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Early Retirement Travels - Week 8 Hong Kong & Japan

Tall building in Hong Kong

We’d previously lived in Hong Kong for a couple of years and I have fond memories of our time there. It would be interesting to return as a visitor 18 years later.

I hadn’t remembered the humidity, which really affected me as I walked around the city. I suspect that I’m not much of a city person, and this wasn’t doing anything to change my mind.

Catching the tram to look out over Hong Kong from Victoria Peak is a must. From up high, the diversity of Hong Kong’s landscape is surprising. We got the expected view of the harbour and the crazy jumble of tall buildings, but also a surprising amount of mountains and hills, wooded areas and beaches.

Next was a meander through the districts of Central, Admiralty and Wanchai heading for the Star Ferry pier. It turned into more meandering than intended as both my memory and Google Maps kept getting confused!

Eventually finding the pier, we caught the Star Ferry across the harbour to Kowloon. The crossing costs pennies and is fantastic value. The humidity hadn’t abated though and after a little exploring the streets of Tsim Tsa Tui we took the ferry back to Hong Kong Island in search of air conditioning and a cold beer.

We settled for a beer in Lan Kwai Fung, a popular evening entertainment area, while waiting to meet my friend, Brian, who’s just moved to Hong Kong. Lan Kwai Fung wasn’t as I remembered, but I suspect it’s me rather than Lan Kwai Fung that’s changed.

On Tuesday, we escaped the hustle and bustle of the city by heading to the small town of Stanley. The bus journey alone is worth doing, through countryside and along the coast road. Try to get a seat at the front of the top deck for views that are not what most people imagine of Hong Kong.

Stanley has a market, various cafés and a beach that doesn’t compare to what we’d got used to in Australia. It’s a nice change from the hustle and bustle of the city though.

What did I think about going back to Hong Kong? I’m glad I went to see my friend, but perhaps I should have left alone the rose tinted memories that I had, or visited when the humidity was lower.

Next morning was a flight to Tokyo, a new experience as we’d not been to Japan before. First impressions were a mix. In part it seemed less busy, less foreign, less traditional and less culturally different than I’d expected, the next moment it feels all these things and more, and every so often it throws something completely wacky into the mix.

We stayed in the Shinjuka district and hit the streets to explore it and the neighbouring Shibuyi district. We walked a lot, visiting the Meiji Jingu Shrine, Takeshita Street in Harajuku, the crazily busy Shibuya pedestrian crossing and Hachiko statue before lunch.

After an un-Japanese Starbucks, we got a birds eye view of the city from the observation deck of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. The city seems to go on as far as the eye can see, it’s more of a spread out city than the city of many tall buildings that I had imagined.

I’m embarrassed to admit that the highlight of our first full day in Tokyo wasn’t a historic shrine but the Robot Restaurant. “Restaurant” is misleading as most people skip the food. It doesn’t happen often, but words fail me, the show was completely wacky and mad.

We stuck close to our hotel the next day. I got a haircut which, with me speaking no Japanese and the hairdresser no English, was a combination of a daring and comical experience. Then to the Samurai Museum, which was interesting but small, and I would have liked it to tell me more about the history and way of life of the Samurai than it did.

We ended the week travelling to Hakone hoping for views of Mount Fuji from Lake Ashi. What we got was low cloud, strong winds, heavy rain and no view, so we have to rely on my Photoshop skills. Instead we walked through an avenue of cedar trees planted 350 years ago during Samurai times, visited a reconstruction of a Samurai Hakone Checkpoint, and tried not to get too wet! I don’t think our new rain coats will feature on the catwalks of Paris, Milan or New York any time soon.

I almost forgot about the Japanese toilets. Buttons to press, music to play, water jets, it's difficult to know what to say. But don't worry, I don't have any photos!

Daily diary and costs

I'm including a list of what we did during our week and the approximate costs - I'm using this part of my blog as a mini diary for myself, but feel free to read if you're interested. Sally was thinking of buying a new backpack for a shopping spree, but luckily a put a stop to that!

Sally's preferred sized backpack

Week 8 - what we've done:

Monday – Hong Kong. Victoria Peak Tram. Star Ferry to Kowloon. Lan Kwai Fung with Brian in the evening.

Tuesday – Hong Kong. Stanley. Drinks with Brian in the evening.

Wednesday – Fly from from Hong Kong to Tokyo.

Thursday – Tokyo. Explored Shinjuka and Shibuya districts.

Friday – Tokyo. Samurai museum.

Saturday – Travelled from Tokyo to Hakone. Day in Hakone and at Lake Ashi.

Sunday – Morning in Hakone. Bullet train in the afternoon to Kyoto.

Week 8 - we spent a total of £2,033 / $2,867 for 2 people on:

Accommodation £592 / $835 Four nights accommodation were higher than normal

Meals/Coffee/Snacks £481 / $678

Transport £746 / $1,052 Includes 14 day Japan Rail Pass

Attractions/Fees £160 / $226 Robot Restaurant show, Samurai Museum etc

Laundry £12 / $17

Haircut £19 / $27

Other £23 / $32


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