Qi had both Christmas day and Boxing day (12/26) off work so we decided to take a quick jaunt to Macau/Macao. Macau is an hour ferry ride (~40mi) from Hong Kong and a huge gambling mecca of the east. Gambling is illegal in many nearby countries so Macau is a very popular destination. Since Macau was a Portuguese colony until the late 1990’s, it had an interesting blend of Portuguese and Chinese influence. We arrived on Christmas morning and left the following evening. It was a quick but fruitful trip.
I did some research on Macau concerning where we should stay. It is much like Vegas- there’s a downtown with gambling and then the strip is in a different location. Additionally, Macau has a beach resort area. I was expecting many more casinos since its gambling revenue is larger than Vegas. However, it felt like a very tame Vegas- no drunkies on the streets or people whooping and cheering in the casinos. The vibe was pretty mellow. I wanted to blame this on Christmas, but it might just be less flashy. Although we visited over a holiday, it was still crowded.
We stayed in what is considered downtown Macau because a lot of the history is in this area. It is a very small island, so traveling to the other regions is no more than a 15 minute cab ride. Our hotel let us check-in right away so we dropped off our bags and began sightseeing. From our hotel it was a short walk to the Ruins of St. Paul’s.
We love to try the local food specialties. I was especially excited for the egg tarts (they were divine!) and Qi was excited about the pork chop bun. I filled up on egg tarts and bread so I didn’t have room for the pork chop sandwich. Qi said it was delicious. We also had the steamed milk pudding which was amazing!
That evening, we went to a cirque du soleil-like show at City of Dreams casino called House of Dancing Water. It was a beautiful show featuring ballet, silks, acrobatics and all partially in water. It was like Le Reve in that sense.
My day in Tiananmen Square was the day I walked 12.6km exploring Beijing. I took the hottest shower ever when I returned to the hotel that night! I started the day by walking to Tiananmen Square from my hotel in Wangfujing.
Traveling in China was not as easy for me as in Hong Kong or Tokyo. Many things were not in English or even pinyin. However, I went to a lot of touristy places where maps were along the roadsides. Although I could not tell what they said, I had a familiarity with my destination locations directionally and the red star demarking “you are here” was pretty universal. My only destinations were the Tiananmen Square and the most famous hutong, Nanluoguxiang.
For those who might not know, Google, Amazon, and many social media sites (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc) were banned recently in China. I knew this ahead of time and thought I had planned for it. My research suggested certain maps apps. They were supposed to work but didn’t work when I arrived in Beijing. The hotel had suggestions for alternatives as well, however they were all in Mandarin. Without a map app, I got lost a lot. My fellow tour-goers had told me about an app called Turbo VPN. This app supposedly scrambles your phone to show that you’re not located in China. I cannot vouch for it because I could not upload this app. I could not access my Google play store. Without Google translate, I was squandering. It was still doable. However, I was not as adventurous as I’d been in Tokyo.
We’re going to Shanghai for Chinese New Year and this time Mr. Chen is coming with me so I won’t have to worry about it….although, I will download the Turbo VPN and report if it works. If anyone else has suggestions, please leave a note in the comments section. Thanks in advance and cheers!
One of the first things I couldn’t figure out was crossing the street. There were railings along the street at intersections so it was impossible to cross. I kept passing these signs but I figured it was for entry to the subway.
Some of them had peddlers selling hats and toys.
After Tiananmen Square, I walked north to the most famous hutong in Beijing- Nanluoguxiang Hutong. It still had residences but now it’s mainly a mall with street food. It smelled delicious. I had pineapple bread there but it wasn’t even 25% as good as it was in Hong Kong. I’m addicted to it in Hong Kong! My stomach growls just thinking about it.
Next up, the food in Beijing and Wangfujing street market. We also went to Macau for Christmas, hiked up to Victoria Peak, visited another famous street market and went on a dinner boat cruise in Victoria harbor for NYE. I have never seen so many fireworks!!
We went to a Ming Tomb prior to heading to the Great Wall. The Ming Tombs are scattered throughout China, but most are near to Beijing. All of the tombs were built at the bottom of a mountain. They’re mausoleums built for 13 of the 16 Emperors of the Ming Dynasty. We went to Dingling. “Ling” means tomb in Mandarin.
