Asia


Hong Kong
Hong Kong
Ancient cultures meet the 21st century. Nowhere can you find such a dramatic juxtaposition than the two faces of Hong Kong. Old and new perfectly intertwined into a magnificent place. Hong Kong, one of the world's most popular tourist destinations, and a true economic powerhouse, was once just a small fishing village on the edge of the South China Sea. That all changed in the mid-19th Century when the British arrived, turning this quiet, out-of-the-way village into a modern, vibrant and sparkling jewel of a city that still flourishes today. In July of 1997, the British (via a long-standing agreement) officially returned control of Hong Kong to China, and it became a Special Administrative Region (or SAR) of China. In the exchange, China agreed that until 2047, Hong Kong (as is), will enjoy a high degree of autonomy in all matters, except foreign and defense.
Hong Kong, one of the world's most sophisticated cities, offers a cultural diversity and natural beauty second to none. Major tourism magnets include Victoria Peak, "the back of the dragon", the most famous attraction in the City - at Peak tower, the terraces offer spectacular views of the skyline and Victoria Harbor; Ocean Park's marine life, bird aviary and butterfly house; numerous hiking and walking paths; Stanley, and the stunning Tin Hau Temple; the beach at Repulse Bay, and of course the shopping in Kowloon's "Golden Mile." From Hong Kong, short journeys with guided tours into mainland China are easy to arrange.

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Tokyo
Tokyo
Ahh, Tokyo, the neon city in the heartland of the rising sun. Like a vivid dream, it can take you for the wildest of rides – ceasing to grow crazier and weirder only when you decide to hit the brakes yourself.
At first the sheer number of people -- nearly 35 million in the greater metropolitan area -- will bewilder you. But then, as you become lost in the anonymity of it all, you will begin to craft a series inimitable Tokyo moments that will come to define the city on your very own terms.
Will you stroll the high-end shopping boulevards of Ginza and Omote-sando with Tokyo's fashion elite? Shall you let your inner nerd fly to grand new heights of geekery inside one of Akihabara's towering game centers? Nightlife? Not even a question. When the city's rail system stops around midnight, the young night is only beginning to revel. And when you're ready to relax, no matter whether you want to take a solitary stroll, lie in the grass with a book and a beer, or simply watch groups of people doing everything from juggling to reenacting great sword battles, Yoyogi Park will welcome you into its vast green acres.
For a first-time visitor to Asia, Tokyo makes for a wonderfully accessible gateway. It's immaculately clean, incredibly safe for travelers and relatively painless to navigate. North Americans will find Japan remarkably Westernized, yet the sights will be different enough from the norm to keep you excited and engaged.

The city is well networked by the best rail system on Earth. Be prepared to navigate and master the city's web of trains and subways, as riding the rails is the optimum way to travel around. (Avoid taking a taxi unless you're ready to part with a handsome sum of yen.) The service of all trains is so punctual you could set a watch to it. Only available to foreigners who purchase it prior to their arrival in Japan, the Japan Rail Pass allows nearly unlimited use of the entire Japan Railways (JR) network, including the shinkansen bullet trains. While the pass is pricey, it will essentially pay for itself if you ride a bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto and back. So if you're planning to see more of Japan after leaving Tokyo, it's highly advisable to acquire one of these.
If you're staying in Tokyo, forgo the rail pass and just pay as you ride, since sometimes the most direct route to your destination might be found somewhere along the Tokyo Metro, where the Japan Rail Pass is of no use. Buying and preloading a PASMO or Suica card at any rail station will save you any headaches trying to figure out how much to pay to ride a particular line.

Tokyo has been the capital of Japan since the Meiji Restoration in 1868, when the area was known as Edo. Over its history, the city has suffered huge catastrophes inflicted by both man and nature. The Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 killed more than 140,000. Decades later, nearly half of Tokyo was set aflame when the United States heavily bombed the city in 1944 and 1945. But from the ashes of that war grew a powerful new city, first showcased to the world at the 1964 Olympic Games. Power and wealth grew rapidly in Tokyo, and by the 1980's Japan was poised to be the dominant force in the world economy, with Tokyo at its helm.
However, that bubble of prosperity burst, and Japan stayed economically stagnant for the better part of the last two decades. Then on March 11, 2011 the Great Tohoku Earthquake rattled the city to its knees. Japan is powered heavily by nuclear energy, but the crippling of the Fukushima nuclear plants some 125 miles northeast has left the neon city of Tokyo glowing a little less brightly. It's common today to see anti-nuclear protests as well as reports of energy consumption levels broken down by the hour on the metro news. Japan will never be the same, for much of the damage of 3/11 is irreparable. But resilient as ever, Japan lives on. Today traveling to Japan and Tokyo is safe although expensive, but Tokyo is ever wide open and ready to win you over.
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