Travel blog

China 2018 day 7 – Shanghai Disneyland.

I woke up a bit later than anticipated this day, as I think the sting of early mornings and late nights were starting to catch up with me, and as such I missed the hotel breakfast. Waking up at 09.00, I considered whether I wanted to head to Disneyland in light of how tired I actually felt, but the thought of fighting with crowds at Disneyland the next day, which would have been a Saturday, quickly got me out of bed, into the shower, and swiftly onto the Shanghai subway to Disneyland!

There have been some bad reviews of Shanghai Disneyland regarding crowds, but hopefully being on a weekday, and not during the holiday period meant that I wouldn’t have a crowd with which the contend. When I arrived, I was very pleasantly surprised by how… uncrowded it was! Shanghai Disneyland is tipped as the cheapest Disneyland, and with weekday entry at only 399 RMB, I don’t think that assessment is wrong, having now been to all of the Disneylands in the world, bar Florida, which I cannot imagine would be cheaper than the equivalent of 399 RMB.

You can buy your tickets via the Android of iOS app, as well as the Shanghai Disneyland Photopass app, which allows you to have access to Photopass photo services. I believe the Photopass was 199 RMB which allows for unlimited use of the Photopass service for a day, with all photos being downloadable thereafter. You can find more information about the Shanghai Disneyland Photopass here.

The Fantasyland Castle is the Cinderella Castle, which follows a similar design to Florida and Tokyo, leaving Paris with the honour of still being the only Disneyland with a unique castle design, as Hong Kong and Anaheim both have the sleeping beauty castle design. The park is quite big, but one thing which did disappoint me was the fact that there was no It’s A Small World ride!!! Like, WHY?! *sad face*

Although having done the Buzz Lightyear shooting ride at so many Disneylands, I finally managed to get into top tier with my score! Hell yes! Oh, and as well as having a Photopass photo, Shanghai Disneyland’s Buzz Lightyear ride also gives a little animated video to accompany the photo! Yes yes, what did you expect, I saw the flash for other riders in front and decided to pose of the shot haha.

 

I got too distracted by Disney goodness that by the time I realised I hadn’t had lunch, it was already 4pm, and so with only 1 hour to go before the Royal Banquet restaurant at the Cinderella Castle opened, I booked myself a table for 5pm and waited for late lunch / early dinner, which was absolutely divine, although a little on the pricey side. Still, the food was good.

Oh, and it was fun to see the characters wandering around the dining area too. Just a shame that there was no Photopass photographer going along with the characters though, as would have loved to have had some Photopass photos, but still, nothing that the staff can’t help with, taking photos with my own camera too.

The shops on Main Street stock your usual collection of Disney goodies, and pins, with some unique products to Shanghai Disneyland, such as moon cakes (月饼) for Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节), which this year was on the day after I flew back to the UK from Beijing.

China 2018 day 6 – Xi’an to Shanghai (2).

As promised in my first post about day 6 of my China 2018 trip (click here), I have now uploaded photos to share! My McDonald’s breakfast was rather more… conventional for a McD breakfast, with no cheese as a default too!

The journey from Xi’an to Shanghai took around six hours, hurtling across the Chinese countryside from west to east. Although a trolley service was available, I nonetheless decided to have my McD, for I didn’t really know what might have been available on the trolley, although from what I gathered, they have the usual snacks and drinks, as well as warm food.

My evening meal in Shanghai was a bit more… local, although as mentioned, I completely underestimated how much food would be given per portion, and as such I ended up eating too much… again.

I ended up getting a take away box from the hotel restaurant for my rice which was left over. Oh, word of advice: don’t order too much, as a lot of places in China charge for your take away box! Granted it’s only 1 RMB, but still, it’s a good way to ensure less wastage. Having stuffed my face, I decided to take an evening stroll from the hotel down to the Bund, which didn’t take very long at all. A nice 20-minute walk from the hotel to the Bund and I was rewarded with a lovely night skyline of Shanghai.

Okay, so the sight I saw wasn’t exactly like that, as I managed to press something accidentally on Affinity Photo and ended up in tone mapping mode, but the neon look suits the Shanghai skyline very well, I like to think. Like Hong Kong, Shanghai is one of these east meets west, old meets new cities. As well as boasting a beautiful modern skyline, Shanghai also boasts some very old architecture and gardens which I shall show you in later posts.

Photoshop actually kept misbehaving when I was trying to stitch the panoramic together, and so I resorted to another program called Hugin, which is an open source free panoramic stitcher. It’s pretty powerful, actually, and definitely worth a look into if you’re trying to put together a panoramic. You can get Hugin at http://hugin.sourceforge.net.

China 2018 day 6 – Xi’an to Shanghai.

Annoyingly, my hotel in Beijing, as lovely and cute as it is, cannot to WiFi in my room, so I am now making an effort to sit in the bar, where there IS a good WiFi connection, to try and get up to date. So… Xi’an to Shanghai, was it?

I’m so glad that the train which I wanted to book was not available and I had to get a later train, as looking back now, I really did need that couple of hours extra so as to not be rushed / be able to sleep a bit more. The train journey was very relaxing, and for those people who have been asking me why I didn’t take the plane because “plane only takes three hours, but your train takes nearly seven hours”, let me put a comparison into context.

From leaving the hotel, I got to Xi’anbei Station (西安北站) around an hour before my train. My train was at around 08.00, so I got to the station around 07.00. The journey took around 30 minutes including walking to the subway station, as well as the subway journey. I left the hotel around 06.30 getting to the station in good time. If I were to get to Xi’an airport, I would need to spend just over an hour-and-a-half to get to the airport, and then make sure I arrived around two hours before my scheduled flight in order to check in and go through security. Although the actual plane journey may be around three hours, I’ve already added around three-and-a-half hours just to the travelling and waiting time. And that’s not forgetting getting from the airport at the other end back into the city centre, whereas trains tend to be city centre to city centre. Oh, and not to mention that the train is around eight times cheaper!!! Score!

