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Wake up and smell the service! Tripgirl's fab time in Japan, China and Thailand

Wake up and smell the service! Tripgirl's fab time in Japan, China and Thailand

Aug 17th, 2005, 08:51 AM
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Wake up and smell the service! Tripgirl's fab time in Japan, China and Thailand

Hi all!

Just back last night from a fabulous trip to Tokyo, Beijing, Hong Kong and Bangkok. Since I have a little energy this morning, I thought I'd start my trip report. Just a little info for a few minutes, then I'll be back later!

First, yes the title of this post! While there certainly is great service here in the US, the service was the highlight on the trip. All you frequent Asia travelers know this and I was prepared for it, but oh mamma mia!!; the service was OVERWHELMING!!! I LOVED IT! More on this later.

I want to thank many of you who through your posts and direct answers to my questions helped tremendously; so thanks: BillT, glorialf, Kathie, Guenmai, hobbes, Carol, fromMA, Lindsay, Bob and so many more.

I will report on this trip in categories rather than an everyday blow by blow ( really?; do you need to know when I took a shower, I think not!!, yawn , yawn!)

Let me start by saying ( and most of you can tell this by my previous posts) that hubbie and I are not budget travelers. We work our butts off all year long and we love to splurge. We have the extra $, so we figure life's short and we want the very best. I just make mention of this before I get into the heart of the report, as I know our style will not suit everyone.

PLANNING

I do all the trip planning; hubbie just reads up on the history and culture of the places we visit; nice combo!

I used almost exclusively just the Fodors board and several guide books, with my favorite being Time Out. I completely forgot about ordering the Luxe guides, but found them in our hotel gift shop in Bangkok towards the end of the trip. Bought the Bangkok, Hong Kong and Bali ( did not go there on this trip, but a trip is in the works). LOVE THE LUXE!!

Frequent flyer miles paid for international airfare, but bought airfare from my travel agent for internal flights.

Planned the trip simultaneously with a trip to Greece I had in May. Given I was constantly planning for about a year; I think it all paid off!!!

ITINERARY

Hubbie went ahead one week of me to a conference to present a paper in Korea. He loved Seoul!

Met up with him on July 28th in Tokyo.

Tokyo: 7/28/-8/2
Beijing: 8/2-8/6
Hong Kong: 8/6-8/10
Bangkok: 8/10-8/16

Although that was four locations in three weeks, it was all fine and never felt rushed and never felt I was constantly at the airport. It was just about right. Although I wish I was still there!!!

All of a sudden I am getting tired. I'll be back later this afternoon. I'm taking off until Monday, so I'll be sure to write some more!!

Ta-Ta........
tripgirl is offline  
Aug 17th, 2005, 09:08 AM
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now you have us curious...hope to see more tonight...times scheduled in each place look quite perfect...anxious to see what you did....

bob
rhkkmk is offline  
Aug 17th, 2005, 09:38 AM
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Glad you had a great time and that we could be of help. Hurry and write your trip report...like by tomorrow...ha..ha..ha.. as I'm leaving to go back to SE Asia on Friday and won't have any handy computer access for quite a while. Happy Travels!
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Aug 17th, 2005, 09:56 AM
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I'll bet you Tokoyo was the most expensive and BKK the least- am I right?

I keep trying to figure out how to go to Japan but the cost just keeps it off our radar!
BillT is offline  
Aug 17th, 2005, 10:33 AM
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Bill-- It actually is possible to do Japan reasonably. Not cheaply but reasonably -- I did it a couple of years ago. Hotels are the big factor but you can get places in the $150 rate that are decent (not the Penn obviously but acceptable) and you can absolutely eat cheaply. We were there for three weeks and only once spent more than $40 for a meal including wine and usually we ate for under $15. Wine is actually cheap so if you're a wino like me that's one plus.
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Aug 17th, 2005, 02:34 PM
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Gloria is quite right. Japan is very reasonable these days. We were there last year and found it to be much less expensive than we anticipated. You can get very decent hotels for the $150-200 range and eat very well for $15-20. Of course you can spend much more but you don't have to, not even for sushi. Use public transportation as much as possible and do not take a taxi to or from the airport as that can set you back a couple of hundred dollars. The Yen is currently at about 109 to the dollar, which isn't bad, it's a better rate than what we got so the time to go is now.
laurieco is online now  
Aug 17th, 2005, 03:42 PM
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ok I'm back from my nappy....

I will write this report in four pieces; each destination with its hotel, restaurants, sightseeing, shopping and general impressions.

