Author Topic: Spring in Beijing and Tokyo  (Read 5027 times)

Offline yuguy

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Spring in Beijing and Tokyo
« on: April 07, 2016, 12:45:08 PM »
Introduction

The thought process for this trip started in January 2015 as the merger between US Airways and AA was coming to a close, I knew that I'd have enough miles for somewhere far (not U.S., LATAM, Caribbean) in business class, for two people, both ways, as soon as my wife's and mine's respective US/AA accounts merged. And, as we all knew, the devaluation was down the line for the newly merged AA, so I wanted to get this one in while I still could.

We had originally decided on only going to Tokyo for a week in spring 2016 to see the Cherry Blossoms, but after realizing that we were going all that way, why not add another destination?

One of the most common "travel bucket list" related items for people is the Great Wall of China.

It was settled: we'd go to Beijing and Tokyo. And because of the 72-hour visa rule, we'd go to Beijing first as our "transit" onto Tokyo.

Miles Used for Two People
JFK-HKG-PEK: 110,000 American Airlines miles, Business class on Cathay Pacific

PEK-HND: 30,000, coach on ANA

NRT-JFK: 100,000 American Airlines miles, business class on JAL

Doubletree Hilton by Hilton, Beijing: 10,000 a night for 3 nights = 30,000 HHonors

The Prince Sakura by Marriott, Autograph Collection: 40,000 a night for 4 nights, with fifth free = 160,000 Marriott points

Hyatt Regency Tokyo: 6,000 points + $75 cash

Airline Products/Hotels

Flighs
There are plenty of reviews on the CX and JAL business, so I won't go into that here, but personally:
  • I found CX J (on the JFK-HKG leg) hard product to be overrated; the FA service was great, though.
  • Loved JAL J; found the seats to be wide and most comfortable; also the non-slanted footwell actually gave me more room. Also, first time on the new Dreamliners and i did feel the difference. However, the service was not as nice as CX J.
  • When flying J on shorter flights (like HKG-PEK) I was always against the non-lie flat (so angled or recliner) not being worth it.I take that back. Having those 3.5 hours in angle flat was still nice and I actually slept the whole time!

Hotels

Doubletree: Though it was not in the best location, we were only in Beijing for 3 days/nights, 1 night of which was arrival, the other we left early on the last day (so really two full days). It was also a cheap redemption with great reviews on Trip Advisor. Plus, as a Diamond from the easy status match Hilton ran, I was excited to see some of the benefits. And they did upgrade me to a executive suite. They also got kosher breakfast from the Chabad for those three mornings as a Diamond benefit. Highly recommend this hotel if you're in Beijing for 2-3 days. If for longer ,you may want to be more centrally located.


Sorry about the snapchat geotag; was wondering how it would work with the VPN in Hong Kong!

Prince Sakura: Really beautiful hotel. The Prince hotels are Japanese owned and run, but this one is part of the Autograph collection. Interestingly, there was no Marriott branding anywhere. In fact, I found (compared to the Hyatt Regency Tokyo) the more Japanese-esque-ness of the staff gave it a more authentic experience. We were one of the few non-Japanese or Asian guests at the hotel. The room here was huge--the regular king, with plenty of room for our luggage and even a separate sitting area by the window. The low floor (6) was convenient for Shabbas.

As Sakura means Cherry Blossom (and we were there for the Cherry blossoms!), the hotel and the other 3 hotels int he complex were pretty full. There's a pretty large garden behind the hotel that connects all the different Prince hotels, which added to the cherry blossom-ness to the stay and hotel.

It was also a great location, located a 3 minute walk from the Shinagawa train station with a JR and Metro/Subway line. Most importantly to us, it was only a 15-20 minute straightforward walk to Chabad which was awesome for Shabbas, but also for grabbing dinner at the end of the day.

Hyatt Regency Tokyo: I was pretty underwhelmed by this hotel. As it's Tokyo, it was really clean, but small (compared to the above) and I found that staff to be courteous, but a bit curt, compared to the Sakura. It's also a Hyatt ,so they had a lot of American guests, which took away some of that authenticity. Not their fault, of course.

Three Days in Beijing: Day 1 and 2

Avoiding the visa to me was important (yes, I was being cheap), so we had to maximize our time in Beijing because after landing in PEK on Monday evening, we would only have a full day Tuesday and Wednesday. (We left early Thursday morning).

