Thanks to my airline mileage, I redeemed myself a long weekend in Japan. I didn't want to over-stress myself sightseeing, so picked a less popular destination - Toyota town Nagoya!
I visited the Ford Museum in Detroit many years ago, which had a mixture of American and Japanese cars, trains, and even Lincoln's chair. Toyota's museum focused on cars, but had a surprisingly large mix of non-Japanese relics.
Like other Japanese cities, there is a castle. This one is a reconstruction, but these sliding doors are originals, albeit installed on a new structure.
Now, the city has swallowed up the castle's grandeur.
However, I did find some lovely ultra-modern architecture.
Yet, I found some pockets of European-style architecture from the turn of the century.
What a lovely long weekend!
Jeju island is famous for its natural beauty and geological landscapes. Armed with a rental car, I set out to explore them from north to south and from east to west.
Despite being a very popular domestic tourism destination, Jeju is actually fairly low-profile on the international radar. That is starting to change as many mainland Chinese now make the short flight over for a long weekend.
The geological heritage is quite interesting and varied. Hikers would love the island with plenty of trails to choose from.
Surrounded by ocean, I saw and ate lots of fresh foods.
Pork BBQ is also a local speciality, and is readily available in restaurants throughout the island.
Volcanic eruptions created much of what we see today. The lava flows also traversed underground, creating caves with melting rock surfaces. Somehow, vegetation is able to grow in this dark environment.
This is my second visit to the city. Amazed by the sea and mountain setting, I returned to the observation tower first thing to see the changes since 2007.
With a better camera this time, I sought interesting seafood at the local market.
I noticed some tall highrises have appeared at Haeundae Beach, where I stayed on my last visit many many years ago.
I covered a lot of ground on this short 1-day stay. Tomorrow, I set off for Japan!
3 hours after leaving Busan, the high-speed ferry pulled into Fukuoka harbour, and my North Kyushu trip begins! Fukuoka was once Japan's gateway to Asia.
There isn't much left at Fukuoka Castle, but at least there is a platform with a view of the skyline.
However, the view from the tower was better.
The view from this shrine was also very nice, albeit after a long hike uphill.
The Japanese pay close attention to the minute details, down to the subway station!
These informal open-air stalls are quite famous in the city, offering the infamous ramen and other delicious eats.
Gunkanjima is located about 20km ofshore from Nagasaki. Its prosperity began when coal was discovered in 1810 and Mitsubishi developed coal mining on the island in 1890. Miners lived in dormitories on the island and the population reached oveer 5200 in 1960. The mines closed in 1974 and the island was subsequently abandoned. But visitors are only allowed along the periphery with defined walkways as the building structures are too dangerous.
Nagasaki wraps around hills and has a nice water setting as well.
As a trade port, Nagasaki's cityscape reflects the foreign influences well.
The day pass to ride these clunky historic trams is cheap and they get you to all the key tourist sights.
Nagasaki was one of 2 cities destroyed by the atomic bomb. A museum now commemorates the bombing, emphasizing on the effects and the suffering, yet is thin on details of Japan's wartime aggression that led to these attacks.
Kumamoto was a pit-stop between Nagasaki and Mount Aso. The castle was originally burned down in 1877 and this is a reconstruction.
I had a specific mission to capture the city's historic trams, which look quite unique and are not easily found outside Japan.
Horse meat is a local speciality. It tasted like a leaner version of beef, and looked like it as well. Doubt this one came from the racetrack.
The city's official bear mascot was EVERYWHERE!
Due to foggy weather in Aso and seismic activity that closed the crater, I hopped on the train and headed 2 hours further east to explore Beppu's "hells".
Beware. The water is hot!
It was a bit eerie watching the streets smoulder all the time.
Thanks to a cheap plane ticket, I got half a day in Shanghai during my plane connection back home. I took the time to see how Shanghai Tower is doing. It will be the city's tallest building when complete, soaring over 600m into the sky.
I checked out an arts district in Moganshan, with a good mix of graffiti art and regular art.
The new Shangri-La at Beijing's tallest building offers reasonably-affordable dining with a view. I recommend spending a lunch here to absorb the views.
The new CCTV building continues to captivate our imagination, wondering how the laws of physics can keep it standing?
Wangfujing's night-time food market appears to have been cleaned up significantly since my last visit. The scorpions and spiders are still here but in far less numbers. Most of the stalls now sell normal food.
Domestic tourism has also grown as well. It's hard to find a tranquil place when the rest of the world is pushing against you.
Fearing crowds, visiting the closest stretches of the Great Wall would be catastrophic. 2 hours later in a private vehicle, I arrive at Mutianyu to embark on a 5-hour exploration journey, encountering some raw sections of unrestored greatness.
Bricks are also labelled to provide an audit trail of its maker.
High-speed rail has connected Tianjin and Beijing as bedroom communities. After a short half-hour ride, I walked out into a grand square bordered by an algae-infested river.
Being a former treaty port, many European powers established their presence in the city. The architecture that remains today reflects this history.
Tianjin is also under construction, with lots of new tall buildings appearing in the skyline.
Thanks to a free ticket from my credit card provider, I head to Taiwan for a long weekend, hoping to do some eco-tourism. Taiwan's east coast is fairly untouched with tremendous natural beauty, so I ended up in Hualien.
Taroko Gorge was formed by the collision of the Phillipine Oceanic and Eurasian Continental Plates some 4 million years ago. Peaks tower over 3000m and can be visited by driving along the harrowing cross-island highway heading west to Taichung.
The park authorities gave us hard hats in case any of these rocks decide to come tumbling down.
A marvelous sunset by the beach ended the picture-perfect day.
Hanoi is a chaotic place, with lots of lively narrow streets in its Old Quarter.
USD 2 buys a lovely breakfast in a modern cafe facing a quiet square.
Yet, there are still quiet corners where the bustling city disappears.
The French have left their legacy as well.
Hue was the Vietnamese royal capital during the Nguyen Dynasty from 1802-1945. It is easily accessible from Hanoi by a short 1-hour flight, although the weather changed from sun to rain.
Each tomb had its unique design, but the common theme is extravagance.
Hoi An, Vietnam
Hoi An was a bustling trading port from the 16th to 18th centuries. While its importance diminished in subsequent centuries as the river silted up, its old town has survived, with plenty of traditional architecture that reflects both local, Chinese, and Japanese influences. By the way, the food is awesome!
Chengdu / Hailougou
I finish off the year panda-hunting in China!
Hailougou is a long 6-hour bus ride from Chengdu, although the journey time can increase substantially as a major proportion of the route goes through narrow mountain roads. This part of Sichuan province is famous for its mountains and glaciers. Upon arriving at Moxizhen, visitors need to take a 1-hour bus ride from the ticketing area to the cable car. This is not the easiest place to reach.
Beware altitude sickness!
Sichuan is famous for spicy food. Can you take it?