March 2016 saw our first holiday outside of Japan and the arrival of our third visitor. We had decided to go to Hong Kong mainly because it’s only a 4/5 hour flight and reasonably priced. The fact that it had a Disneyland had nothing to do with it…honest!
When we arrived, we took the airport express line to Hong Kong station and transferred onto the Island Line to Tin Hau to check into our hotel- Somerset Victoria Park Hotel. The walk there was nothing like I imagined. So many high rise buildings, often dilapidated and closely packed together. The local shops resembled those in Radcliffe town centre with huge neon lights flashing Cantonese and the shop windows filled with parts of a chicken I didn’t know you could eat. Our hotel was nice and perfectly placed with free breakfast and water. We had a partial view of Causeway from our window and out to the bay which at night looked fantastic but I was surprised by the smog.
Unfortunately the weather wasn’t set to be great during our time there so we tried to make the most of it. The first full day we spent at the history museum walking via the garden of stars. We didn’t know any of the famous people in the park but we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get a photograph with Bruce Lee!
The history museum was full of interesting things to see and learn and we finished off with lunch at Pizza Express. I know going to a British restaurant when we should be exploring the Cantonese cuisine sounds strange. However we have little home treats living in Japan so seeing one of our favourite chain restaurants from home in Hong Kong, we were never going to miss the chance to go. To finish the day we sought out the world famous Ladies Market. The neon lights were huge and the market was bustling and alive! Numerous compact rows of stores selling souvenirs, fake handbags and clothing. It was so much fun exploring everything on offer and I couldn’t leave without buying something and so I settled for a fake mulberry purse that cost all of £2 simply because I liked the colour.
On our second full day, it was set to rain all day so we decided to take the Big Bus Tour which would allow us to see the city without getting wet. In the morning we toured the Mong Kok side which was much older than the Hong Kong Island side. We got the Star Ferry over and took the opportunity to get some photographs of Victoria Harbour before getting on the bus.
After the morning route we tried to seek out a dim sum restaurant that came highly recommended, right near the ferry port. We managed to find it after having to ask for some help and it was well worth it. The room looked like an old fashioned ballroom with elaborate chandeliers and what looked like a hundred tables. The dumplings were served by ladies pushing trollies up and down between the tables and stopping when asked.
After a delicious lunch we got back on the bus for the Hong Kong Island route. About half way round we got off to go up to the peak. We knew it was a risk as the rain hadn’t stopped all day but it was our only chance. To get there we got on the tram which was incredibly steep and luckily for us the cloud was starting to clear. When we got to the top, we had just enough time for one photograph before the clouds not only rolled in, but decided to bring 40mph winds and rain just for a bit of fun. We looked around the shops, buying a small trinket as a souvenir and decided that it was time to head back down. When we got to the bottom we jumped on the first bus that came by not realising that it was on route to Stanley Island, a small port town on the coast. It was nice to see the quiet side of the city where the pristine beaches and the elite holiday homes are located .
On the third day we went to DISNEYLAND!!! It was relatively quiet when we arrived and it turns out that it would stay relatively quiet the entire time we were there. We didn’t have to wait any longer than 10 minutes for any of the rides and we even got to see some characters. I had heard before we went that the park was quite small and it turns out it was true. We had pretty much done all the rides in 2 hours and that was stopping for lunch and snacks too throughout the day. All in all an awesome time and another Disneyland off our list (only Shanghai left!!).
The next day, it was time to return to Japan and get ready for the arrival of one of my closest friends Victoria. She was only going to be here 7 days so we had a lot to do in a very short period of time. However we did and I think we nail it!!
After some much needed rest and some local exploring, we took the bus to Lake Kawaguchiko from Shinjuku on her second day. I had already been in the summer with my parents so it was nice that I knew where I was going. Our hotel this time was right next to the cable car and in the middle of the hustle and bustle which was convenient for getting around. As expected Mt. Fuji was no where to be seen and so we explored around the lake. Around mid afternoon we checked in and by 6:30pm we were sitting down to a traditional Japanese dinner.
It was after dinner that we decided to tackle the onsen. As anyone who has been to Japan before will know, onsens are public hot springs baths but they are naked baths. It didn’t take long to overcome the natural body conscious nerves of a foreigner, especially because the room was filled with steam. It was worth it too. We were advised to try the outdoor baths and when we got out there we discovered it was snowing! It was incredible sitting in a hot spring bath out in the snow, what a memory!
We had decided before we went to bed, that to be in with a good chance of seeing Fuji-san we would have to get up early. We agreed upon 5:30am and went to sleep. Unfortunately it didn’t quite go to plan. When my alarm went off, I looked out of the window and all I could see was thick fog. I couldn’t even see the lake! We decided to try 6:00am but again there was just fog. 6:30am- more fog! It was then that we decided to just get up and have breakfast. We waited for the fog to clear which it did around 9:00am (with our hopes of seeing Mt. Fuji) and so we packed up, checked out and headed to the cable car for some lake views at least. It had only just opened so we strolled on and headed up to the top.
The views of the lake were stunning going up and as we got off the cable car and around the corner…. it was there!!! As clear as day and iconically snow capped. Mt.Fuji! Victoria hadn’t seen it, she didn’t know where to look but I had been up before and so I grabbed her and we both just stood there taking as many photographs as we could before the clouds rolled in. I was so relieved!
After that we could enjoy the lake sights much more relaxed before returning home, exhausted from the morning and thrilled with our experience.
After another day of rest (and a trip to Tokyo Disney at night) we explored Tokyo on the fifth day starting with a woodblock lesson near Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa. We each got to print an image from one of Japan’s traditional children’s tales ‘The Peach Boy’. Whilst we were in the middle of a coffee break, a Japanese TV crew arrived and started to film our lesson. As he was the first one printing, they took a special interest in my husband- filming him as he was printing.
After he did his final print he turned around to the camera as they all clapped including the camera crew shouting ‘Sugoi’ (excellent). After that they interviewed the tutor and then started to ask my husband and me some questions. Needless to say, we hope we won’t be appearing on TV anytime soon, it turns out we are not naturals in front of a camera! After our lesson we visited Senso-ji temple which was beautiful this time of year surrounded with cherry blossom trees followed by a trip to Meiji Shrine and Shibuya crossing. A fun and unusual day.
Throughout Victoria’s trip we managed to fit in so many ‘Japanese’ things including karaoke, eating sushi and trying matcha tea. On Victoria’s last night staying with us, we had booked a cocktail evening at the famous Park Hyatt Hotel in Shinjuku (where Lost in Translation was filmed). It was a beautifully clear night and so the view from the 43rd floor was fantastic allowing you to see the whole of Shinjuku and even more. We enjoyed the ‘The Peak of Joy’ which is a two hour all you can drink cocktail session with a delicious (small) three course meal brought out on tea trays. It was the perfect way to finish Victoria’s holiday and a lot of fun.
Well we loved Hong Kong, even if the weather wasn’t what we expected, and we loved every minute of having Victoria come and stay with us. We visited and tried so many different things and hopefully our third hosting experience was successful! Only our guests will tell!
Now to wait for our summer adventure. Where will the sun of 2016 take us? We’ll have to wait and see.