Asia’s Busiest Airport at a Glance

beijing check-in terminals
Beijing airport, busiest in Asia!

For the second year in a row, Beijing Capital International Airport ranked number two in the list of the world’s busiest airports, handling 83.7 million passengers last year and securing its position as the airport with the highest level of flight activity in Asia. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport remains on top with 94.4 million travellers due to it being a major port for domestic flights and a popular connection to destinations in Europe and South America.

Beijing Capital International Airport charges ahead of Tokyo-Haneda (68.9 million) and London Heathrow (72.3 million), UK’s busiest airport and third busiest in Europe overall. Europe’s busy airports list also consists of London’s Gatwick Airport as it continues to expand in various areas from parking options to possibly building a second runway in the near future. Continue reading Asia’s Busiest Airport at a Glance

Mt. Aso and Fukuoka – The Final Leg

Mt. Aso from Aso City
Mt. Aso from Aso City

After a nice relaxing visit at the Omata’s we had one last big stop on our list – hike an active volcano. Mt. Aso, or Aso San, is known for being a temperamental hot spot that has been smoking for years. At its peak, Nakadake crater, there are about 8 inner craters and a small lake of boiling hot, blue water. The crater is off limits but there are zones outside the most toxic spot with a cable car taking visitors to its edge. Unluckily for us, Nakadake was misbehaving as recently as March, causing the closest safe zone (1 KM around the crater) to be closed off. That, combined with super foggy conditions, made our visit to Aso a somewhat disappointing one.

But before leaving the town of Aso however, we got a chance to ride a classical scenic train that wraps around the southern valley of the mountain. Between the quaint towns of Tateno and Takamori, this hour-long “tour” gave us a glimpse at the communities that live so close to this active volcano. Continue reading Mt. Aso and Fukuoka – The Final Leg

Onsen and Hells in Oita

Me and the Sea Hell
Me at the Sea Hell

The Omatas welcomed us into their home as guests and showed us the most amazing hospitality. Having known Jun and Rika for years in China, and also tutored their kids, I had always promised I would visit their neck of the woods in South-Western Japan. Since this was an opportunity to do that I made sure that our itinerary included a visit to Oita and Beppu, the hot springs capital of Japan.

Across Beppu you’ll find white plumes of steam rising from cracks in the Earth. On our only full day together, Jun and Rika brought us to various jigoku or “hells” in Japanese. These hells were far too hot to swim in but we’re beautiful occurrences in nature. The sea hell was blue and the bloody hell was red. Other hells were different colors, including a white one. Continue reading Onsen and Hells in Oita

72 KM on a Ma Ma Chai in 2 Days in Japan

Shimanami Kaido Bike Path
Shimanami Kaido Bike Path

72 kilometers by bike, in 10 hours. This was the middle point of our journey through Japan. Actually, Jake and I had planned on more hiking and biking than we actually did, but this ride was almost more than we had bargained for!

The bike path starts in Hiroshima prefecture, spanning 6 tiny islands and massive suspension bridges, ending in Imabari city on the island of Shikoku. In order to do it all, we rented 2 bikes for 2 days and stayed at a hot spring beach hostel. Covered by orange and lemon groves, Innoshima was probably the most remote of our entire trip. And we sampled the oranges too as we rode through the little towns nestled in these islands. (See a pic below for the entire route.)

With heavy packs on our backs, we still managed to locate the hostel on day one and get a well-deserved hot spring bath to soothe our aching muscles. I honestly don’t know if we could have finished cycling the other 3 islands the next day if we didn’t have that chance for some deep relaxation. Continue reading 72 KM on a Ma Ma Chai in 2 Days in Japan

That Guilty Feeling in Hiroshima

A-Bomb Dome in Spring
A-Bomb Dome in Spring

We all have learned about Hiroshima and Nagasaki at some point in History class. But nothing prepares you for what we were about to experience in this city. As I got off the train in downtown Hiroshima I was a little overcome with sorrow. I had never felt a sense of national guilt before. It must be similar to how Germans recall World War II. And you only know what that’s like when you ’round the corner….. and see it – the Atomic Bomb Dome.

This singular structure, with rubble and bricks left in tact, is a visceral reminder of the devastation the Japanese people suffered at the end of World War II. It represents how hundreds of thousands of lives were changed in an instant. The museum, which was packed on a Tuesday, is raw and very emotional. Tattered clothes, melted skin, fused panes of glass, and stories from survivors made the experience all the more heartbreaking. Continue reading That Guilty Feeling in Hiroshima

The White Heron of Himeji

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Himeji Castle and Jake

Himeji Castle, or the white heron, was first built in the 1500s. It has survived 48 transfers of power (both peaceful and not) as well as a bombing by America. Somehow this amazing structure managed to survive after two duds hit it in World War II. (A footnote a British couple made sure to bring to my attention…)

The morning after we arrived from Yamazaki, we lined up to get tickets to visit the white heron. Since we were there early we were given a special ticket. We would be 2 of the first thousand people to visit the main keep that day! This made the visit so much more worth it and I suggest all who go to Himeji to line up by 8am to seize this rare opportunity. To be honest, the main keep alone was worth the price of admission.  Continue reading The White Heron of Himeji

Nara’s History and Yamazaki’s Whisky

Deer and biscuits
Yummm, biscuits!

