CONTRIBUTED BY JEN PRESTON
Spring is finally here! What an amazing place this island is! We’ve been kayaking and snorkeling two weekends in a row over on Torii Beach. Here’s a fun tip: rent a double kayak for $4 over at Torii Beach, then have your partner row while you hang off the end of the boat with your snorkel gear on so you can see everything below. It’s like an awesome underwater roller coaster.
So, I have a question from a reader:
“We are hoping to travel to Tokyo, with 2 young kids (4 and 2) this summer. Can you maybe do a post soliciting info on affordable places to stay if the New Sanno is booked, and things to do and see that kids would like besides Disney?”
I will look into this further, but is there anyone with useful information for our reader?
In other news, a girlfriend of mine, Melissa, just wrote me to tell us about her trip to China last month. Any of you heading there for the Olympics?
Melissa in front of the Forbidden City, trying hard to not look like a tourist.
1. Did you travel with people who had been there before, or with a group? Was it intimidating once you got there? Is english fairly prevalent?
I travelled from L.A. through Seoul to Shanghai by myself. In Shanghai I met an American friend who is now living here, so I never really had to struggle with the language barrier, because he speaks Chinese fairly fluently. Some people speak English, or at least recognize that I do not speak Chinese. Therefore they point at numbers/prices instead of talking. Without the language, the adventure would be much more limited, but by no means impossible. Most people seem to know enough English to get you what you need. . .still its good to know a few words. And always a good idea to pick up business cards of places you’re staying, or wanting to go that have Chinese on them, so that you can just hand that to a cab driver to get where you want. That also applies to Beijing.
In Hong Kong, a vast majority of people speak English. When we first arrived though, our cab driver spoke neither English nor Mandarin Chinese. Still he managed to understand Harbour Plaza and got us to our destination. Every where else we went, people spoke English.
2. What has been your best spot so far that you’ve been to?
Hard to say the “best spot.” But I will say the hutongs (alleys) in the Ho Hai section of Beijing were by far the most interesting places I have seen or hung around in in my life. So much Chinese culture, definitely a non-tourist region. Even I looked quite obviously out of place, being of non-Asian descent. But the food there was quite good, from both carts and restaurants. Most places I ate were definitely places I wouldn’t consider eating at in L.A., but I wanted to real Chinese experience and I would say I got it. At night, we walked around the hutongs with cold beers and just enjoyed being outdoors walking around such a strange place. Despite it appearing to be one of the slummiest locations I’ve ever seen, I felt completely safe and un-threatened the entire time. We stopped into a bar (not by the foreigner bar strip section) and a group of Chinese invited us to join them. Probably one of the most fun nights of my life. A group of complete strangers, sharing tons of beer and food with us, and despite the complexities of communicating in broken forms of two languages, we managed to have a blast–laughing, drinking, sharing party tricks and cultural differences–really so much fun.
3. What’s the best street food you’ve had?
Best street food is a three-way tie, which I hope drives home the point that the street food here is quite delicious, despite looking like it might kill you. I will say that I generally avoid meat though. Anyway, the spicy fried rice has been sooo good. One cart in particular, but it moves around so its hard to find. Don’t know what they’re throwing in there, but it’s got a spice/spices that make it one of the best tasting meals I’ve ever had. Next is what I’m going to call “waffle balls” which are some kind of waffle like substance, cooked in a sort of waffle iron and then separated into little balls, super sweet, super good. Finally, I have no idea what’s in this thing, but its like a mix of a pastry, a breakfast burrito and an egg mcmuffin. Should also mention that all of the above street food, costs around one single dollar.
4. Where did you stay, and what was cost?
In Shanghai, I stayed at a friend’s place. In Beijing I stayed at the Ho Hai Courtyard Hostel, I think it was around 15-20 US$ a night, and was pretty much the kind of accommodations someone could expect for that price, although, the staff was very friendly and the location and the set up, really made my trip to Beijing a truly Chinese experience. In Hong Kong, I stayed at the Harbour Plaza hotel in Kowloon. It was $175 per night, which seems like a lot, but after 5 days without a shower in Beijing hostel, I needed some five-star accommodations.
A hutong in the Ho Hai area of Beijing is under construction, yet people just keep truckin on through.