I am ashamed to say that Xi’anbei Station tempted me with yet another McDonald’s breakfast, although this time I went with something more traditional… sausage and egg McMuffin, without the cheese, of course.

There’s not really a lot to say about this day though, as by the time I got to Shanghai and checked in, I actually napped until the evening. I had a quick dinner… where I ordered too much because I didn’t expect the portions to be as big as they were, before heading to the Bund. The Bund is also known as Wàitān (外滩), and it is the western embankment in Shanghai of the Huangpu River (黄浦江). From the Bund, you can have a nice view of the eastern bank of the Huangpu River and the skyline beyond featuring Shanghai’s famous Oriental Pearl Radio and Television Tower (东方明珠塔).

For photos though, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until I get home as I need proper Photoshop for this. As powerful and as much as I am loving Affinity Photo on my iPad Pro, it’s panoramic stitching with RAW doesn’t seem to work that well.

China 2018 day 5 – Xi’an.

Where I was staying in Xi’an is near a street called Shūyuàn mén (书院门). Literally translated, it means the gate of a place of learning. There is a traditional Chinese archway / gateway at one end of the street which is labelled as 書院們, which as you can probably see is a bit different to what I have written above. This is because in China, the script now used is simplified Chinese, whereas on the traditional gateway entrance to Shūyuàn mén, they use the classical traditional Chinese script. Since this post is going to be heavily on culture, I will put the traditional Chinese characters next to the simplified ones so that you can see the differences. Where you only see one set of Chinese characters, it is because the traditional and simplified forms are both the same… not because I’ve forgotten.

If you want anything related to Chinese paintings and calligraphy, this is the place to go in Xi’an. Funnily enough, I had for some reason managed to leave the UK without a pen, and trying to buy a pen in this area is not hard… just not a non-brush pen! We call a brush pen a Máobǐ (毛笔 / 毛筆).

There are artisans in this cultural area peddling their skills, be it traditional Chinese paintings to calligraphy, either on art / calligraphy paper, or painting / writing on paper fans. We call traditional Chinese paintings Guóhuà (国画 / 國畫), which translates literally as national painting. You may see people waiting by different stalls whilst the artisan is at work. Usually these people are awaiting the completion of a commissioned piece of art / writing.

The calligraphy and painting ink has a very distinctive smell, which I really like. Although I wonder if it’s a marmite type thing – you either love it or hate it. I might have to do an experiment / survey when back.

After having a look around, I decided to pick up my tripod from my room and head out towards the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, or Dàyàn tǎ (大雁塔) to snap some night photos. The Pagoda is a Buddhist site situated outside of the walled area of Xi’an, to the south. One of the purposes of the Pagoda is to house figurines of Buddha, and sutras, collected by a 7th century monk, Xuánzàng (玄奘), on his travels to India. His travels to collect sutras from India are the inspiration for one of the great novels in Chinese history called Journey to the West, or Xī yóu jì (西游记 / 西遊記). Although you may not know of the story, you’ll most likely have heard of at least one of the characters in the story, Sūn Wùkōng (孙悟空 / 孫悟空), more commonly known as the Monkey King.

The area around the Pagoda has lots of small stalls, as well as a little hutong style street which is lined with eateries, making for quite a nice photo with all the seating and tables lined up outside the stalls too.

I had my dinner of “dry fried beef river powder”, as the menu states. This is the problem with using online translations for each character individually. What I had was not river powder, but dry fried beef ho fun noodles.

Aside form the dose of Chinglish which I received as a starter, and the beef ho fun noodles, I also had as a side a massive steamed bun. We call steamed buns Mántou (馒头 / 饅頭).

Well, I didn’t actually expect the bun to be as big as it was. It was larger than my fist!!! Steamed buns are very much a staple part of the northern Chinese diet, so who knows why I love steamed buns so much in light of the fact I was born in southern China. Maybe it’s a genetic thing passed through thousands of years since my family would have originally, thousands and thousands of years ago, have come from the Central Plains (中原) area of Zhengzhou (郑州 / 鄭州).

After being contently stuffed, I headed out to the fountains in the Pagoda square and snapped away for some long exposure shots. This shot is quite interesting though because with everything lined up straight, it shows that the Pagoda is actually leaning. Well, here we are then: China’s tourism answer to the Leaning Tower of Pisa!

China 2018 day 4 – Xi’an.

Day four of my China 2018 trip sees me actually heading out of Xi’an to see the Terracotta Warriors (Bīngmǎyǒng / 兵马俑). The Terracotta Warriors are part of the mausoleum complex of Qínshǐhuáng dì (秦始皇帝), or literally translated as the Emperor who started the Qin Dynasty. I say this, but no one actually knows for sure as no one has ever opened the tomb, and the first record of the tomb of the First Emperor appears only in the Han Dynasty around 100 years after his death. But from what records remain, archeologists are nearly certain to be able to say that this is part of the mausoleum complex of Qínshǐhuáng dì.

To save money, you don’t have to join one of these hotel tours that take you to the Terracotta Warriors site. To make your own way there is very cheap indeed. Sure, there may be a dearth of people who can speak English in China, but did you ever wonder why I have been writing down the Chinese for things alongside? So you can copy and paste it into another document and show people, of course!

Anyway, you will need to make your way to Xi’an Railway Station (西安火车站 / 西安站)…

… which is just outside of the northern city wall. You’ll see some signs in English there to help you identify where you need to go to catch the right bus. At the time of writing, it will be the 914, 915, or 306 which depart from the east square in front of the station. I took the 915 and it was only 9 RMB. The journey takes around… actually I don’t know how long it took because I fell asleep both to and from. Oops! Maybe about an hour or so… ish.