I loved our tour guide from Viator, although he was very superstitious. We went to the 13th and last tomb that was built. It was destroyed twice. Once was from WWII by the Japanese. I cannot remember the other time it was destroyed. Maybe the Cultural Revolution?
Although the Emperor was not really buried there, according to our guide, we could not enter the tomb from the main entrance. The main entrance is called the “gateway to heaven”. We had to enter along the side. Only the dead would enter through the main entrance and it could only be the Emperor. It totally made sense once he verbalized it. He also told us we couldn’t take selfies with the tomb as that would be bad luck. I think that’s a bit disturbing but I guess I can see someone taking a selfie with a tomb? I was a little freaked out I was going to mess up one of the rules.
The doorways weren’t large enough for the tomb to fit through so the Emperor and the two Empresses were never actually buried there.
We could exit through the main entrance. Women had to step out with their right foot first and men with their left. This part of the trip made me so nervous. Our guide was so excitable and I didn’t want to break any of the rules.
But if you’re curious, I saw plenty of people entering through the main entrance when we were leaving. I guess they didn’t have a tour guide to explain the bad luck in that.
This concludes the second day of my tour with Viator. In addition to the tomb, we went to The Great Wall, the jade factory, tea house, and lunch was included. We did have to pay an additional $100rmb (~$15US) for the round trip ski lift ticket at the Great Wall. The total for this day, including the lift pass, was $60US. They picked us up in our hotel and drove us around all day. I was pleased with their services overall.
The Temple of Heaven was my favorite excursion of the day. I enjoyed the Forbidden City, Imperial Garden and Summer Palace. However, the detail in the Temple of Heaven was just stunning. It was built in the early 1400s just like the Forbidden City. The Emperor during that era is regarded as a great leader….according to our tour guide. He definitely created a lot of jobs for his people.
The temple was used to pray for good harvest. Now it’s the most famous temple in Beijing. I took so many pictures of it. The detail was truly amazing. We only spent 20 minutes at the Temple of Heaven. Our whole group definitely wanted more time there. The Temple of Heaven was the last visit on Day 1 of my Viator tour. We went to the Forbidden City, Imperial Garden, a pearl factory and Temple of Heaven. It also included a lunch. The total was ~$55 US.
I’m really glad I visited some of these sights in Beijing when it was so cold. It was pretty crowded. I cannot imagine what it would be like in warmer weather. If you can handle it, traveling to these sights during the winter months might be ideal if avoiding big crowds is desired. The Forbidden City was probably the biggest crowd I saw during my three days in Beijing. It was actually the coldest when we went there too because if was our first stop and we arrived at 8a.
After the Forbidden City and Imperial Garden, we visited the Summer Palace. I imagine the grandeur of the Summer Palace is much more extraordinary when in the midst of summer. But the scenery was still picturesque. The lake had a thin layering of ice on the surface that added an interesting depth to all my photos.
It was blistering cold, however the sun came out which helped. We had ~2h at the Summer Palace to roam on our own. Our tour guide said we would need weeks to fully explore the area. The lake itself is >500 acres. In the warm months, it was a place of respite for the Emperor and Empress. They would spend much of their time at the Summer Palace instead of the Forbidden City.
The Summer Palace origin dates back to the 1100s. It was named a World Landmark in the 1900s. Even in the bitter cold, locals were playing games and enjoying the beautiful scenery. We even saw a man writing calligraphy in the sidewalk. He was creating a portrait of a bystander in the picture below….it’s not the piglet! He was using water instead of ink. It was very entertaining. It made me think of my father-in-law who is quite talented in calligraphy as well.
There are pavilions, temples, gardens and bridges to best enjoy the landscape. We didn’t even cover 1/3 of it in the time we had there.
So to recap, on this day trip with Viator, we saw the Forbidden City, Imperial Garden, Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven. The Temple of Heaven was my favorite stop and the topic of my next blog post.
I did a 2-day tour with Viator. Lunch was included on both days. The first day was ~$55 US. All entry fees were covered in this price. I thought we covered a lot and I was pleased with our guide. I loved that our group was small (4 people) and talkative. I would recommend traveling to these locations in the cold weather because it’s less crowded. Just wear layers!
