In July 2008, after a month of travelling through various towns, cities, and countryside of China, after hiking, climbing mountains, cycling and more, I reached the great city of Shanghai (上海). I arrived late after dark on a train from Hangzhou – one of my favourite cities in the whole country. It was very hot despite the late evening hour, the roads next to the station were busy with traffic, Shanghai’s train station and its vicinity were crowded with people heading their way somewhere, and I felt a little lost trying to find a public transport bus that would take me towards the Bund (the historical waterfront district in the centre) near which the quirky hostel I booked was located.
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Minato City seen from Tokyo Tower.
Minato (港区), or Minato City as it’s often referred to in English, is the business and diplomatic hub of Tokyo. Not only does it boast 49 embassies but is also home to companies such as Honda, Mitsubishi, Fujitsu, Toshiba, Sony and dozens of others who decided to choose the skyscrapers of Shiodome district of Minato as their base in Tokyo, so is actually a great city to visit, and with the Discount Flights with Smartfares getting an affordable price flight easy online. If that wasn’t enough, there are 10 colleges and universities strewn across the area, making Minato City a real competitor for the title of the Heart of Tokyo, should such a competition ever take place! Yet if it did, it wouldn’t be all the above mentioned assets of the district that would probably weigh the scales down in favour of Minato, but a local landmark and tourist attraction that can be seen from many places in the city. I’m speaking of Tokyo Tower.
The Clock Tower in Wiang Mueang area at the heart of Chiang Rai.
I went to the north of Thailand for one reason only: trekking. From Bangkok I headed to Chiang Mai which is a known backpackers hub and a good relaxed town too, with a Sunday market, pretty temples, friendly bars. Indeed, it’s a very popular base camp for trekkers. Too popular perhaps. So after I had had my fun I decided to take one of the local rickety buses to the nearby somewhat smaller Chiang Rai which was supposed to offer good trekking opportunities while not being mobbed by tourists. If you want to buy commercial bus – that might be a good start-up here, as many tourists need bus or coach services. And this is exactly what I found on arrival. But there was another thing I discovered – a real gem of Northern Thailand – the Wat Rong Khun (วัดร่องขุ่น) Temple.
Akihabara at the start of rush hour.
My backpacking tour of the Far East in 2012 took me to Tokyo, where I spent a fantastic week sightseeing, eating, cycling, and then eating some more. Tokyo has such an amazing number of places of interest that it’s simply impossible to cover everything in the little time I had. Nonetheless, there were two places which I made a point of visiting more than once: the first one was Shibuya (渋谷区) where I went to experience the Shibuya Crossing, world-famous for the throngs of people that flood it at night and during the day. The second place was Akihabara (秋葉原), the shopping hub of the capital city that specialises in computer goods, games, anime, and manga. It is the latter of these two areas that I’d like to write about today.
Akihabara is a truly colourful place.
My trip to Japan was very short indeed. In fact, it was just a 6 day long break I took in the middle of my tour of South Korea and I spent all of it in Tokyo area. Although I didn’t get to see the wonderful rural Japan about the existence of which so many of us have no idea, I did acquire a pretty good understanding of what modern Japan has to offer.
Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo.
The 21st century urban Japan is amazing and confusing, fascinating and at times scary. Everything seems to be happening fast. You’re surrounded by the noise of the living city and often maddening J-Pop music blaring out through the speakers of passing mobile-advertisement-vans or from huge screens fixed on buildings above street level. Oftentimes you get to witness a clash of the traditional with the modern – while crossing the street you bump into a genuine sumo wrestler or a monk
Back in 1544, Portuguese explorers reached an island off the eastern coast of China. Struck with the picturesque beauty of its mountains, contrasted coastline and lush vegetation, they called their find Ilha Formosa, which translates into “Beautiful Island.” And rightly so! But nowadays it is better known as Taiwan.
The northern part of Yěliǔ Cape.
Taiwan’s coast can really prove to be something you’ve never seen before and won’t see anywhere else. The Cape of Yěliǔ (野柳) can be held as evidence supporting this statement. Located a short ride away from Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, Yěliǔ is frequently visited by the Taiwanese and many other tourists from China and the West.
The entrance to Yěliǔ Geopark.
The area of the promontory forms Yěliǔ Geopark (野柳地質公園) –
A short walk north off the Old Town, within Tallinn’s historic district of Kalamaja, lies a derelict sea fortress. Back in the day, in 1828 to be exact, the Russian tsar Nicholas I had it erected here to provide protection for ships heading towards St. Petersburg. However, since the date of completion in 1840 it played different roles in the region. Nowadays, it is best known for the chilling glimpse into the Soviet Era that it allows its visitors, as in the years 1919-2004 it functioned as a prison. Its medical and executions rooms where many lives were ended by the KGB are a chilling testimony to the ruthlessness of the Soviet period.
The Patarei Prison watchtower on the coast of the Gulf of Finland.
During my short stay in the capital of Estonia I caught wind of the whereabouts of
Itaewon-ro – Itaewon’s high street.
Itaewon (이태원) is a popular district in Seoul, just north of the Han River (한강) and south of Namsan Park (남산공원) and its iconic N Seoul Tower (which I already wrote about in Namsan and the N Tower post). It is a popular tourist destination with its many bars, pubs, and restaurants serving international cuisine and beverages. Tourists who decide to stay in the landmark Hyatt Hotel or Hotel Hamilton have plenty of shops to go through here while some of the lonelier soldiers stationed in the nearby American Military Base can perhaps shop around on the (in)famous Hooker Hill, Seoul’s own Red Light District located just south of Itaweon-ro (이태원로).
The more seedy side of Itaewon. Here, the backstreets round Hooker Hill.
The district is quite possibly the most liberal
The village of Ping’An.
High up in the hills of Lóngshèng in Guăngxī Province of China, among mists and clouds sits a small village of Ping’An. At an altitude of about 1,000m (over 3,000ft) it is safely nestled in between steep slopes. Actually, calling it a village might be going too far – it’s a hamlet composed of large family houses with few inhabitants. Most of the people living here belong to the Zhuàng minority. The Zhuàng people, or 壮族, constitute only 1 of 56 recognised national minorities of China, but at the same time are the largest minority of the country.
I set off early in the morning from the city of Guìlín (桂林), the capital of Guăngxī Province. It’s warm yet cloudy day in the middle of June. As the air is quite muggy it’s really easy to break sweat. I take a slightly worse-for-wear rickety long-distance coach to Lóngshèng county
The Old City in Shanghai, with Pudong’s skyscrapers and the Oriental Pearl Tower looming into view far behind.
In July 2008, after a month of backpacking through various towns, cities, and countryside of China, after hiking, climbing mountains, cycling and more, I reached the great city of Shanghai (上海). All through my journey the travellers I met had been wondering why I planned to stay 4-5 days in this city. “It’s just a big Chinese city” they said, “one like so many others, all alike.” But a day of explorations convinced me I was right to book 4 nights because Shanghai turned out to be just great! And one of the places I visited that reaffirmed this was the Shànghăi Gùchéng (上海古城), or the Old City of Shanghai.
Scooter and motorcycle traffic in Shanghai.
My hostel was located near