Entry fee to see the Terracotta Warriors varies depending on the time of year. I believe from March to November it is 150 RMB, and 120 RMB for other time of the year. Once you get your ticket, go enjoy Chinese history and culture from over 2,000 years ago. Alternatively, you will see some official guides by the ticket office asking you if you need a tour guide. I would actually recommend this, as the guides add a lot more information than what is displayed. The price for the guided tour is 200 RMB, excluding any tips you may wish to leave. This way, you get a whole private tour for only 350 RMB rather than joining some hotel tour group. My guide, Ruby, and I took around 3 hours to go through everything, and Q and As along the way. Defintiely something I would recommend if you are wanting to find out a little more about the exhibits, and the little details which you may miss if you were just reading signage.

Oh, if you see this sign, don’t worry. It’s not about shipping you off somewhere. It’s only a poorly translated exit sign. You may need to know this when you are about to head out of the complex.

Although in English they are called the Terracotta Warriors, translated literally from Chinese, the Bīngmǎyǒng means “Soldier Horse Tomb Figure”, bearing in mind that Chinese don’t really have any identifiers between singular and plural, apart from the context, it translates also as “Soldiers Horses Tomb Figures”. And so this gives you a bit of an idea that you will also see figures of horses within the pits.

You will notice when you enter Pit 1 of the exhibtion / complex that there are lines and lines of soldiers, and then the rest are actually all broken. The fact is the ones which you see standing are the ones which have been painstakingly restored by the team of archeologists. I say painstakingly as you have to remember that the Terracotta Warriors are practically made of the same materials as the earth in which they have been buried for over 2,000 years. Try differentiating between bits of soliders and soil! You will see when you go there that they’re all pretty similar in colour.

It’s also been said that there are no two warriors with the same face. I’m not sure how they worked that out as there are still clearly lots of broken soldiers left to fix, as well as lots more to unearth. But I guess it’s just one of those things which have been passed down to us through the annals of time.

Outside of the complex, there is a market place where you can grab a bite to eat, and to get some water – pretty crucial in the hot months! I had beef noodles (牛肉面) for lunch. The portions out here are a lot bigger than back in the UK, so beware when ordering your food!

I spent the evening back in Xi’an exploring the night markets, and couldn’t resist having another bowl of beef noodles, with some dumplings (小笼包).

With it being nearly Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节), I bought myself a moon cake (月饼) for 8 RMB after dinner. I haven’t had it yet, but will show you all when I finally crack it open.

Ahhh, nearly all caught up with updating you all. Lucky for long train journeys eh, as I am writing the Xi’an updates whilst on the train from Xi’an to Shanghai, which takes about 6 to 7 hours! One more full Xi’an day to cover, and then I’ll be truly up to date. 加油!

China 2018 day 3 – Beijing to Xi’an.

An early rise for day 3, waking up at 04.00, aka stupid o’clock! I had a train to catch at 06.20 from Beijing West Station (北京西站), taking me westwards towards Xi’an North Station (西安北站). I say westwards, it was more southwest towards Zhengzhou (郑州), where my ancestors were from thousands of years ago, and then westwards across what would is known as the Zhongyuan (中原), or translated as the Central Plains, towards Xi’an (西安). Xi Jinping (习近平), the President of China, once commented to students on a visit to America that there are three cities you need to visit to see the history of China. Shanghai (上海) to see the last 100 odd years, Beijing (北京) to see the last 500 or so years, and Xi’an to see the last few thousand years.

I had booked my train tickets in advance via China Highlights (https://www.chinahighlights.com). Train tickets are bookable around a month in advance, so for my trip, I placed my order towards the end of July. Their website seems simple enough to use, and the customer services seems to be pretty responsive from what I’ve experienced. There are other agencies with which you can book train tickets for China, so do shop around, as different companies will offer different pricing structures in terms of their arrangement fees. For example, a quote which I received from the official government backed Chinese tourism office (http://www.cits.net) for my tickets from Beijing to Xi’an, to Shanghai, and then back to Beijing again amounted to over US$400, whereas I paid around US$270 for with China Highlights. When you book your train tickets, you will be given the opportunity to have your ticket(s) delivered to your hotel, or you can pick them up from a train station yourself. I opted for the latter, only because I wanted the experience. When you pick up your ticket(s), it’ll look something like this:

What’s been blacked out on the ticket are my passport number and my name. As I mentioned in my earlier post here, make sure you have your passport number and names exactly in your passport, as you will have trouble collecting your tickets otherwise. They actually do check, and as I said before, I actually saw some other tourists having to buy their tickets again because they ordered their tickets online using the wrong passport number and could not collect them!

You’ll have to learn the Chinese for your destinations, as the train stations do not have signage for the trains and destinatons in English. Make sure you learn the Chinese characters for your destination, and the slight variations in which the characters may be displayed on the electronic screens… or you could just remember your train time and train number I guess. That also works too, if not a little unadventurous and boring haha.

Oh, and it might be a good idea here to remind you to make sure you get to the right station to travel. You can collect your tickets from any station, but obviously you can only travel from the designated station. For example, I collected my tickets from Beijing Station, but travelled from Beijing West Station.

As with the subway, you will have to go through airport style security with bags through the x-ray machine, and going through the metal detector arch. Oh, and you’ll have to speak to someone to get into the station, as you can only get in to the station through the barriers if you have a valid ticket and a Chinese ID card. Show your valid ticket with your passport to the staff at the gate line and they’ll let you in if your papers check out.

As I mentioned above, there are no English signs as to where your train is going, so match up the characters, or the train number, or the time of departure… or all of the above. Once you have found out from where your train is departing / the waiting area, it’s just waiting for the gates to open. It’s pretty much like waiting for a plane, to be honest.