TOKYO

Yes, Bill, you are quite right, we did spend more in Tokyo than in Bangkok(you'd have to spend weeks at the Penn in Bangkok to add up to the costs we spent in Tokyo.) But gloria and laurie are quite right too; you can spend less than we did; but we just said the heck with it. However, I did little shopping here and that was fine with me. I can get the big names here ( Gucci, Prada, etc). I did some shopping for some things that were not costly and more unique to Japan than the big houses of which I don't shop from here in the US anyway.

Ok.. on with the hotel.

HOTEL

We stayed at the Seiyo Ginza, a Rosewood hotel property. Yes, I know this is expensive, but what a treat! The hotel is only 77 rooms and one of hushed tranquility. I did not want to stay in a monolith like the New Otani or the Imperial. We decided against a ryokan as well. I know alot of people like them, but we decided the hotel was best for us for this trip. Perhaps next time we'll do a ryokan.

Anyway, the service at the Seiyo was beyond exceptional. The staff rushed to all our needs and were always there, but not underfoot. The hotel entrance is beautiful; sort of reminds you of a rich relatives dignified home. A long elegant staircase leads you to the lobby area and check in is at two beautiful desks rather than a traditional long counter with lots of front desk staff. All very discreet which was welcome after the frenetic pace that is Tokyo.

Our room was a queen superior and was beautiful and very comfortable; albeit it was the smallest room of all the hotel rooms on this trip, yet it was large enough for us. The room had control panels to control the curtains and lights. Seemed fitting since Tokyo is so technology oriented and it was fun!! We had a nice view of the main avenue with all its neon lights, but the lights did not shine through the curtains at night. The color scheme was all in the taupe family, all very calming.

Butler service was great; all you do is press a button and they come a running...!! We needed them mostly to help set up my hubbys laptop and internet connection. But anything you need, they are there.

The bathroom was fab. A large shower with sitting area, very large tub and a toilet that had so many gadgets; my hubbie had a ball! lots of sink room too.

The extra for me was a make up counter I could sit down at and apply!!

Breakfast was in their lovely dining room that is their French restuarant at night. The menu was limited and the cost of breakfast was not included, but the food was great. One morning on our way to Kyoto for a day trip , we ate at Tokyo Station among students and workers and had a breakfast for $8 total. That was fun too.

If you want to spend the $ and enjoy a more hushed boutique type hotel and like the Ginza area, the Seiyo is perfect. It is truly what I wanted to do here in Tokyo.

Let me state here, that to us hotel stays are a very important piece of our vacations. Having been raised in
the hotel business, I have hotels in my blood and we do seek out the best of accommodations. I know some people think this might be nuts, but a fab hotel really does make our stay in addition to the food, sightseeing , the people we meet, the experiences we have etc. However, we also know that expensive doesn't always guarantee great service or even ambience. So I always do my research first.

The hotel is in walking distance of the entire Ginza area and right near several subways stops and a short walk from Tokyo Station.

We met an interesting woman at the hotel who was on a trip with her 3 children. They were starting out in Tokyo, followed by Beijing, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Delhi, Kenya, Egypt, Italy and Greece. She is a world traveler and had already been to all these places many times and now wanted her children ( older) to experience. We met up with her again at the Penn in Bangkok.

Personally I think she needs Fodors to slow her pace down; her itinerary made my head spin!!! But when we saw her in Bangkok, they were bright eyed and bushy tailed all raring to go!! Talk about stamina!! Her vacation time was 8 weeks.

Hungry now, gong to have dinner.. will continue tommorrow with the Tokyo restaurants, yum, yum!!!

Ta, ta....



tripgirl is offline  
Aug 17th, 2005, 07:21 PM
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tripgirl, it all sound swonderful. Would you be willing to share hotel prices with us?
Kathie is offline  
Aug 18th, 2005, 12:34 AM
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It is always nice to hear, not many but still a few, people says you don't neccesarily need to spend fortune to travel in Japan/Tokyo.

