Travel writer Laura Botia writes about Snowdonia National Park and the diverse range of activities and landscapes this corner of Wales has to offer.Written by Laura Botia on 16th March 2018
Travel Diary: Jack Takes on 3 of the Far East
Travel writer Jack Levitt talks us through his explorations of three major cities in the Far East
This small autonomous territory, south of mainland China boasts an extremely fast-paced and energetic environment, unlike anything I’ve experienced before in Asia. I hopped off the plane in the evening and made my way by public train to the Causeway Bay area. I stayed at a hotel just off Hennessy Road, which was a densely packed corridor of luxury watch shops and jewellers, high-end car showrooms, and exotic restaurants.
Wherever you turned there were enterprise and excitement. You could tell immediately that this was a city run by competitive people. The following morning, after fuelling myself with a buffet breakfast, I grabbed my map and set out to explore the Hong Kong Island. I chose to start at Causeway Bay and walk through Wan Chai to the west, then head north towards the Hong Kong Convention Centre and walk along the coastline promenade to Central, finally stopping off at Hong Kong Park on my way home. Although it was early morning, the heat and humidity in the still air made it sweaty and tiring work. The streets were hectic, and the smell of home-cooked pork filled the air. People bustled past me on their way to work and school, always rushing, leaving me in their wake. I decided to step off the main highway and explore the small alleyways that made up the veins of this city. I came across a bustling local market, with stalls and shops crammed into every available space. They had red banners and lanterns that blended so gracefully with the colours of the raw meats hanging behind the butchers. I’ll never forget such a vivid red colour, which they so proudly display as a sign of good fortune and joy. As dusk neared, and with the aroma of meat and fish in my nostrils, I caught a ferry from Wan Chai Pier to mainland Hong Kong for the same price as a packet of crisps in the UK. That night there would be an extraordinary light show taking place. I had to find my place among a sea of tourists who lined the promenade. Eventually, whilst facing south towards Hong Kong island, and with the ringing of loudspeakers in my ears, it was time for the Symphony of Lights.
Across the harbour, 40 buildings lit up in harmony, their lasers and spotlights shooting high into the sky. There was just enough time to hop on a ferry back to the hotel and visitLan Kwai Fong that evening. This spot is famous for dining and its’ night scene. As a student, you must make time to visit this part of the city. You’ll meet locals, university students, or people who are drifting through. Whoever they are, I’m sure you’ll hear some stories to remember and leave Hong Kong with a few good friends in this part of the world.
Arriving at the home of anime, Tokyo drift, and sushi was my most exciting part of the trip: I would be meeting my closest friend. As we jumped off the plane the strong smell of rice paddies, cool air and a little humidity hit us both – it was a nice change to what we were used to in Asia.
We took a slow train from the airport, weaving north through the city at night to our hostel in Takasago. It gave us time to gaze down upon the neon-lit streetscapes, densely populated streets, edgy boutiques and mega-malls, all linking together with award-winning sleek architecture. Eventually, we arrived at our tiny suburban hostel, Yawp Backpackers and settled for the night. Early the next morning we saw Takasago to be a picturesque and old-fashioned Japanese suburb, boasting a few local wooden shanty bars selling homemade sushi and beers. We wanted to stay away from the touristic areas of Akihabara and Harajuku, but didn’t know how well we’d done – there were no foreigners in sight. Once again, we used the cheap train to take us into the city and our first stop, the world’s busiest Tsukiji fish market. Here you can watch live tuna auctioning at 5 am, or get there a little later and discover the warren of narrow streets selling fresh sushi with real wasabi. We stuffed ourselves with raw fish and made our way towards Tokyo Tower.
Although it’s not the taller Tokyo Skytree, this is instead cheaper at 900 yen and had no queues – definitely worth visiting if you still want the spectacular views. After taking countless pictures we moved on to the giant video screens of Shibuya, home of the busiest intersection in the world. You’ll stand dumbfounded when the lights turn red and thousands of people cross from all directions, dodging each other with a skilful eye and nonchalant agility – be sure to get a photo from the Starbucks on the 2nd floor of Q-Front. After that, we took a train to Akihabara, an area of high rises, open plazas, anime and enormous electronic stores. It’s the best place to geek out and shop for classic Japanese tech such as Casio watches, or visit the deafening clanging of underground casinos, and experience the anime game stores that dominate the Chuo Dori. If you’re feeling brave you can even rent a few go-karts, dress up as the Mario characters and race around the streets of Tokyo. As night fell we indulged ourselves in famous Karaage Tokyo fried chicken and moved on to the tiny wooden bars that lined the alleyways of Nonbei Yokocho in Shibuya. Hidden behind a couple of tall buildings near Shibuya station, the owners offer local foods and cheap drinks to the 5-10 people that are able to cram into the minuscule bar – definitely a place to visit if you want to get away from the loud international bars. After finishing a few bottles of wine and nibbles that seemed more like tapas you’d find in Spain, we decided to head home and get ready for our next destination.
We landed in Seoul with a little trepidation for obvious reasons: North Korea being only 20 miles north of the city was something that’s always in the back of your mind. As we made our way out of the airport at dawn with a coffee in hand, we felt this place was slightly different to the rest of Asia. It reminded me of visiting Spain or Italy during Spring. Each day the skies were clear and the sunlight glistened off of the modern glass shopfronts. The air was clear and fresh. Cool gusts swept down from the mountains of the north which kept the city below refreshed. We arrived at Guest Home Itaewon, in the heart of the Itaewon district. During the day, it’s a foreigners’ area, and throughout the night it becomes alive with the diverse mix of people who live, work and study in Seoul. After dropping off our bags and grabbing a quick bite to eat we hurried off by train to Gyeongbokgung palace built in 1395. Sadly, many of the original palace buildings were lost during fires or invasion.
After visiting the palace museum, we ventured uphill to the Bukchon observatory which featured some tea rooms. Being British we couldn’t resist the urge to relax on the terrace and admire the views of the city, whilst sipping on a brew. By this time, the sun was setting and the air was cooler, we thought it would be best to start our long walk home. On the way downhill, we travelled through Myeongdong, the tourist shopping district. Although it was coming to the end of the day, tenders were beginning to put up their stalls and lure the tourists. Cosmetics, clothes and shoes were abundant among the colourful side streets that were filled with charming little shops selling their locally made antiques and jewellery. Then the smell of the world-renowned Korean BBQ steak filled the air. Still having not tried this cuisine we raced back to Itaewon, and to a steakhouse called Maple Tree. There we met with our kind friend who helped us explore Itaewon the night before. The steaks were served with kimchi and other salads, which made the taste spectacular and unique. We were invited to use the BBQ and cook the meat to perfection. Since then, I still haven’t had a steak like it. Nearing the end of our stay, we met a few Dutch friends and Thai girls who were studying in Seoul. They offered to show us around the Gangnam clubbing district and take us to the Octagon, a famous nightclub. If you visit Seoul I cannot stress enough how important it is to visit this night scene before you leave. You’ll make long-lasting memories and quite possibly see a well-known DJ or music act if you’re lucky.