There are some announcements in English on the train, the station announcements are anything but English. So learn Mandarin… or just watch and see what people are doing, and then follow.

It’s a good idea to get to the station early since the waiting areas can fill up very quickly, and it gives you that extra time to have breakfast, check out the signs to make sure you’re in the right place, re-reading signs because Chinglish (I saw a sign for the porter service translated as “baggage lugging service”).

So, breakfast. You can have a number of things. There are hot water points in the station, as well as shops and stalls which sell instand noodles. Put the two and two together and you get a very East Asian breakfast… or you could go for this.

Yes, I know, I know. I have travelled over 5,000 miles and I’m having McDonald’s… or more like McDonald’s turned KFC. I decided to give the usual breakfast items a skip and try something more adventurous. Next time though, I’m going back to the usual breakfast items. Not saying the grilled chicken sandwich wasn’t bad, but it was a bit heavy for the morning (as if a Double Sausage McMuffin isn’t?!).

I arrived in Xi’an just past 11.00, and headed towards my hotel, which is situated right by the southern wall of Xi’an, a nice simple journey from the train station to the southern gate of Xi’an on one subway line, and then just a short walk away. I opted for something more old school this time and stayed in a courtyard hotel, in a room with a kang (炕), which is a very old form of bed which takes up more space than a modern bed. You would do pretty much everything from sleeping, to general day things on the kang.

It was around midday when I checked in, and I stayed in the room for a bit enjoying the air conditioning before heading out a little later in the afternoon. Although Xi’an can be hot, the heat is not a problem as it’s generally a dry heat, which makes it more comfortable than humid hot weather. A nice breeze also helps.

I headed up onto the city wall. I believe Xi’an has the only fully preserved ancient city wall (城墙) left in China, if not one of the best preserved. A wall was first built in the 14th Century during the Ming Dynasty, and the wall you can see today is pretty mu dates to the Qing Dynasty, obviously with ongoing restoration and maintenance since then.

Entry fee to the wall itself cost 54 RMB, and you can even walk around the whole city along the wall if you wanted. It is quite a view you get from atop the city wall, as you can really get the sense of old meeting new, where from the Qing Dynasty ramparts you can see the modern skyscrapers and lights of Xi’an city.

As well as the old city walls, Xi’an also has its bell and drum towers in tact. The bell and drum towers acted as the official clock of the city. The bell of the bell tower (钟楼) would sound at dawn, and the drum in the drum tower (鼓楼) sounded at sunset to signal the end of the day. At night, the bell and drum towers are lit up by bright lights.

Dinner was hosted by a dumplings restaurant in between the bell and drum towers of Xi’an. The shuijiao (水饺), as they are called in Mandarin, have a bit of a sour taste to them, but are absolutely delicious. Xi’an is rather famous for its dumplings, and so if you head to Xi’an, do make sure you try the dumplings.

I remeber a joke my aunt once told me about dumplings, and why it’s so important to make sure you ask properly. If you want to ask how much is a bowl of dumplings in Mandarin, you can ask by saying “Yī wǎn shuǐjiǎo duōshǎo qián?” (一碗水饺多少钱?). Change the intonation slightly to “Yī wǎn shuìjiào duōshǎo qián?” (一晚睡觉多少钱?) and you’ll end up asking the person you’re speaking to how much it would be to sleep with them for a night. Tonal languages are all fun and games haha.

China 2018 day 2 – Beijing.

Day two started off according to plan as I managed to get up at 4am with a view to heading to Tian’anmen Square to see the dawn flag raising ceremony at 05.49. I left the hotel with my 28-75mm mounted, and the 50mm and 70-300mm in my bag just in case. I headed up to Zhengyangmen, or more commonly called Qianmen, which is the name of the subway station nearby. Qianmen (前门) literally translates to “Front Gate”. And that was where the planed activity for the early morning of day two ends, as I was faced with the prospect of massive queues already forming to enter Tian’anmen Square, not to mention to throngs of other tour groups heading towards the Square.

Not all was lost though as I managed to see staff members of the little cafés making pastry and cooking the… I don’t even know what they’re called in English. In Chinese, we call them yóutiáo (油条). They’re usually used to accompany congee. Think like soup and croutons. The yóutiáo would be like the croutons, and the congee the soup. Google Translate wants to call them “fritters”.

After watching them cook the “fritters” fresh, I popped in for a dash of breakfast. My breakfast consisted of 10 meat dumplings with a big bowl of soy milk, which cost only 15 RMB! These meant dumplings are called xiaolongbao (小笼包), and the soy milk is called doujiang (豆酱).

I decided to take it a little easy as it was my last day in Beijing before heading out to Xi’an, and with another week left in Beijing at the tail end of my trip, i didnt particularly want to overdo things, so after a little post-breakfast nap, I headed out to look at the shopping areas around Qianmen Dajie and Wangfujing. Connecting Meishi Street (where my hotel was) and Qianmen Dajie are little side streets known as hutong (胡同), which is an alleyway like old-styled traditional street. These hutong alleyways can be residential, or some are more commercial, and gives you a sense of the old city.

Walking from Qianmen Dajie to Wangfujing was a sorely underestimated affair (yes, sorely as my back did start to ache a little), as the difference in distance between one subway station to another seems a lot longer than in London. Plus being near Tian’anmen Square meant that there were security checks along the way too. That’s not to say the walk was overly difficult, but just took a lot longer than I had initially expected.

Wangfujing is a well-known shopping area of Beijing, with designer malls and other shops of Chinese big brands, like Li Ning. Oh, and I found a little taste of home in the form of Hamleys, and model soldiers outside.

There is also a hutong-like area which is basically the Wangfujing food court. It’s called the Wangfujing Xiaochijie (王府井小吃街), translating to Wangfujing Snack Street. Although if you’re faint of heart and a little screaming about bugs and insects, and eating them, don’t go there.