5. Is it Olympic madness there yet?
I don’t know if I would call it madness, but the preparations are definitely apparent particularly in Beijing. So much constructions going on there from the hutongs to the Olympic park area, almost everything that looks remotely run down, is being reconstructed. Although, in a very weird way, hard to explain. It also appeared that sewage lines were going in underground in the hutongs, where almost every building was being re-bricked. I was in Hong Kong during the torch relay, but didn’t go see it. No opposition or protest towards the torch here though. Oh, and Olympic knick-knack junk is available EVERYWHERE from the market, to the airport, to the hostel “lobby” to street vendors and so forth.
6. Where would you not go back to?
I don’t think there is anywhere I wouldn’t go back to. Everything I’ve seen has been so eye opening and amazing. I don’t necessarily ever want to feel as disgusting as I did when I left the hostel, without having had a shower in five days, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for a different one. It was too real, too valid, too important.
Night skyline of Hong Kong from Kowloon.
Thanks Melissa for the great read!
Readers, we’d love to hear from you…any trips you’d like to share with Okinawa Hai? Please email me!
Jennifer, I haven’t forgotten about you. I’m going to look for the numbers in my files. I’ll post something within a week if you’re still interested in knowing!!
WARNING: We are travelers who experience, more than we are vacationers who tour.
When we visited Tokyo in January (during the 1st big sumo tournament of ’08), we stayed at the Toukaisou hostel in Asakusa (since New Sanno didn’t have anything that might hint of availability). We give it several thumbs-up (we wish we had more than 2 each) for value, comfort, cleanliness, etc. Shared bathrooms would be the only odd thing (they’re bunk-bedded rooms can be booked as private, with key to lock up, or shared dorm-style). Here’s the website:
And feel free to peruse our blog posts for ideas on what to do (there is SO MUCH) in Tokyo:
For the traveler-type, we highly recommend checking out the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office skyscrapers in Shinjuku & their free view over the city (not quite as tall as Tokyo Tower but how do you compare free to $14/person?). On the bottom floor is a well-stocked tourism office with gobs of info & free city maps in English.
Happy travels! And remember, it’s about the journey AND the destination!
Diana, I would love more info! A place with 3 bedrooms is perfect since we still have to figure in naps for at least one, it’s hard having to put everyone to bed at the same time at night in a regular hotel. Is there a train near Yokota to get into Tokyo if we wanted? Is it difficult to get rooms in the summer during PCS season? Is it easy to find local parks there? We are definitely looking for a kid friendly trip.
We love going to Tokyo with our two kids, ages 4 & 6. This is what we usually do: take a free flight to Yokota, stay at the TLF there for maybe $49 a night, which is a three bedroom with full living room/kitchen. You can only make reservations in 3-day spurts, but if you let them know your intentions, they always have availability. We end up buying breakfast groceries so we eat breakfast in the room and lunch and dinner out. We rent a van from the Air Force, for about $390 for a full seven days. This van comes with toll passes so we don’t pay any toll fees. Also, by having the van, we can make our own schedule to and from Disney, etc. We headed out early and stayed late, letting the kids fall asleep in the car on the way back to Yokota (which is about 45 min out of Tokyo). We always do lots of kid-friendly activities, like go to the local parks, Disney, of course, Sanrio PuroLand, etc. Obviously, if you are more interested in downtown Tokyo, driving a van is probably not in your best interest. Hope this helps. It saves us lots of money and we always feel so relaxed and on our own schedule. Let me know if you need more details.
In Tokyo go to Kidzania. The kids get jobs and they earn money. They then get to exchange there money for prizes in the gift shop. If you haven’t heard of this place google it (they have a website). Also, get a japanese speaking friend to call and make reservations for you as they fill up quickly and you need them at least a month in advance! The littlest one will go to school (japanese style) and the older kids are the teachers. Its a lot of fun!
Ueno Park/Zoo. Lots of fun and much better than the Okinawa Zoo!
We stayed at the Hotel Kitcho one night when the Sanno was booked. It was 9000 Yen per night. It’s on the Hibiya line, same as the Sanno, but the Ningyocho stop. It’s a different neighborhood but still close to the train and lots of restaurants and shops nearby. There are a couple restaurants there and a small library of books and movies– some are in English. It was very nice and clean with complimentary coffee, hairdryer, traditional Japanese pajamas to wear, a fridge/mini-bar and microwave which was handy traveling with a 2 year old. But not a ton of things to do with kids. We would stay there again if the Sanno was full.