It was a chilling -2 degrees Celsius (and windy!) and I was visiting the Forbidden City and Imperial Garden. The Forbidden City is >150 acres. It was built from 1404-1420 and housed up to 3000 concubines, the Emperor and Empress and the Imperial Guard.
Everything about the complex followed the principles of Feng Shui. For instance, the Forbidden City had mountains protecting the entrances. The entrances were facing a certain direction that is evading me right now. The main thing I remember is the dragon outside the door of the Emperor’s living quarters. The Chinese dragon is different than the Western dragon that breathes fire. The Eastern dragon has horns and water comes out of its mouth. It never goes to the bathroom. The significance there is that whatever enters the dragon doesn’t leave it. So at an entryway of a home, the dragon should be facing the entry. It will bring money and prosperity into the household (through its mouth–and the money will never leave since it doesn’t use the washroom). If the dragon’s back is to the door, then the household will squander monies and good fortune instead of collecting them.
Another significance of the dragon, is the dragon stepping on a ball (it’s a pearl which designates power) represents the Emperor and the dragon stepping on the cub represents the Empress.
The male is the yang and the female is the yin. Yin and Yang are very important aspects of Chinese culture and required for balance. They are displayed throughout the Forbidden City. I couldn’t retain all that was shared, but our tour guide was very informative.
I again used Viator for my tour of The Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven ,The Great Wall of China and Summer Palace. It included a pick-up at my hotel and lunch. There were four of us on this tour–a brother and sister from South America and young lady from Switzerland. Between them, the oldest was 24. I’ll explain in a bit how I knew their ages.
We arrived at the Forbidden City right when they were opening at 8:30a. So we didn’t wait long in the line nor was the line very long. It was frigid.
Here’s a picture the tour guide took of me before we entered.
And the Imperial Garden:
There were trees in the garden with either red or green tags. Red tags meant the tree was over 300 yrs old. Green tags meant they were over 100 yrs old.
After the Forbidden City, we drove to the Temple of Heaven. I’ll discuss that in a separate post. We also stopped at a facility where they were practicing acupuncture, cupping and holistic healing. We received an assessment on our health and a foot massage. This is how I knew the ages of my fellow tour-goers, by the way.
The trained Herbalist looked at my tongue and used my pulse on my wrist to give his assessment. He said that I don’t sleep well. He said my mind never turns off and I’m stressed out. This could really fit anyone but, I hardly slept the night before. He wrote me a prescription for herbs to aid in sleeping but it was 800rmb for a 30 day supply. That’s ~$130 US for a 30 day supply. Yowza. We couldn’t take a picture or I would’ve asked Qi to translate the herbs for me. I also heard his assessment of my peers and according to them, he diagnosed them properly. None of us purchased the herbs though.
There is a book I plan to buy (to Qi’s chagrin!) to study herbs and their healing power. It parallels my work in a way and I find it fascinating. I also bought a ton of tea while in Beijing.
Last week I was in Beijing. I went there because of all the history in Beijing and to visit all the iconic sights– the most iconic being the Great Wall of China. The Great Wall was built in 1404. There were several sections available for tours. I decided to visit the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall.
The weather was supposed to be cold and cloudy. The day before I visited the Forbidden City, Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven. It was gorgeously clear, albeit frigid– but more to come on that in a separate post. I mentioned it because I figured my quota for good weather had been filled already. I cannot believe my luck.
I planned tours for a couple of my days in Beijing. I used a website called Viator. I was scheduled with a tour guide who called the night before to confirm pick-up in my hotel lobby. His English was good and his enthusiasm could not be faked. Our tour group was a total of 4 people. There were two gentlemen from Melbourne and the third man was from Florida.
We arrived at the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. I chose this section because it’s considered to be less crowded than the Badaling section (very popular for tourists) and a bit more scenic and steep. It’s further from Beijing and a less traveled part of the Great Wall.
To get to the wall, we had to ride up a ski lift. This ride was not part of the cost for the pre-paid tour. Alternatively, there’s an option to walk up the mountain. For the return, there’s also the option to take a toboggan down the mountain. Unfortunately (or fortunately– I cannot decide which!) the toboggan option was unavailable.
Prior to getting on the ski lift, our tour guide told us we needed to be back in 2.5hrs. So climbing the mountain was not an option– although, I definitely wouldn’t have chosen that regardless.