The snack area also contains a little street with people peddling their wares too. I sa an interesting little stall selling traditional Chinese instruments like the Xun (埙) or the Dizi (笛子). The Xun is basically a Chinese ocarina, and the Dizi is a Chinese flute. It was a nice touch to see the seller dressed in period clothing selling traditional instruments. It certainly made for a nice pairing when matched with the hutong area in which he was selling.

Dinner that day did not consist of any bugs, or animals for that matter. I had some sweet corn soup and Yangzhou fried rice. The sweetcor soup is called yumi geng (玉米羹) and the Yangzhou fried rice in Mandarin is Yangzhou Chaofan (扬州炒饭). Oh how much I’m going to miss the food here.

For dessert, I popped by a little bakery making fresh egg tarts (蛋挞). Oh what a shame they only seemed to sell them by the ha,f dozen… I may have scoffed all of them… maybe. =P

im just going to give up on the dieting right now lol.

China 2018 day 1 – Beijing.

My flight was a little delayed when leaving Heathrow, and arrived in Beijing PEK a little later than expected, although that wasn’t a problem for me as I had no schedule to keep in any event. Annoyingly, the #ViewFromTheFlightDeck app wasn’t working for the pilots, but they did let me sit in the Captain’s seat in the flight deck for a pic on my phone, which was pretty nice.

If you are not a Chinese national, you will need to fill in a landing card, and you may be required to provide fingerprints via the automatic fingerprint readers just before getting to the immigration counters.

At the airport, I also picked up my local SIM card. The SIM which I got was the “Wonderful Card” from China Mobile which gives you 10GB of data for 15 days’ use for 120 RMB. Included in that is 20 RMB’s worth of airtime, at a rate of 0.19 RMB per minute. Of course, the usual disclaimer applies in that there are other SIM cards and tariffs avaialable, but I am only mentioning the Wonderful Card option from China Mobile as that is the one I bought.

From Beijing Capital International Airport, it is very easy (and cheap) to get to downtown Beijing. The Airport Express train to downtown Beijing costs only 25 RMB. The Airport Express gets you to Dongzhimen Station (东直门站), and from there you can change to other subway lines. I would recommend getting an Yikatong (一卡通), which is basically the Beijing version of the Oyster Card for London, Octopus Card for Hong Kong, and Suica Card for Japan (this one is NOT named after marine life, nor is marine life it’s logo!). If you don’t want to have a separate card, you can add the Yikatong to your Apple Pay when in Beijing. I prefer having a physical card though, because let’s face it, the batteries on iPhones always seem to do when you don’t want them to the most!

By the time I managed to get to my hotel near Qianmen Dajie (前门大街), it was pretty hot as it was just past 13.00, and so I decided to stay in doors for a bit, and make a list of what foods I wanted to have whilst in China. Although the list seemed to consist only of Peking Duck (北京烤鸭).

I finally headed out for a walkabout at around 15.00ish, and boy was it busy. But being a weekend in the capital city of the world’s most populous country, that is to be expected. First thing I did when out was to head to the nearest train station so I could pick up my tickets for my train journeys to Xi’an, Shanghai, and back to Beijing. You don’t have to pick up from the train station from which you are travelling. I will be travelling from Beijing West to Xi’an, but picked up all my tickets at Beijing Station. Oh just a hint, MAKE SURE if you are pre-ordering tickets online before travelling to China you provide all the correct details, including the name as is written in your passport, and the correct passport number. I saw a group of German girls in front of me in the queue, one of whom had provided the wrong passport number when ordering, and so could not actually collect her tickets, and had to buy new ones.

From Beijing Railway Station, I decided to head over to Tian’anmen Square to see the building and the Square at night. Speaking of subway, be aware that you will have to pass through a metal detector and bags have to be scanned in an x-ray machine every time you enter a subway station. Also, getting into the area around Tian’anmen requires you to go through the same kind of security, as well as an ID check too, so make sure you have your passports ready.

The viewi is pretty breathtaking when you get there, and the night illumination adds a certain je ne sais quoi to the already breathtaking environment. Surprisingly though, I absolutely felt no inspiration to take photos of the area. I almost wonder if it is because it’s such an iconic scene that everyone has done it etc. There were so many people who had gone to take photos at night that it felt a little like “everyone’s getting that same shot of the building and the square”, although that was when I got inspired: take photos of people taking photos! It’s a tried and tested formula that can work really well. Plus, I thought it would exemplify the East Asian feel to the shot, since across the world, East Asians are oft stereotyped as always taking photos, be it selfies, of each other, or food (I don’t really do the selfie thing that much, but food shots, hell yes!).

I think I was using my 28-75mm for this shot, locked at 28mm and not touching the zoom ring at all.

Walking back from Tian’anmen back to the hotel near Qianmen Dajie, I managed to find this wonderful scene of an underpass which was entirely empty save for a street seller peddling his wares… to no one (at that time – there were people using that underpass, but I just happened to snap a shot of it when it was completely empty).

On the way back from Tian’anmen towards the hotel, I stopped by a restaurant to tick off the only item on my “must eat” list so far: Peking Duck! Oh how I do miss the taste of authentic and proper Peking Duck. That aromatic duck rubbish you get in the UK has nothing on real Chinese food!

After finishing off the duck, I went to the hotel to grab my tripod to get some night photos done, hoping that the streets will be emptier than during the day. I stayed out rather later than expected in the end. There is a side street which connects Qianmen Dajie to Meishi Street (煤市街), where my hotel is, which hides a nice little alley with East Asian styled gateways one after another.

Carry on past this alleyway and you get to Qianmen Dajie, which looks very imposing with the Zhengyangmen (正阳门) at the end of the street.

