Thailand, Part 5: Tokyo and the trip home

01/13/2013

This is one of a series of posts about our honeymoon to Thailand in December 2012, which consisted of Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pai, Phuket, and a long layover in Tokyo. Scroll down to the bottom to see pictures, and click on any of them to see an enlarged version. This was tapped out on my iPad, so forgive any typos or sentence fragments.

1/1-1/2 – Happy New Year! We packed up, spent the morning at the beach, took one last swim, and headed to the airport. The airport doesn’t believe in lines as much as everyone pushing through the crowd in order to get to the check-in desk, bags and all. Flew Thai Airways (business class) to Seoul, a first for both of us. The airport is beautiful. Then flew Air China to Qiangdong.

Qiangdong was one of the most miserable travel experiences we’ve ever encountered, and hearing horror stories from other passengers, and understanding that what we went through is commonplace, gave us a poor impression of China overall. We both vow never to travel to or through China ever again (with the exception of Hong Kong).

With that behind us, we flew Al Nippon to Tokyo. We had planned for the 24 hour layover in advance, but the length of travel, and exhaustion from dealing with the Chinese idiocy, left us both wishing we could just get home. Once we arrived in Tokyo, we were refreshed and decided to keep going. Our luggage was checked all the way through to DC, allowing us to breeze through immigration and customs and take the Skyliner train into town. Tokyo has one of the most extensive and complex rail systems, but an iPhone app made it easy to go from point to point.

We checked in to the Hotel Sunroute Plaza in Shinjuku, and headed out to explore the Shibuya district. We saw the famous Hachiko intersection, and spent a while wandering around the shops and restaurants of Shibuya. Tokyo could not have been more different from Bangkok – clean, quiet, well lit, etc. After noticing the most of the shops were closed in what is normally a 24-hour city, we were told that alas, the two days we were in town was a bank holiday, and almost everything was shut.

Being vegetarian was a little bit challenging, as Japanese have a very different definition of “vegetarian.” We had a list of vegetarian restaurants, and were told that Indian restaurants are usually safe bets. We stopped at a tiny curry shop, and had some of the best Indian food we’ve ever enjoyed. Many Japanese restaurants have you order from vending-like machines, bypassing the need for a waiter or menus. We walked around a bit more, and stopped at the Starbucks overlooking Hachiko. Exhausted and both in a state of who-knows-how-long-since-I-showered, we took the metro back to Shinjuku. Tokyo hotel rooms are very different in size to western hotels – the double bed took up 75% of the room, if we had luggage, we would not have been able to move at all. But we were happy to stay in a room that was clean and bug-free for once in a few weeks.

1/3 – Our flight wasn’t until 5:30, so we headed out to see as much of the city as possible. Unfortunately,  the majority of places were closed due to the holiday. On friends recommendation, we walked to the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, only to find it closed. We metroed over to Tokyo station and walked across Marinouchi to the Imperial Palace, only to find out that the public areas were also closed for the holiday. Side note: Tokyo is one of the cleanest cities we’ve seen, but we spent half the morning carrying our empty Starbucks cups around, unable to find a public trashcan, anywhere. What do people do if they have trash?

We then got back on the subway and headed to the Akihabara area, which ended up being one of the main highlights of our Tokyo excursion. Akihabara is otaku (nerd) central, with blocks and blocks of multi-level electronic stores, arcades, and anime shops (with a surprising amount of hentai on public display). There was a lot we didn’t understand, and frankly laughed at, but we had a lot of fun wandering in and out of the various shops, and picked up some gadgets we hadn’t seen in the US yet. We then wrapped up our Tokyo sightseeing by going to Ueno and walking around Ueno Park before taking the Skyliner back to Narita.

Narita was a fun experience by itself. We didn’t wake up in time to visit the fish market at Tsukiji (on the order of $15.5 million worth of fish is sold there every morning). But at the airport we had the opportunity to eat some amazing fresh sushi. After a couple hours playing around at the airport and Business Class lounge, we boarded a Dreamliner (brand new Boeing jet) for the flight across the Pacific into Seattle. Then a miserable United flight to DC, and we were HOME.

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