I love organizing things and planning itineraries. And for the Great Wall, it's doable by public transportation. That being said, the language barrier, spotty internet (because the firewall) encouraged me to go on an organized tour.

Now these tours can be hit or miss, even with reading Trip Advisor and Viator reviews.

Luckily, I stumbled upon a great tour with China Highlights: the Great Wall at Mutianyu, Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. After picking us up at the hotel, to my surprise it was only 6 people: me, my wife, 1 other couple, the driver and the tour guide! So basically private and no need to compete with a large group bus of 40-60 people.

Tuesday morning, they first took us to the Square, which was cool, but nothing special. I guess it's the natural lead in to the Forbidden City which is really cool.

Side note: I can't believe how many peopled were lined up for the Chairman's mosoleum and the amount of traffic it get's per day. Astounding. But with a population of roughly 1.3 billion, everything is bigger in China.

After that we walked to the Forbidden City (ticket's included). Though a lot of it looks the same, I found the guides explanations to be interesting. The best part was the garden in the middle.


Entrance to the Forbidden City



From there, we drove about 1.25 hours to the Great Wall, with a quick stop at Subway for lunch. It's always fun explaining that you're just going to get the soda and that you have your own brown bagged lunch. Especially when the other people on our tour are European--everyone finds it astounding that we brought food with us from the States.

Lo and behold, one table over at this stop we saw a group of Israelis with a BBQ--kippahs and all. Got to love them.

After that, we took the ropeway (?) up to Mutianyu. The ropeway was pretty janky, but we made it up alive! It was about 70 degrees, so it was beautiful and clear blue skies up there. The Great Wall is really something. The amount of work that went into building it is astounding and difficult to fathom. It's also pretty steep at some points.



Though I've never been to Badaling, I can say that we had Mutianyu pretty much to ourselves. Always a plus not to have to compete with the crowds.

Our guide gave us about 1.5 hours to walk around an explore (which turned out to be more than enough time)--we walked from tower 6 to 11. It was fun having to duck at the archways between towers  ;).

One thing I saw that totally rubbed me the wrong way: you can walk to the top of one of the watchtowers where you can get great views. Awesome. As we get up there, I see children and adults using some of the rock shards to stencil in their names/cities on the wall. Kids? Okay, maybe. But grown adults? It's childish activities like that that ruin it for the rest of us. *End rant*.

After an hour or so, we met up with the other couple and tour guide to take the toboggan down. I was bit nervous at first, but it was AWESOME (and included in the tour). Hey, if Michelle Obama and Beyonce can do it, I can too. If it's busy or there are slow tourists in front of you, it's a bit less enjoyable, but if the roads empty, zoom on ahead (as I did).


How they promote the toboggan: Michelle Obama

Overall, great first full day in Beijing!

Day 2: The Summer Palace, Hutongs, Riding a Rickshaw and the Silk Market...

Online @Yehuda

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Re: Spring in Beijing and Tokyo
« Reply #1 on: April 07, 2016, 01:49:31 PM »
Great tr so far! Enjoyable reading style and glad you put in some pictures! Keep it coming.

Offline tzifanya54

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Re: Spring in Beijing and Tokyo
« Reply #2 on: April 07, 2016, 02:15:34 PM »
Yup. Great start. Thanks for sharing.

Offline yuguy

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Re: Spring in Beijing and Tokyo
« Reply #3 on: April 07, 2016, 02:49:23 PM »
Day Two:

We did not have an organized tour for our last day in Beijing. The hotel is not centrally located, so that seemed like it would be a pain, except, Uber to the rescue!

The only issue with using Uber here is that addresses are not always accurate, I didn't have calling (just a MiFi device for internet) or Chinese characters. So even if I managed to put the address in correctly for pickup, there was no guarantee that my English typed "Summer Palace" would translate as 颐和园 or 100084 海淀区新建宫门路 19号, the driver couldn't call me (and probably couldn't speak English). BUT, it did work out, as he picked us up form the hotel and the 30 minute drive to the Palace was only $5.00. It's like uber in L.A.  8).

We bought the full admission to see all the side rooms at the Summer Palace, which gave us an immersive experience. The DW and I are pretty quick when it comes to these things, but the grounds are huge so we spent about two hours walking around, getting some sun and enjoying being the American celebrities. Her with her blonde hair, and me at almost 6'2, we had a fun time taking pictures with lots of the other tourists.

Great views, cool architecture and nice gardens.