By the time I managed to finish setting up the shot of Qianmen Dajie, it was well past midnight, and so I slowly dragged myself back to the hotel and sleep, with a view to get up at 4am to try and get to see the dawn flag raising ceremony. Oh how plans never work out lol.

Good bye, UK. Off to China I go (2018).

This is a bit late in coming, so I apologise. If you’re here to catch up with me, you’ve probably already seen some new photos which have been posted already. For those of you know know me, you probably guessed that I was in the office until the very last minute possible before my flight. I made it in time though, just about… again, as usual. Why change the habit of a lifetime, right?

Although to be honest, I was a little worried as by the time I left the office, it was just past midday, and I still needed to go pick up my camera from Jessops, which I had left for sensor cleaning before my trip.

I am so glad that there’s a certain train called the Heathrow Express which gets to Heathrow from London Paddington in 15 minues, rather than the hour-and-a-half trip, or something like that, on the Piccadilly Line!

I headed into the departure section of T5 by the north entrance, and you are greeted by a rather nice curved check-in counter, above which is a banner which announces you have now arrived at the home of British Airways at Heathrow.

The terminal is pretty nice and airy, with the big windows giving a sense of extra space, as well as letting in a lot of natural light. Oh, and it allows you to look at planes too. Having said that, I think British Airways could do with more check-in staff. Lucky Carluccio’s was quite easy to find, and I managed to grab myself a very last minute late lunch there to fulfil a Twitter promise to the social medial teams at both Heathrow  and Carluccio’s by showing off a snap of my lunch. I would link you guys to the thread of tweet with a promise made from months ago, but as I am currently behind the Great Firewall of China, I am unable to load up Twitter, but you can see the photo in question instead, below.

Flying out from gate B47 was rubbish because you can’t really see the plane properly due to the jetway, but I guess even then it’s better than not seeing the sleek bird pre-flight at all.

The flight was pretty non-eventful save for the odd bit of turbulence. Oh, meal time was very interesting. The British Airways website says that the meal options suitable for those who are allergic to dairy are their “low lactose” or “vegan options”. So when I thought I had forgotten to book my meal the day before my flight, I called customer services to be shut down by the first person I spoke to saying I was too late as I needed to order meals more than 48 hours before my flight (no, they are wrong – it’s 24 hours), and who just flatly refused to help me.

By the time I managed to speak to someone else, after waiting and having wasted my time with the first customer services advisor, I was now just under 24 hours before my flight. I was then told that although I had actually booked my meal, and despite what was said on the website, the “low lactose” meal option is actually not suitable for those who are allergic to dairy as it may contain dairy products. By then I was just thoroughly confused and annoyed, and was then told to speak to my cabin crew instead.

When I got on board, and when it was chow time, I was given my “low lactose” meal. I explained. To the cabin crew who was serving me what I was told by customer services, and asked if she knew it was dairy free for sure, which she confirmed it was. Oh… save for the butter which they gave me… yeah, don’t ask. Not even sure what to say anymore!

Breakfast got even better as the breakfast I was served has a pastry, with milk as an ingredient, and a sachet of milk for tea and / or coffee too.  I asked the lovely cabin crew about this, and she apologised… my breakfast ended up being just some grapefruit, orange juice, and a cereal bar, with a little sachet of soy milk for my tea and / or coffee… whilst everyone else had a hot meal choice.

I’m not actually sure what was meant to have happened, but I’m pretty sure I’m meant to have had more than a cereal bar for my breakfast… surely.

At least I managed to get a snap of a gorgeous sunrise somewhere over Russia though, which made me temporarily forget all my food woes on board… clearly not forgetful enough about it to have not written my rant above lol.

 

A Jet-setting Guide: Japan – The Pasmo and Suica cards.

Having talked about the Japan Rail pass in a previous post, I wanted to touch upon other public transport tickets which you can get to make your journey around Japan more convenient. Hong Kong has the Octopus card (八達通), London has the Oyster card, Japan as the Pasmo (パスモ) and Suica (スイカ) cards. I almost wonder if there’s a marine life theme to these cards, with the logo of the Suica card being a penguin.

The Japan Rail Pass works only on JR lines. So travelling around Tokyo is perfectly doable with the Japan Rail Pass if you’re going to be travelling along the Chūō-Sōbu Line (中央・総武緩行線), the Keihin-Tōhoku Line (京浜東北線), or the Yamanote Line (山手線). I am lucky enough to be have stayed, and will again be staying when I next go to Tokyo, in a guesthouse which is a couple of minutes’ walk from Asakusabashi Station (浅草橋駅), which is only one stop away from Akihabara Station (秋葉原駅) on the Chūō-Sōbu Line.

There are, however, plenty of other private metro lines in just Tokyo alone which does not allow the use of the Japan Rail Pass. To get around, get a Pasmo and a Suica card. Although both do the same thing, if you are planning to travel around Japan, you will notice that certain cities take both, where as some only take one or the other. For example, Tokyo seems to generally accept both Pasmo and Suica for travelling around, but Osaka only seems to accept the Pasmo. I would suggest buying both, and then top them up as you go along, pretty much like the pay-as-you-go Octopus card in Hong Kong, or the pay-as-you-go way of using an Oyster card in London.

The additional brilliant thing which you can do with a Suica card (and the Octopus card in Hong Kong) is that you can use the Suica card to pay for your shopping in certain shops! If you’re more familiar with a London setting, it’ll be comparable to your everyday contactless payment credit or debit card, except you have to top up.

Luckily, there is actually a wealth of information coming from official channels about the Suica and Pasmo cards. The JR East website has a page dedicated to the Suica card, which is an excellent guide to the Suica card. Click here for the dedicated JR East Suica card website. Equally, the Pasmo card website is a wealth of information on the Pasmo card, which you can find here.

Pasmo has a nice PDF guide on everything you need to know about the Pasmo here. Suica also has a PDF guide, which you can find here, but also do have a look at the video below from the Suica card’s website which gives a nice and simply overview of the Suica card.