Also nice to hear tripgirl, raised in hotel business found Seiyoken Ginza excellent.
kappa is offline  
Aug 18th, 2005, 04:10 AM
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Yes I agree Tokoyo can be done for less money but when we go on vacation we want to stay in 5 star properties , eat well, and shop shop shop- bottom line- given the way we like to vacation- Japan is out. We are going back to the Philippines in Feb/March- the dollar goes really far there- so we can really enjoy ourselves and not break the bank.
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Aug 18th, 2005, 04:20 AM
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I loved Japan and can't wait to go back but,Bill-- based on your priorities it probably is not for you.As we've said before it's all about knowing what you are looking for in a trip. I LOVE 5 star hotels (that's why I adore the Oriental and always stay there) but only if the hotel has something more than luxury going for it -- i.e history or personality. I would much rather stay in a small b and b or ryokan than a large 5 star international type hotel.And I definiely don't put shopping as a priority. For me it's all about the culture, history and most of all the people. japan had all of that for me.
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Aug 18th, 2005, 04:27 AM
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Bill, you really can stay at great places and not break the bank. The Granvia in Kyoto is 5 star and can be had for less than $200 per night. We really enjoyed our stay there. Also, in Tokyo, the Mansions ar Roppongi is a fabulous place. We stayed there and wouldn't consider anyplace else in Tokyo (and we are big Pen fans and stay there in BKK so we like our 5 star luxury too). The Mansions is an apartment hotel and the one bedrooms are huge and beautifully appointed. You can get them for a little over $200 per night on asiahotels.com. As for food, you don't have to eat at noodle shops to eat really well and reasonably, you just have to do your homework. I also found shopping to be quite reasonable for Japanses craft items, woodblock prints, antique kimonos etc. You are missing a wonderful travel and cultural experience by giving Japan a pass. It may never be cheaper to go than it is now, no one can predict currency rates etc so you may want to reconsider. I think you will be pleasantly surprised at just how reasonable it is to travel there.
laurieco is online now  
Aug 18th, 2005, 04:48 AM
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ok, I'm back. Been up since 3am, can't sleep, wonder why??? ha-ha!!

TOKYO DINING

We took allour breakfastsin the hotel as i mentioned before, but had one breakfast at Tokyo Staion on our way to Kyoto for the day. We had it in a bakery/restaurant and what we had was delicous. Mine was a breakfast tart of some sort with broccoli and corn and a piece of sausage in it. Hubby had some pastries, very good. all for $8.

Lunches out were very good. We spent two days in Tokyo with Junko Matsuda, a guide I foudn here on the board some of you used. more onher later, but in anutshell, she was my favortie guide on the trip.

We ate two lunches wiht her and so she took us to the some of her favorties. None touristy and not expensive. One day we went to a place near Harajuku for pork cutlet. I had the black pork cutlet and it was fabulous. Hubbie had his pork grilled and Junko has what i had. Came with soup, salad. Forgive me for not remembering the name of the place, but i will e mil Junko and have her give me the name.

another lunch was at a dept store on our way to Asakusa. We ate tempura. Fresh, light, not at all greasy like here in the states. We ate at the counter and hubbie was complimented by one of the chefs on his excellent use of chopsticks! ( mine need some work!)
The tempura was served in stages, as soon as they prepared it in front of us, it was served. Soup, rice accompanied.

In Kyoto we ate with our guide, Masu ( more on him later, a joy!) We went to a place that we pratically had to ourselves. All vegetarian, no oil used at all. I can't remember all the details of the meal, but it was light, many courses, but never felt stuffed. Again, we sat at the counter and watched our food being prepared for us.
It was all prepared so lovingly and beautiful.

Another lunch was in the top floor of one of the dept stores in Ginza, on the 8th floor of Mitsukoshi dept store. Lots of variety. I has tempura again and forgot what hubbie had, but i know it was good.

Dinners were very good. And Bill, FYI, they were not expensive! Only one place , our last night, did we spend more, but really, the food costs for dinner was so much less than what we spend at home!

The first night, i was tired from first arriving ( hubby was already adjusted from Korea). so the hotel escorted us over to a restuarant right near the hotel, under the tracks. We had sushi and ate lightly. Excellent.

We also ate at Edogin, a fab sushi place near the fish market. There are several branches, but we ate at the main one. sushi is served to you at the counter( there were soem private rooms with large parties of business men). The sushi is placed on the glass hood covering the prepa

tripgirl is offline  
Aug 18th, 2005, 04:59 AM
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sorry about the mid sentence break, hit a button, I'm tired....

Anyway, the sushi is placed on the glass hood and you eat your sushi off of it! We were the only English speaking people in there at that time. But not too many problems communicating; pointing works!

As soon as we arrived to Edogin, the manager was there to greet us; " Mr and Mrs Webb, welcome to Edogin!"

We also dined at a Robata one night. Robata is a grilled food done at your table. the place we went to was called Ohmatsuya in the Ginza. It was a small, country looking place and we had a very nice meal of grilled eel, chicken, pork accompanied by noodles and vegetables.

