This post on beautiful Tokyo is long overdue following a week there in December 2012 with one of my best travel buds, my Dad. We were lucky to catch both the Emperor’s birthday – with a rare entry into the Imperial Palace – and the madness of a Comiket fair. We explored Ginza, Harajuku and everywhere in between. Other highlights included…
Sumo: The time of year meant we missed the Tokyo Tournament, so we organised a visit to a wrestling stable via the IJCEE. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. If you’re in Tokyo, you really can’t miss this.
Shinjuku: Shinjuku was my favourite neighbourhood, home to Golden Gai bar area and the stunning Park Hyatt hotel, which hosts the New York Bar & Grill where you can create your own Suntory moments.
Meiji: Another highlight was not just the serene Meiji Shrine itself, but the Meiji Shrine at the weekend with all the gorgeous traditional Japanese weddings parading through its courtyard, one after the other.
Music: Japan takes its music seriously, reflected in Tokyo’s world class jazz venues. We spent a couple of great evenings at Tokyo Blue Note and the Pit Inn. For a country I’ve always associated with cutting edge technology, it surprised me that the trade in second hand records is truly alive and well. Disk Union stocks literally every record that has ever been produced.
On that note, my final recommendation. Pick up a copy of the ‘Lost in Translation’ soundtrack (awesome Xmas present!). I’m just listening to it while pulling together this post. It feels like I’m right back wandering through the alleys of Golden Gai. Failing to be more original or witty, I’ve named this blog post after my favourite track on the CD – the 1971 song ‘Kaze Wo Atsumete’ (‘Gather the Wind’) by the band Happy End. Enjoy!
Recently got back from Taiwan. What an awesome place. What struck me first was how lovely Taiwanese people are – really welcoming and super helpful. Then there is the awesome food, which merits its own paragraph below. Ladies, Taipei is also awesome for shopping. I totally overindulged my partiality for scarves in Ximending and the night markets, preferring Shida to Shilin for clothes. Whenever you need a pit stop, temples abound. And to top it all off, in October the weather was simply…awesome!
All across Jordan
I was told today that Ramadan starts in a week and I find myself reminiscing about a 2009 holiday in Jordan. We traversed the country, starting in Jerash and finishing in Aqaba. I have a couple favourite moments. One is walking down The Siq at Petra for the first time and seeing The Treasury emerge. The other was during an evening in Amman. We had finished our mint tea and were getting ready to leave when, across the smoky shisha cafe, someone called my name. It was an old Palestinian friend who I’d studied with on the other side of the world a couple years before! I love run-in moments like that. It was Ramadan (hence the mint tea) and having an old friend to have Iftar with was the highlight of the holiday.
Route travelled: Jerash, Dead Sea, Petra, Wadi Rum, Aqaba, Amman
Shanghai, Suzhou and Hangzhou, China
I always love visiting Shanghai. Here’s a collection of shots from Shanghai and nearby Suzhou and Hangzhou. I’ve been asked for a few Shanghai recommendations recently, so here’s my top three:
- Visit the Propaganda Poster Art Centre – an awesome collection of Chinese propaganda through the decades in a converted basement apartment.
- Have a drink on top of the Hyatt on the Bund for the best views of the Huangpu river.
- Stay at the Astor House Hotel for a glimpse of old Shanghai with the old wooden floors and stained glass windows.
And of course, make the trip to nearby Hangzhou and Suzhou.
London, United Kingdom
I love London. It’s my favourite city. Like so many other Londoners, I wasn’t born in London and can clearly remember arriving for the very first time. Fifteen years later, London is the one place I really feel at home – the memories, the melting pot and, most of all, the friends. These are a few of my favourite London shots from the past five years. Londoners – those still there and those that, like me, have gone away for a while – this blog post is for you.
Delhi and Agra, India
After Rajasthan, the coolness of Delhi with its beautiful old trees and gardens of Humayan’s Tomb were a welcome relief. A short train ride away was Agra. Emerging through the framed southern gate, the gleaming Taj Mahal lived up to all expectations. However, the most striking few hours spent in Delhi and Agra was a tour guided by former street children of the Salaam Baalak Trust – most definitely a top recommendation.
So struggling for a slightly less cliche album name than ‘Incredible India,’ I’ve opted for ‘Crazy, Beautiful’ instead. India really is such a country of extremes, in all senses. We traversed Rajasthan travelling from Jaisalmer and back, which included one 17-hour train ride. My photos attempt to capture the beautiful side of extreme. Anyone who has spent time waiting on the platform of an Indian train station will know what the opposite is.
Route travelled: Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Delhi
I love coming back to Bangkok, always kick-started by a smile from the Thai immigration officers when they note where I was born. Our 2011 visit was before the flooding and just as Thailand’s first female Prime Minister was voted into office. The last time I was here was during the army coup of 2005 that set off the most recent ongoing political crisis. 2012 will no doubt be another interesting year. My favourite things include getting lost at Chatuchak (amongst its 15,000 stalls!), jumping on a klong boat, visiting old restaurants where – yes, even down to the table cloths – things are exactly the same and, of course, seeing old friends.
Gansu and Xinjiang, China
I’ve ended up in Xinjiang a couple of times this year. The first trip was to the beautiful Nalati grasslands. For the second trip we followed the old Silk Road starting in western Gansu and finishing in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang. The first stop was Dunhuang, home to the amazing Mogao Caves. Photography wasn’t allowed, but I can assure you that the thousand-year-old paintings were truly stunning. Indeed, as our guide kept repeating ‘So vivid! So fresh!’ Next stop in 2012? Kashgar, I hope.
Route travelled: Dunhuang, Liuyuan, Turpan, Urumqi
I swear this city-state breaks some sort of record for number of places to eat per capita. And the food is awesome. Chicken and rice anyone? At least two great places are Five Star and Tian Tian at Maxwell Market. I once had both in one day. That’s perhaps a bit much, but that’s what you should come to Singapore for. To eat!