiyomizu. It was totally mobbed with crowds but the views were cool. We hightailed it out of there and trekked to a Ramen place (Kikaru) for lunch in the heat. It was legit and cheap -- more traditional than Afuri. Dave loved it and I finished a gigantic bowl, so I guess that’s a stamp of approval. We worked it off at Fushimi Inari, where we hiked the whole way. It was beautiful -- cool and green (and orange of course.) We rewarded ourselves with tofu green tea ice cream in triangle cones. We took the train to Gion and walked through Nishiki Market again -- split a green tea donut -- and the basement of the Takashimaya department store to ogle $300 melons one last time. We went back to Nishiki for dinner at an incredible pancake place called Nishiki Warai. It looked like a Friendly’s from 19997 and we ate cabbage and pork pancakes straight from the griddle with little silver spatulas. We went on a fruitless hunt for one last green tea ice cream (it’s everywhere until you’re desperate for a cone!) and eventually settled on another round of donuts. The pumpkin one was particularly memorable.

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    Part 5: Hong Kong

    Sunday -- We headed to Hong Kong -- I have written down in my notes that we had “very smooth travel!” -- foreshadowing of the hell to come on our return trip, I’m sure. It was very quick and easy to get to our hotel, the Hyatt Tsim Tsa Tsui, from the airport via a train and a shuttle. The hotel was alright -- a pretty good view from our room.

    Dave says he wasn’t a big fan of Hong Kong and I agree, but I’m also quick to note we didn’t have a typical experience (and we had also just come from Japan, the best place in the world.) The protests that were supposed to start on Wednesday, the day we were set to leave, instead started on Sunday, the day we arrived. Our hotel encouraged us to stay in Kowloon instead of venturing over to HK so we obliged. The incredible soup dumplings at Din Tai Fung in Kowloon didn’t seem like much of a sacrifice. (We would end up returning there an embarrassing number of times -- we just weren’t sure what was actually open in HK so were hesitant to venture over while very hungry a few times.) We walked by the water in Kowloon, the skyline was multi-colored and gorgeous. I didn’t like the night market - crowds! crap! - and the goldfish market seemed too far away to justify shlepping over. We watched the BBC on our tv in the hotel room -- the news was getting bleaker.

    Monday -- I woke up early, anxious about the protests. The news from last night was that HK police used tear gas, pepper spray and everything devolved into some violence. We decided it might be a good time to peace out to Macau. Only (er, one) problem -- I didn't have my motion sickness patches. And I was hesitant to take something made in China/that I couldn't read the ingredients for -- not that we could find anything at all anyway. (I had a terrible experience with sea sickness on our honeymoon in Hawaii and am still a little scarred from it.) In a bad mood, I decided to buck up and head to Macau anyway, as a little gift to my casino-loving husband. We splurged on first class seats (in my anxious googling, I had found a few posts from people who said that helped) and the ride ended up totally fine! But Macau wasn’t our scene. The casinos were scattered about amid tons of construction and there was nowhere to walk and mobs of tourists, as it was a Chinese holiday. We wandered around a few casinos -- it was a little funny to stroll by the indoor canal at the Venetian in Asia -- and took a cab to a "black sand beach," which wasn't really black. We ate delicious Portuguese food -- rolls, chicken, French fries, salad and bok choy - the simple nouns belie the wonderful flavor - at a place called Fernando’s. We tried to go to the downtown area with the old architecture but it was kind of grimy and so so hot. So we booked it for the ferry and ran on to a 330 (the first class tickets actually saved us! The regular seats were full) and went straight from the Kowloon ferry to Hong Kong. We took the tram up to the peak. I was sad to only see it in the dark and it was mobbed with more Chinese tourists but it was still ok. We walked around a bit. When we came down, we followed a few kids wearing face masks and stumbled upon the protests. They were incredible, maybe even worth all the canceled plans and trip to Macau. So many students, all peaceful, sometimes chanting, passing out yellow ribbons and gas masks. We walked on major but deserted roads. We saw a few police on the outskirts, watching. I took some pictures (and ultimately emailed my editor to see if we needed help with coverage, which we didn’t, having a big staff in Hong Kong, but I still tweeted my photos out on my work Twitter account.) We decided it was too tough to try to find a place to eat in Hong Kong, not sure what would be open with so many roads shut down, so we headed back to Kowloon and had dinner at Din Tai Fung again -- this time ordering spicy cucumber, pork soup dumplings, veggie dumplings, hot and sour soup and finally snagging a pork bun -- they had been sold out yesterday.