Meta: Picture of everyone taking pictures  ;)

From there we Uber'ed to one of the last remaining Hutongs in Beijing where we walked around and took in old Beijing. It's a tourist trap, no doubt, but gives you a different feel for the hustling and bustling city. As we got to the end, we took a rickshaw around! The guy didn't speak a word of English, but all I wanted to do was ride a rickshaw  ;D. A bit pricey, but I was able to haggle with the guy to get the price as 2 for 1.


Of course, there's a Starbucks even here.

After that, we Uber'ed on over to the Silk Market. I was expecting it to be outdoors for some reason (I think it used to be), and was confused at first until I saw this:

And then I knew!

We spent a few hours there haggling with the various vendors,  and ultimately scoring some good items are reasonable prices. The best thing is that if you say "okay I'm going to go--you're being too aggressive"--they'll get really, really nice and friendly and be more reasonable when you haggle (at least in my experience). I know that being aggressive is part of the haggling charade, but some of these guys are just aggressively rude.

What I do not understand is that some of these stores have stickers on the outside that say, "Sorry no haggling here--please report fake merchandise"--isn't that the point of the Silk Market?

We were going to pick up a Canada goose, but saw the patch spelled as Conada Goose... too fake, even for us!

The day was winding down and we hadn't tried the Chabad's restaurant (in person), so went over there and finally had some Chinese food in China:

Skip the sauce


Overall, we had a really great second and final full day in Beijing.

It's a wonderful city, but having seen the Great Wall, I don't think I'd go back to Beijing again. There's always traffic and way too many people.

Up next: Day Four: Leaving Beijing and Arriving in Tokyo

Offline yuguy

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Re: Spring in Beijing and Tokyo
« Reply #4 on: April 07, 2016, 02:55:06 PM »
Yup. Great start. Thanks for sharing.

Great tr so far! Enjoyable reading style and glad you put in some pictures! Keep it coming.

Thank you, both!!

I feel like there's a lot on Beijing here, but less on Tokyo, so I'd rather focus/write more on that.

Offline MAJ

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Re: Spring in Beijing and Tokyo
« Reply #5 on: April 07, 2016, 04:33:32 PM »
Thank you, both!!

I feel like there's a lot on Beijing here, but less on Tokyo, so I'd rather focus/write more on that.
great trip report.

i did a day in tokyo and a few days in beijing 2 years ago this time of year, reliving it through you!

Offline yuguy

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Re: Spring in Beijing and Tokyo
« Reply #6 on: April 07, 2016, 04:43:23 PM »
Leaving Beijing and Arriving in Tokyo

Still somewhat jet lag, we woke up earlier than we needed to, packed up and went to check out. There the hotel had out last day's breakfast from the charred wrapped and ready for us.

There was surprisingly little traffic to the airport so we got there before the ANA check-in counter open. I was also surprised by how few PEK-TYO flights there are daily (11 or so that can be redeemed with miles). The first ANA flight to TYO (HND in this case) was at 8:30 AM.

The flight and airport were uneventful, but I was excited to fly ANA as I've never flown them before. I've never seen such a large airportFine experience, except the kosher meal was really horrible. It came from the Chabad of Thailand. I mean, the packaging was nice, but the food was worse than our CX J JFK-HKG flight (Regal). I'll be honest: I'm picky and don't like fish, but my wife does. She tried it and it was inedible, clearly having sat on the shelf for a long time. And then there was this odd looking mushroom dish with some weird looking cheese (except that it was parve) thing going on... I still don't get why kosher airline food has to be so bad  :-[.


KSML - Chabad of Thailand

I was able to score some ANA postcards with their new Star Wars BB-8 and R2-D2 jets on them.

As we touched down in Haneda, our excitement really built up at this was going to be the majority of our trip.

When I was planning the trip, I was toying (TYOing?) with the idea of going to Kyoto or Osaka as well, but after doing more research I realized theres just SO much to see in that one city. Spoiler: We loved it so much, we're already planning our trip back and then we can see these other cities.

We also were really excited to be in Tokyo (and Japan in general) at one of the best times of the year for the cherry blossoms. I've never been there before so I have nothing to compare it to, but I do think that there's a different vibe/aura going on as it's a month (or longer) situation going on. There are festivals and hanami (cherry blossom parties) going on all over the city all the time. Though there are 4 seasons in Tokyo, and an appreciation for gardens all year round, it was interesting to see the contrast of these sharply dressed business men coming from the office to walk to parks just to admire the cherry blossoms and take pictures with and of them.