We also tried shabu-shabu. For those who don't know what that is, it's meats and vegetables you cook yourself at your own station in boiling broth. Very lean, no oil. The place we went to was called Iten and it was fun to cook your own meal. Very thin slices of pork and beef are cooked with your chopsticks in boiling broth for a few minutes and then dipped into a variety of sauces. We also cooked our own cabbage and onions. It was fun!

For our last night we dined at a fantastic place called Daidaya. I had read about in one of my food magazines. With a contemporary interior, we were led to one of the rooms, removed our shoes and then sat low near the floor, but we sat as we normally do,upright, just low to the floor. we dined on grilled foods and sushi. Very good.


I'll be back later, tired.......


tripgirl is offline  
Aug 18th, 2005, 05:01 AM
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Laurie-- I agree that anyone who skips Japan is missing a fabulous experience. But from past posts I got the feeling that the things Bill and his wife prefer are not as easily found in Japan-- although they do have very nifty bathrooms which if i recall is one of their priorities. I also stayed at the mansions and loved it -- other time stayed at keio Plaza. But they aren't the glitzy 5 star Bill seems to prefer. I think he may be making the right decision for he and his wife.
glorialf is offline  
Aug 18th, 2005, 05:05 AM
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Tripgirl-- one of the thing that I loved about Japanese food in Japan (as opposed to in the U.S.) which you capture is how diverse it is. And also how beautifully it all is presented -- even in the cheapest places. I also ate in wonderful places for far less than I pay for dinner at home. Did you go to the food floors of the major department stores? Aren't they fabulous? Almost like being in a museum.

Looking forward to hearing more.
glorialf is offline  
Aug 18th, 2005, 05:55 AM
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I'm back...

Yes, gloria, I did go to the food counters, the subject of my next entry.

Soooo...
speaking of food.....

Many of you know I am in the food business, so the food counters at the dept stores just blew me away and I can be quite jaded!! You cannot miss this experience. I went to THREE dept stores to survey the goods. WOWEEE!!!! You've never and I mean never have seen anything like this anywhere! The bottom floors of dept stores have food halls that make Harrods food halls look like little stands.

Case upon case, going on forever and ever of all sorts of foods from prepackaged dinners, to rice cakes, to tempura, to cakes, cookies, fruit, candy, bakery goods, beverages, puddings, you name it; it's there! Just too bad there is no place to actually sit down there and consume the food; it's meant to take home or back to the hotel. And best of all, it is beautifully and lovingly displayed. Looks like it took them hours just to compose the arrangment of one set of fruits.

Being I teach cooking, I don't love the idea of prepackaged foods, but in Tokyo, it almost pays not to cook!! I would for sure eat off these prepackaged foods.

What an experience, I can still envision it all!!

Got go now and eat some breakfast, all this talk about food is making me hungry, back later!
tripgirl is offline  
Aug 18th, 2005, 09:24 AM
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back again.

So all in all the food was terrific in Tokyo and Kyoto. I would best describe it as "clean" food with beautiful design, almost like artwork, prepared with loving hands and much pride.

SIGHTSEEING

Although I am originally from NY, so hence a big city gal, I knew Tokyo would be overwhelming. Given we had really only 3 days of exploration, since one day was in Kyoto and the other was arrival day, I wanted to be sure to make the most of it. I know you can spend a lifetime there and still not see everything. It was not our goal to cover tons of ground here; just to get a sense of the culture.

We did not obviously venture to the countryside and only took one day trip to Kyoto, so I know we missed a hunk of the culture, but Tokyo and the day trip did give us a good glimpse into the Japanese.

I hired Junko Matsuda as a guide for us in Tokyo. I know alot of people on this board never used a guide for Tokyo, but Junko made our time in Tokyo much more valuable. Some of you have used her and gave glowing remarks. Indeed she lived up to them. What a special and lovely lady!

Her English was great, having lived in Kansas for about 3 years! Never had to ask her to repeat anything. She freely shared all about her family and her time in the US. I'm am SO glad we used her.

Our two day itinerary with her included some of the usual suspects, but with her, she made the travel and the sites easier and more enjoyable.

On the first day with her, we went directly to see one act of a Kabuki play. All I wanted to do here was experience a tiny bit of a play, see the elaborate set and costumes. They were doing Shakespeare!!!! the ticket cost came to about $9 per.