The ski lift dropped us off between watch tower 14 and 15. We could only walk to watch tower 20, after that, the wall was restricted from tourists. There is a simple explanation for this. The Great Wall is >13,000 miles and only parts are maintained for tourists. Walking from tower 15 to 20 was still quite a trek. I had several layers on because I thought I’d be cold. I was sweating from the exertion.
Surprisingly, this isn’t the day I burst into tears. On the next day, when I visited Tiananmen Square, I was overcome with emotion and gratitude that released itself in tears. To have the opportunity and means to visit so many amazing places….I cannot believe how blessed I am!! I tear up just thinking about it. I was at the Great Wall! Unreal!
If you missed other beautiful sights I’ve visited in Hong Kong and Japan, please visit these other posts on Mount Fuji and Victoria Peak.
Otherwise, please enjoy these pictures of the Great Wall- Mutianyu section.
By the way, the wind had died down but most of the smog was already eliminated. Thank you wind for providing the most amazing views!
Please stay tuned.
Up next: Tiananmen Square, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, Ming Tombs, Forbidden City and more adventures in Beijing.
I traveled outside Tokyo for the Mount Fuji tour on Wednesday, so Thursday I was determined to make it to the Fish Market and head to Shibuya. But first, I need to talk about some of the food I’d consumed up to this point. Street food and ramen and crepes—OH MY!!!
The night before I went to a local bar. The owner and bartender was a true delight….he offered me straight up menthol crystals to try. I would never take a crystalline powder from a stranger, Ma- I promise! I did smell it, it was definitely menthol and I would never dare to put neat menthol on my tongue. He was making his own mentholated cigarettes which I’d never seen….so that was fun to watch.
The place was called Bar Candy. It’s a tiny place and I believe only he and his wife work there. I ordered a drink called “salty dog”. I’ve become addicted to a non-alcoholic beverage Qi had as a kid in China. It’s a mix of 7-up with a salty lemon and it’s remarkable– and so refreshing! The lemon seems to be brined and then it’s added to a glass of ice. It’s served with a spoon and a can of 7-up and you mix it together. The “salty dog” was grapefruit juice mixed with gin or vodka (in my case it was the latter) and a salted rim– my new favorite mixed drink. Heaven.
I was feeling a bit hungry and there was a ton of street food available at all hours. I opted for takoyaki. Qi and I have had takoyaki in the States many times. It’s essentially fried dough with octopus in the center….if you’re wondering, for the sake of travel– I put a temporary lift on my octopus consumption ban. This takoyaki also had egg on top and bonito flakes. Bonito is like adding a bit of salt to a dish and it’s so finely shaved, it dances in the heat. It’s the perfect food after drinks and very convenient that it was open 24h. And I’m sure it’s debatable whether it’s street food, although, I ordered through a take-out window.
That morning before I started out on my exploration of Shibuya, I decided to head to this breakfast café known for their coffee and pancake soufflé. It’s a chain called Hoshino. Their coffee was so good and so creamy. And although nothing was in English, I just pointed to a picture that looked good.
And it was good and was so fluffy!
Another very cool thing to note about the food scene in Japan is that lots of restaurants actually display their dishes at the store front. Patrons don’t need to trifle through a menu. Their best dishes (or maybe all of them!) are on display typically with pricing.
After getting a coffee to go my first morning in Japan, I noticed there were no public garbage cans anywhere. Yet the streets were impeccable….not even a cigarette butt could be found. I looked around and around. I actually started to collect trash in a bag in my back pack….my back pack that was swag from the TEDx TinHauWomen talk I attended several weeks prior. Gosh I still cannot believe my luck!
I asked our Mt. Fuji tour guide about the garbage situation. She explained that as children, kids are taught to bring their garbage home. How can Tokyo be so clean with very little public garbage cans? It makes no sense. The only explanation is that the culture is just so respectful….to fellow (wo)man and to Earth. At least that’s my theory. It would be really convenient not to carry around garbage. How else can it be explained? It was truly amazing. It makes no sense but apparently it works. Mind blown!