A Jet-setting Guide: Japan – An introduction to maid cafés.

A massive part of Japanese Otaku culture is of course the famous maid cafés of Akihabara. So who better to help me with an explanation of maid cafés than Maids Of England‘s very own Maid Miyuu!

© MOE.

Maids Of England, or MOE for short, is a fusion English-Japanese style maid café. They have a pop-up café based in London, and have regular events. To keep up to date with upcoming MOE events, have a look at their website, the MOE Facebook page, or check out the MOE Twitter feed. They also have fun videos of what the maids and butlers are getting up to on their YouTube channel!

So let’s not keep Maid Miyuu waiting any longer, and find out what she can tell us about maid cafés!

Maid Miyuu. © MOE.
Hi there! Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to have a quick chat with me about maid cafés! Would you mind telling us a bit about yourself?

Model number MOE07, Miyuu is a maid type android created especially for MOE on an order basis to serve at the café to assist the other maids and butlers!

What kind of things do you do as a maid for MOE, and what do you enjoy about being a Maid?

Miyuu serves Goshujinsama and Ojousama when they return home. Also we sometimes perform at anime conventions, and Japanese events! The thing Miyuu likes most about being a maid is being able to serve lots of different Goshujinsama and Ojousama, and being able to meet them and talk to them!

There are still a lot of people who don’t understand the concept of maid cafés. How would you describe a maid café to get people to visit one for their first time?

A maid café is a place you can go where you will be treated like a lord or lady of the manor by maids and butlers who will serve you cute food and drinks, and you can play games with them, and take souvenir instant photos (cheki / チェキ).

Are there any rules which your new Goshujinsamas and Ojousamas need to know about?

Make sure you listen carefully to the rules the doorman tells you!

Do you have any tips for first time Goshujinsamas and Ojousamas to make the most of their maid café debut?

Remember to keep an open mind and have fun!

I read that MOE are having their 7th anniversary this year. What events are there to celebrate this, and are you excited?

We are having a café event and also a concert to celebrate our 7th birthday! I’m very exited for them, it should be super fun!

Speaking of the concert, I saw on the MOE online store that there are LED penlights for sale to be collected at the concert. Why is this?

In Japan, it is customary to have light sticks at concerts to be able to cheer on your favourite idols! Wotagei (ヲタ芸) is done with the light sticks too, which we hope to see some of at the concert!

You mention wotagei. Could you briefly explain what is wotagei, please?

Wotagei means a wota’s talent, and usually refers to the cheer chants wotas do to support their oshi idols!

So, which MOE events would you recommend for someone who might want to get a feel of the maid cafés of Akihabara in Japan?

The anniversary café event would be the best to get an experience of Japanese maid cafés.

I think our time together is coming to an end now as you have all that preparation left to do. Do you have any parting thoughts you’d like to leave to the readers?

All the maids and butlers at MOE (especially Miyuu lol) hope to see new Goshujinsamas and Ojousamas return home for the first time soon, so don’t keep us waiting too long, okay!

The maids and butlers of MOE. © MOE.

Thank you so much to MOE, and Maid Miyuu for taking time out of their busy preparation period to have a chat to me and give that interview. Go and check out the MOE website and their various social media platforms and find out more about their upcoming events.

For tickets to MOE events, visit their online store where you can buy tickets to their 7th anniversary café event on 8 July 2018, and their 7th anniversary concert on 11 August 2018. There are other goodies which you can buy too like keychains and patches. Oh, and don’t forget to pick up a couple of light sticks from the MOE online store too, so you can join in to wotagei!

I’m very much looking forward to all their 7th anniversary events. Light sticks at the ready for some wotagei!

A Jet-setting Guide: Japan – Japan Rail Pass.

For most people, a visit to Japan isn’t going to happen very frequently, and it’s likely that the itinerary is likely to be filled with visits to a few different cities, such as Tokyo (東京), Kyoto (京都), Osaka (大阪), Hiroshima (広島)… the list can go on. There are of course internal flights which you can take. For example, you can fly from either Haneda Airport (HND / RJTT) or Narita Airport (NRT / RJAA) to Kansai International Airport (KIX / RJBB), which will get you to Osaka and Kyoto. Flight time from the Tokyo airports to Kansai International Airport is around one-and-a-half hours.

Alternatively, I prefer travelling by Shinkansen (新幹線), Japan’s high speed bullet train. The train journey is around three-and-a-half hours, but the benefit of travelling by train is that you can travel from city centre to city centre, and you don’t have to check-in. All-in-all, your travel time by train or by internal flights should be pretty similar.

A benefit of travelling by train, though, is that you can buy a rail pass which covers JR lines in either certain areas of Japan, or the whole of Japan. The whole Japan rail pass costs around £200 for seven days, which is around the same as one return trip from Tokyo to Kyoto / Osaka. Plus on the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto / Osaka and vice versa, you can get quite a nice view of Mount Fuji (富士山).

You can buy your Japan Rail Pass before you leave for Japan. I bought mine from Japan Experience in London, as I happened to be passing by their office in Bloomsbury, and so simply popped in to pick it up.

You will be given (or sent, depending on your delivery option) an exchange voucher which looks something like this:

DO NOT LOSE THIS VOUCHER!

I would recommend that this go with you in your carry on bag, as you will need easy access to this voucher when you arrive in Japan. I exchanged my voucher for my actual Japan Rail Pass at Narita airport when I arrived. Your rail pass will look something like this:

As you can see, you will be required to fill in your name, nationality, and passport number. So make sure you have this along with your passport when you are travelling in case your ID is checked. Granted I was never asked for ID when I travelled, but sod’s law it’ll be you that’s checked when you don’t have your ID with you.