You could be forgiven if you thought that we had had enough history lessons after 4 days in Tokyo and Kyoto. But on day 5 we visited Nara, and this was really historical Japan. Only Japan can claim that their first “permanent” national capital was set up in 710 AD. Prior to setting up this ancient capital, says the Lonely Planet guide, Shintoism brought with it the belief that when a new emperor reigned, the capital must also be moved. (Continuing to rule where a past regent died was a bad omen, to say the least.)

In Nara, a park encapsulates the ancient sites of where this first capital was born. The largest Buddha sculpture I have ever seen was on display at the Todai-ji temple. Surrounding it was multiple holy buildings, gates, and pagodas. It was truly a magnificent slice of history that is being proudly preserved for the coming generations to enjoy.

I would be remissed to leave out the most playful and people-friendly wild deer which greet visitors around these historical sites. For $1.50 I got to share “biscuits” with these awesome animals. And when I wasn’t looking, my map got bitten twice! The 1200 deer that romp around the area are a major highlight of this park. I should actually say “town” because they would occasionally walk around the bus stops, enter shops, and pose for photos along the paths.  Continue reading Nara’s History and Yamazaki’s Whisky

Shrines, Gates, and Geishas in Kyoto

Kyoto is home to the largest concentration of UNESCO world heritage sites in Japan. This one city is a treasure trove of temples, shrines, and old palaces. You can walk in any direction and within 5 minutes you will bump into either a small Shinto shrine or a soccer-field sized Buddhist temple. Aside from the historical landmarks and visual smorgasbord on offer, I would have to say that our most memorable experience was where we spent the night – in an old, traditionally built Japanese house that I reserved on Airbnb.

Modernity collided peacefully with past twice that day. The first occurred when we took the Shinkansen train lightening speeds over to this majestic, classically Japanese city. The second was when we (finally) found this anachronism we were to call home for the next couple days.

Continue reading Shrines, Gates, and Geishas in Kyoto

Tokyo by Night – Cousins in Japan

The Narita Express train
The Narita Express

After about 24 hours of domestic and international flying, Jake (my cousin) and I arrived in Narita Airport just before everything closed. Luckily the high you get from descending into a city of lights such as Tokyo gave us the boost we needed to start figuring out how to secure our JR rail passes, exchange money at a bank, and catch the last NEX train to the city. Groggy and half awake, we dragged ourselves threw the turnstiles and into the first of many trains we would ride.

In a flash we arrived in downtown Tokyo. A little video game chime alerted us to the fact that we had made it to the Shinjuku district. But by the time we got off the train we had realized our first setback – Jake’s cell phone had grown legs and went missing… With the jet lag, eyeing our bags, and countless other things to keep track of, it wasn’t hard to imagine that something was going to go wrong at our first destination. We chalked the loss up to bad luck and carried on. Continue reading Tokyo by Night – Cousins in Japan

Ben Returns to Asia (for a quick visit)

2015 is the year I returned to Asia for a brief visit. After leaving China in 2013, and getting myself fairly settled in the Boston area, I felt the need to reconnect with my Asian roots! Although I’ve loved being home and getting re-acclimated, a piece of my previous life was missing… the unexpected adventures, the quirky misunderstandings, and the unbelievable cuisine that you find anywhere in East Asia. So, from April 8-22 I ventured back into the wild – this time it was Japan.

My cousin Jake and I have always talked about backpacking and cycling parts of Japan and that’s exactly what we’ve done. Today I start a series of posts about this trip through Japan from the foot of Mt. Aso, Japan’s largest active volcano. (I’ll get to how badass this place is soon). We’ve taken wrong turns (and very right turns!) across this majestic land, but the one thing that has remained consistent is the friendliness and generosity of the Japanese people. They are without a doubt the masters of hospitality.

In the following posts I’ll take you on a journey across this mysterious and majestic archipelago – where the sun rises first every morning and the stars sparkle brightly every night. We started in Tokyo where the neon lights, funky costumes, and glorious Edo past is still visible. Then we’ll walk among the artifacts of previous realms in Kyoto and dance with deer in Japan’s ancient capital of Nara. After that, we’ll visit Japan’s oldest surviving castle in Himeji where the “white heron” was finished being renovated only 2 weeks before we got there! We’ll sip on fine whiskies at the Yamazaki distillery before taking the bullet train (Shinkansen) to Hiroshima. We’ll step upon ground once too radiated by an atomic bomb for anyone to visit and see the horror of those times through the Peace museum. Not far from there we voyage to Miyajima to visit the most frequently photographed landmark – the great floating Torri. And that’s just the first half of our trip!

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Cousins trek across Japan 2015
Cousins trek across Japan 2015