Shibuya was so much shopping. OH. MY. GOODNESS. And people watching was extraordinary. All the websites insist on heading to Tokyu Hands for shopping. I have no idea why as a tourist you’d want to head there. It was an arts and crafts store, not a place for souvenirs or for nonresidents. At least that was my impression. It was like a mix between Joanne Fabric and Michael’s– both places I wouldn’t suggest for tourists.
Look how pretty Shibuya was at night? I was so happy just to walk up and down streets and I browsed in a ton of stores.
And we cannot forget the ramen I had. I went to Ichiran. I didn’t read the Forbes article (see the link) before I went, but Qi and I have been wanting to go in Hong Kong. We tried once and the line was insane. I realized I hadn’t eaten since my pancake soufflé in the morning so 4p ramen and beer sounded perfect.
This is how you order which I also didn’t realize in advance but it wasn’t too hard to figure out. You pick what you want from this vending machine and pay. Then you receive tickets and walk inside. It was tiny. It sat maybe 10 people? There were 2 people ahead of me in line. I probably waited 5 minutes after paying.
My bowl of ramen was $10US and my beer was ~$5US. Once a space was available, I was taken to this booth. For friends and family in the flavor industry, it was like being in a sensory booth! Or in a library cubicle at University.
There was also a spout for hot water and a stack of mugs. I was perfectly content with my beer. Once seated in the booth, I was given this sheet to record how I wanted my ramen and if I wanted any extras.
The dotted line indicated their recommendation. I followed all their recommendations except for noodle texture. I know I like to drink all the broth first and I don’t like mushy noodles. So I asked for mine to be a bit firm. I must say, when I was ready to eat them, they were the perfect consistency.
Look at this blissful umami goodness:
And then check out the line when I left. Boy did I get lucky!
I did not make it to the fish market. This day was Thanksgiving Day in the US but Labor Day in Japan. Many people were off work and it was a holiday for the fish market. I heard that to really see the action at the fish market, I’d need to arrive for the tuna trade at 3:30a…..and I wasn’t sure if that was happening. I did make it back to Shibuya several times. After Shinjuku, Shibuya was my favorite place for food.
My first full day (Tuesday) in Tokyo landed me at Tokyo Tower, HamaRikyu Garden and Zojo-ji Temple. It was a beautifully clear, crisp Fall day. It was actually nice to feel Fall temps as it’s still been in the 70s in Hong Kong. Tokyo was in the 40-50s and it smelled like decaying leaves and the recycling of life.
I started by heading to the Tokyo Tower. I was disappointed to find that the top floor observation deck was under construction so I could only gain views from 150m high. However, there was no line and the ticket was 900yen or ~$9 US. Essentially the yen was 100 to 1 dollar so I knew it was less than $9. It was pretty affordable for the second highest observation deck in Tokyo!!
Here are some views from 150m. Not too shabby!
Check out the sink in Tokyo Tower….air dryer, sink basin, soap and water all in one–but hopefully not in that order! They have this same set up in some Hong Kong washrooms too.
When I walked out of the tower, I witnessed this:
On my way to HamaRikyu Garden, I passed some great scenery and the Zojo-ji Temple.
I walked miles this day. I was so pooped when I got back to the hotel.
I made it to HamaRikyu Garden 30 minutes before they closed. It was already getting dark. It gets dark ~6p in Hong Kong and ~5p in Tokyo.
I didn’t get as many pics in the garden as I would’ve liked. I also didn’t have the camera (don’t ask!) so these are all pics with my cell phone.
Just a heads-up–this post doesn’t contain lots of pictures from my travels in Japan. It’s purely informational–about the culture, transit, SIM card, and etiquette/cleanliness.
I arrived in Tokyo late Monday night. Tokyo is an hour ahead of Hong Kong. The flight was ~4h. I flew with HK Express an airline akin to Frontier or Spirit Airlines in the US. They have extra fees for checking-in luggage, refreshments and food on the plane, seats, etc. It was my first solo trip to a foreign country where a native speaker wasn’t waiting for me at the airport. I was very nervous and still fighting that head cold. Although at this point, I was functional.
I took the airport express MTR line to the Hong Kong airport. We couldn’t do that when we arrived in Hong Kong due to all our luggage, but I just had a little carry-on roller bag. Once I arrived in Central station (Island Line), there were so many signs demarking the airport express line location. It was a very pleasant commute and easily navigable from Wan Chai.