Anyways, I digress.

My original itinerary had us arriving at the hotel around 2:00 PM, walking around checking out the local area and then heading to the Chabad for an early dinner and heading to bed.


Hotel room

Luckily, my wife had other ideas!

The Points Guy happened to be in Tokyo this past week and he was showcasing some really cool parts of Tokyo in his snapchat that we hadn't even thought of, such as the Mori Art Museum in Roppongi.

After checking in, we freshened up and headed over to the Shinagawa train terminal. As someone who takes the subway everyday in NYC, I usually dread it: delay, schedule change, dirty, smelly and rude passengers... Tokyo subway: the opposite in every way. Sure, they get a bit rowdy after hours, but their rowdy is our subway normal. Everyone was so polite, respectful and everything was so CLEAN. You could also depend on the trains to be on time +/- 1 minute. I also didn't feel bad asking the metro/subway personnel for directions--in NYC it's hit or miss if MTA will bite your head off. They helped us purchase our tickets, but most importantly, there are so many different exits at most of the train stops. In fact, we asked the personnel every time at a new location which exit to take so we could get to the correct side of our destination.

Sure, I had my data plan (via Sprint) in Tokyo and Google Maps was invaluable, but the app doesn't tell you which exit. Also, the app will try to route you via buses to trains: you can usually walk from your train station 15-20 from your current location. The buses aren't always in English. In any event, I turned on subway/metro/light rail as the preferred routing options and only did from station to station instead of current location to next location. I got much better results.

We got to Roppongi and immediately needed help from the locals, as Google maps tells you directions like "Head north" and "walk up the stairs"--with nothing to orient yourself, it's not very helpful.

The Mori Art Museum is a huge art complex with a few other museums and lots of floors. Though seemingly intuitive, 'F2' for Floor 2 is not what I;m used to; I'm used to 2F, '2nd Floor'--and had a weirdly hard time getting around. But, we did it. There's an admission charge to the museum which covers the museum itself and the observation deck. However, Admission to the sky deck for great views of the city is separate charge of 500 yen per person.

Both worth it, IMO.

Some pictures of Mori and the grounds:


Giant spider in background


Tulips


Eek!


The art is pretty modern. The exhibits currently on display may not be tznius enough for some people. Nothing overly sexualized or fully nude--think like the beach.

I also enjoyed that some of the exhibits were interactive with games and shows attached.

After the observation deck, we walked around the grounds and got some great pictures and saw our first cherry blossoms up close!

First of many cherry blossom pictures

At that point, it was getting dark, we were tired and hungry. We actually went to the chabad around 7:30 PM and they turned us away, asking us to come back in an hour because they were so busy. There were 3 or 4 tour groups from Israel eating there or having ordered out from there. We just went back to the hotel and ate our own food.

Up next: Shibuya and Harijuku


Offline MAJ

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Re: Spring in Beijing and Tokyo
« Reply #7 on: April 08, 2016, 02:13:21 PM »
Leaving Beijing and Arriving in Tokyo

The flight and airport were uneventful, but I was excited to fly ANA as I've never flown them before. I've never seen such a large airportFine experience, except the kosher meal was really horrible. It came from the Chabad of Thailand. I mean, the packaging was nice, but the food was worse than our CX J JFK-HKG flight (Regal). I'll be honest: I'm picky and don't like fish, but my wife does. She tried it and it was inedible, clearly having sat on the shelf for a long time. And then there was this odd looking mushroom dish with some weird looking cheese (except that it was parve) thing going on... I still don't get why kosher airline food has to be so bad  :-[.

shocking, most people myself include have had very good experiences with the food from Chabad. I wonder if it is substantially different for premium classes

Offline yuguy

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Re: Spring in Beijing and Tokyo
« Reply #8 on: April 09, 2016, 08:41:24 PM »
shocking, most people myself include have had very good experiences with the food from Chabad. I wonder if it is substantially different for premium classes

Could be--or just luck of the draw

Offline Emkay

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Re: Spring in Beijing and Tokyo
« Reply #9 on: May 30, 2016, 07:17:35 PM »




Up next: Shibuya and Harijuku
Coming?

Offline Yehoshua

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Re: Spring in Beijing and Tokyo
« Reply #10 on: June 20, 2016, 02:48:17 PM »
Just read what you've written so far. Nice! Looking forward to the rest.