After the play we headed to the Imperial Hotel for a tea ceremony. First, I must say I am glad I did not choose the Imperial as a lodging choice. The hotel itself is a monolith , in 70's deocr and very convention like. Although it has a good location, I was so totally turned off by it, that I was glad the Seiyo was my choice.

Anyway, back to the ceremony. What is so funny about this is that given my above distaste for the hotel, the tea ceremony was truly enjoyable and seemed far removed from the rest of the hotel. You go up to a high floor, passing the usual meeting rooms and then you come to this room that could be somewhere in the countryside as I can imagine a Japanese countryside would look. You begin to walk on a peeble lined path to an actual tea house. Austere and oh so Japanese, we removed our shoes, hoisted ouselves up into the house and was greeted by our hostess. In full kimono, we actually had two tea hostesses. The tea ceremony was fascinating; it takes years for these ladies to learn the whole process. We were served a sweet, a colorful gelatin like ball that encased a slightly sweet red bean filling. She prepared our tea and we drank it from semi large bowls. The whole process was about 45 minutes and what a treat. Although the ladies did not speak English, Junko interpreted for us and these ladies were so gracious. Well worth it; $30 for the two of us, Junko was let in complimentary.

After the tea ceremony we made our way to Omotesando and Harajuku with the stop for lunch( as above) . After getting a kickout of the teens in Harajuku ( and I thought our teens had some outrageous clothes! Ah, youth!) We made our way to Meiji Shrine. It was quiet the day we were there so we could get a feel for the shrine. A long road in a wooded area leads to the shrine, so its a peaceful retreat from the rest of Tokyo. At the shrine we learned how to "cleanse" oneself before entering a shrine. We picked up "lucky" charms at one of the small booths on the premises. I chose a charm of Safe Travel. It now sits on my keychain so I will be protected from the madness that the Washington DC Capital Beltway is!!!!!! ( and I'll be sure to pack the charm on my next overseas trip too!) Hubby chose the charm of Good Health.

After the Shrine we made our way to the Tokyo Metropolitan Gov Building in Shinjuku so observe the city from the top floor. Fun!

By that itme it was already 5:30 and time to rest.

The next day was the fish market first!! WOWEE! Another thing to impress this jaded foodie! Like the food halls in the dept store, I have never, ever experienced a market like this. Since the auction is now closed ot the public, we headed out for the market at a reasonable hour ( even if the auction had still been open, I doubt I would have gotten up at the crack of dawn, hey it's vacation, I need my beauty rest!).

First Junko had us sample the outer market filled wiht stall upon stall of wares and then we proceeded inside the fish market itself. You have to be careful and move out of the way of the fast moving carts that come through.

The fish market with its 700 vendors went on for miles and miles. If you are squemish(sp?), you might want to stay away, but I'm not and hubby isn't, so we had a ball. We saw live octopus, eel, shrimps, all live. The frozen tunas were perhaps the most impressive. Too bad I could not buy anything; I was ready to cookup a storm!

After a good morning roaming the market, we went over to Hama Rikyu Garden, another refuge from the city and made our way through it to the boat that would take us up the Sumida River to Asakusa. If you spend more time in the park, you can have green tea and sweets at the lovely tea house there.

The boat ride was very nice and you pass through nine ( or is it 10?) different bridges. Once landed we had ourlunch ( see above). Then we made our way to the Sensoji Temple. It was particularly busy that day, many people , especially young people in full kimono. Incense galore.

And we ended the day by going to Yanaka, the older part of Tokyo. We visited a house of sculptor ( the name escapes at present, I'll have to find the brochure). This was fascinating; as we got to experience what a traditional Japanese house is like. Austere and restrained, yet tranquil and restorative, when we went to Bangkok at the end our trip the contrast between the two styles of architecture was amazing; one jeweled and glittery and the other calm and very understated.

I'm glad we got to go to Yanaka as it is a complete contrast to the busy parts of Tokyo. We saw regular folks homes, local stores. It was quite quiet, but nice.

By that time, it was again about 5:30. Junko graciously took us over to Tokyo Station so we could know our way to board the train for Kyoto the next morning. That is how she is; very caring and wanted to be sure we knew what we were doing.

Next up: Kyoto. see you in a few....



tripgirl is offline  
Aug 18th, 2005, 10:14 AM
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keep it coming it's very interesting...japan moves up on my list again..
rhkkmk is offline  
Aug 18th, 2005, 12:10 PM
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I'm waiting for Beijing! Don't delay too long, we're leaving on the 31st... Thanks for a great report.
Marija is online now  

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