    Tuesday - A hot and humid last day. We woke up a bit on the later side and went to a dim sum place - Tin Ho Wong - that we didn’t love (poor service, subpar BBQ pork buns.) The turnip cakes and shrimp dumplings were ok. We walked around Hong Kong a bit - took the mid levels escalators, walked through a park and zoo (spotted a cute orangatang). Everything would look normal - people in business casual hussling to their jobs - and then all of a sudden the streets would be devoid of traffic and the crowds would start to come into view. We walked down by the water a bit but eventually the heat got to us and we headed back to the hotel, where we relaxed by the outdoor pool and hot tub for a little bit. Embarrassingly but we went back to the same dumpling place again! At least we tried some new things on the menu, including some great vegetable steamed buns and wonton soup. We splurged on more fancy drinks (a G&T for Dave and fancy tea for me) at the Intercontinental, seated by expansive windows looking over the harbor. We were happy to be inside when a sudden downpour hit, essentially blacking out the skyline. It eased up fairly quickly and we caught a bit of the light show. We walked around the promenade and into a mall for a bit to get in my miles and both agreed we were way more sad to return home than we usually are after these big international excursions.

    Wednesday - Oof, this was a horrific travel day -- the kind that if you think too much about, you’ll never book a flight again. Our direct flight back to NYC was delayed nine hours and ultimately canceled. We switched to fly through San Francisco but encountered an awful scene at the United desk. We ended up running through two airports that day and very nearly missing two flights. The one saving grace was that our bags miraculously ended up back with us. And, all things considered, the pain of the travel issues getting back faded quickly -- that’s how wonderful the trip was.

    Look, here's what I wish someone would have told me before I went to Japan. If they had just said, "Look, Rach, you're a perfectionist and this is an entire island nation of people just like you," I think I would have been on board from the start. Everything is perfect -- the food, the sights, the warmth of the people. I wondered if having low expectations contributed to how blown away I was, but Dave assures me that this was the best traveling he had done too, even though he wasn’t initially bracing himself for disaster.

    What else can I say besides: go! I doubt you’ll regret it.

    Feel free to post any questions -- I'm happy to elaborate more or look up specific names if anyone's curious or planning a similar trip.

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    Oh LOVED your Japan report and your witty honesty about the tantrums or grumpy times made me giggle at my desk! Lovely lovely lovely, it's such a wonderful country to visit isn't it?

    HK is still on my To Visit list, but reading with interest!

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    Since I live in HK, I'll make a few comments. First, just to reassure other readers, basically everything is open in Hong Kong (except some roadways and a small section of the HK Tramway), other than a few banks in Mong Kok. All shops and restaurants are open, other than for a few late nights in Mong Kok last week. Shops and restaurants in Tsim Sha Tsui, Causeway Bay and Central have never been closed during these times.

    Second, there are actually FEWER mainland visitors during the OP's visit at places like The Peak for the Oct 1 holiday, thanks to the protests and demonstrations. It would have been worse. For many foreign tourists (and most locals), Hong Kong have been overrun by mainland visitors, and few of us would be surprised that it's quite a turn-off to foreigners. When I walk through the Tsim Sha Tsui MTR, I often hear more Mandarin/Putonghua than Cantonese.

    I believe the OP went to Tim Ho Wan for dim sum. As a Cantonese person myself and have tried their dim sum at two locations and take-outs, I have to say their quality is excellent for the money. But I've always warned others it's a place to EAT your dim sum and nothing else. It's NOT a tea house. It has long lines. Service is non-existent, and servers/cashiers are rude.

    As for Macau, I feel sorry for the OP to waste time at the casinos. The historical sites are really gems in this part of the world, and while the St Paul's ruins may have mobs of Chinese tourists standing in front for pictures, most others are quiet. As for the ferries, if one worries about seasickness, the key is to take a jetfoil or foilcat from the ferry terminal in Sheung Wan. While Turbojet doesn't specify if a sailing is on a jetfoil/foilcat or a catamaran, there are ways to make sure you travel on a jetfoil, which I won't get in here.

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    Loving your TR, too! Your wit, humor and writing talent make this one fun travelogue to read! I've felt the same way about Japan and now you have made me very interested in visiting the country.

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    Thanks for the nice feedback, guys! Rkkwan -- thanks for the insight into life in HK these days. Was just sharing our experience -- our hotel basically instructed us not to go to HK (which we ultimately ignored) and called a few restaurants for us and said they were closed. Maybe they were lying? And it was a little hard to get to certain areas if you don't know HK, as certain exits from subways were closed, roads were crazy crowded and that sort of thing. Like I said though, all in all it was a really interesting and important experience that I was glad to have had.

    Looking forward to sharing a Vietnam TR this spring! Really appreciate all the advice from people around here -- that's how I knew to get the mifi from Global Advanced Communication. So helpful.

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    Nice TR. I had similar low expectations before our trip to Japan, and agree with you that it was one of our most enjoyable travel experiences. Beautiful scenery, interesting temples, very nice people, clean hotel rooms, great food and an efficient and fast way to cover a lot of ground. What more could you want?

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