The day before my trip, I had purchased a 7-day SIM card for Japan at the local computer center in Wan Chai. It ended up being China Mobile Network and was 4G for $100HK or ~$15 US. CSL and Sun Mobile do not sell SIM cards for use outside of China–I checked with them both.
I switched my SIM card on the plane….there were 2 passengers very interested in this endeavor and were blatantly watching me. Well I looked like a genius (when actually I was 50% sure I knew what I was doing!) changing my SIM because it worked! I had to change my network, but I figured it out all while still on the plane. And I didn’t even use 1G while I was there. It was a wonderful purchase. I was so thankful I had Google Maps at all times on a 4g network. It was instrumental for me and gave me more flexibility in my day.
The things I’ve learned about Google Maps–I had no idea if you don’t choose to “navigate” that the little circle (your location) on the map will still move with a spotlight beam in the direction you’re traveling.
First, this is a great way to know you’re traveling in the correct direction and second, it doesn’t use your cellular data. I didn’t realize this but my Qi is very smart and he knew.
Right away I felt at home in Tokyo. It’s so clean!! At the airport, when I got off the plane, there was a washroom with a bidet. Even butts are clean in Japan. Oh and this guy coughed on the metro and I saw this young lady do a rubber neck just to give him the dirtiest look in the world. It was like my utopian society! I contacted Qi right away and told him how much I loved Tokyo. He said that it’s the perfect place for someone who’s a neat freak (I don’t take offense because it’s true– I am!) and who’s polite to a fault–I need to work on that attribute. He’s right. I felt right at home!
I did some research in advance (not as much as I would’ve liked since I was sleeping most of the week before) but I knew that I needed to get a N’EX ticket. N’EX is the Narita Airport Express transit to neighborhoods in Tokyo. It’s an actual train line that runs only from the airport to neighborhoods. It’s cheaper to buy a roundtrip ticket instead of 2 one-way tickets. After arriving at Narita airport, head to the JReast ticket office to purchase a round trip ticket. Or if you want to just buy a one-way, you can use the automated kiosks….they do not sell round trip tickets at the self service kiosks.
And as far as I could tell, these tickets could not be purchased until physically in Japan. If a round trip ticket is purchased, a car and seat are assigned for the immediate trip. The return trip ticket will not have an assigned seat….at least mine didn’t since it was 5 days later. I went to the ticket office on the way back and they assigned me a seat on the day of my trip.
The subway was dead quiet. No conversations could be heard. No one spewing animatedly on their phones or even at all. I was flabbergasted. Was it a one-time fluke? No I can assure you, it was not. Although, there was a train line where I remembered hearing whispering, but nothing I could decipher.
And I couldn’t hear any music from someone’s headphones that was blaring too loudly. People were so respectful of each other. It’s as society should be–when you have consideration for your fellow man/woman. It felt selfless and freeing. And people were so happy! The Hong Kong subway system, although not as quiet as Tokyo, is still more respectful than the US. I haven’t heard any loud conversations (except mortifyingly Americans! –at least I assume by their accent) nor have I listened to anyone else’s music spilling over from their headphones.
The transportation in both Hong Kong and Tokyo has been quite superior. You can get anywhere with the train systems. It’s pretty amazing. In Tokyo, there were so many options for trains/subways. Again, I was so thankful for Google Maps–I was informed that my station in Shinjuku was the busiest station in the world. In 2017, 3.8 million people used that station per day…..per day ! The first day, it definitely felt like that.
I spent a couple hours navigating in the station looking for a Pasmo card vending machine. Pasmo is the rechargeable card in Japan (much like the Octopus card in Hong Kong) that can be used for most public transportation as well as several shops, convenience stores and some restaurants. It’s really nice in lieu of cash. I knew I wanted to get this card so I didn’t have to worry about figuring the fare for every trip and purchasing my ticket ahead of each ride. This was helpful, because sometimes, I would change my mind!
I stayed at the Hotel Gracery which was amazing. It was right in the center of everything!!
There were tons of things to do right outside the hotel. And the closest entry to the subway line was 5 min walk. If you stayed outside the whole time and went directly to the main station in Shinjuku, it was only 12 min away. Given the chill in the air, it was nice to have an option.