You can choose a rail pass for seven, 14, or 21 days. The prices are ¥29,110, ¥46,390, and ¥59,350 respectively. At the time of writing, this converts to around £198.06 / US$262.97, £315.64 / US$419.08, and £403.79 / US$536.13 respectively. You don’t have to start your rail pass on the day of collection, but you can nominate a day for this. I started mine a day after my arrival in Japan, purely because when I arrived, it was already past 17.00 or 18.00. Although I shall see how I feel, as I believe for my next trip, I will be arriving at something like 07.30 (I just checked… scheduled arrival is going to be at 07.35)!

When you look up your rail pass options, you may notice there is an option for what’s called a green rail pass. Unless you really want to waste money, I wouldn’t bother with this option. The green rail pass allows you to travel by first class. The prices for the seven, 14, and 21 days green rail pass are ¥38,880, ¥62,950, and ¥81,870 respectively. At the time of writing, this converts to £264.58 / US$351.23, £428.35 / US$568.67, and £557.12 / US$739.59 respectively.

The price difference is quite big, but having seen both first class and standard class travel in Japan, I am not convinced that the difference in price is worth the difference in experience. Standard class travel on the Shinkansen is pretty spacious already (although bear in mind I am a vertically challenged East Asian at 5ft 4in lol). And if you think that you’d prefer to travel first class because it’ll be quieter, don’t worry, it’s considered rude to be noisy or speak on your mobile phone on trains, even in standard class, so you won’t need first class travel to have a quiet journey.

So, how to use your rail pass if you have one? Instead of going through the barriers, each JR station will have a staffed window / counter to the side of the barriers. You show your pass to the staff, who will check it, and wave you on your way.

With the rail pass you can also get free seat reservations on journeys which have reservations available. If you are travelling on the Shinkansen, there will be coaches for reserved seats, as well as coaches specifically for non-reserved seating. Reserving seats just give you that piece of mind. Plus, you get cool stamps on your rail pass from the different stations where you made the reservation. If you have a look at the photo above of my rail pass (the side with the personal details), you can see at the bottom various stamps from the different stations at which I have made seat reservations before. You will also be given a seat reservation ticket with your seat number.

What I love about rail travel in Japan is just the sheer efficiency, timeliness (I mean, this is a country where train companies have to issue a national public apology for their trains leaving 20 seconds EARLY! See this article from BBC News, as well as this one also courtesy of BBC News), and watching the mesmerising point and call procedure which is carried out by Japanese railway staff to ensure the safe running of the railway. It is really an impressive sight to behold.

Having done the whole train travel last time I was in Japan, I would totally do it again!

A Jet-setting Guide: Packing your luggage.

So it’s almost time for that holiday, and an empty suitcase is staring at you. It’s rather daunting, isn’t it? Don’t worry, I still get that uneasy feeling every time I pack, especially when I look at an empty suitcase. But hopefully these tips will help you work out what you need to do.

I would also begin with double checking the luggage allowances and policies for your particular flight. Even if you have flown with a certain airline before, you should still check because policies can change frequently. As well as checking size and weight allowance, also check if there are any newly listed prohibited items. For example, it was only recently that the UK banned some electronic items on flights from certain countries. So do double check what you are or aren’t allowed to put in your baggage before you start packing. Otherwise it’ll get very annoying to have to unpack and repack in the middle of the airport!

Check the weather for where you are going and work out what would be the appropriate kind of clothing to wear for your trip. Then work out how many days you for which you need to pack. Don’t forget that even if you are going for, say, two weeks you may not actually need to pack for the whole two weeks as you may have the opportunity to do some laundry. Check on maps, check online reviews, or even ask the staff at the accommodation where you are staying.

Once you’ve worked our what kind of clothing you need, and for how many days you need to pack, make a list! List items logically so it’s easier for you to pack. What I would do is list clothing first by categories: so nightwear, day wear, underwear, socks, jackets, etc, etc.  Then move on to other categories of things which you will need, for example toiletries, towels, medication (it is very important to check whether the country to which you are going consider your medication as a banned item, and also make sure  that if you can bring your medication that you pack enough for your trip), and most importantly do not forget those chargers for phones, computers, and all your electronic gadgets. To go on the list with chargers, make sure you check whether you need any kind of plug converters for the country where you will be going. Hint: if you are going to Japan, you will need plug converters. Visit this link for a website which lists plug types used by countries arranged in alphabetical order, so you may find this helpful as a starting research point.

With your list sorted out, let us begin packing. Contrary to what most people think: don’t fold your clothes! To save space, roll them up tightly. Of course, there are items which you probably do not want to roll up, for example if you need to pack a suit with you, but for general things like t-shirts, and most casual wear, roll them. You can fit more into your suitcase that way, which means you have more space for bringing back shopping, or you can just bring a smaller suitcase.

Now that you’ve sorted out your main suitcase, time to sort our what you are going to be bringing on board your flight. I prefer packing very light for my cabin bag because I don’t want to be lugging around a really heavy bag of stuff I will not be needing. Plus, the more things you have with you, the more things you may end up accidentally leaving behind. I tend to also shove anything that I will have on my person into my cabin bag as I don’t need to do the whole frantically emptying pockets thing when I go through security at the airport: my cabin bag goes into the scanner and that’s it.

This is what you can usually find in my cabin bag:

• Medication which I need with me at all times;
• Passport;
• Wallet (with home and foreign currency);
• Phone;
• Phone charger; and
• Maybe a portable gaming device, or a book in the alternative.

I may sometimes bring my camera rucksack, which has my DSLR and lenses in the bottom of the rucksack, with everything else that I need in the top section of the rucksack. I always bring one of those phone chargers that has a plug section, and a detachable USB cable, as some flights will have an actual plug for you to charge with, whereas others will only have a USB slot at the seat.

Depending on the airline policy, I might also bring my laptop into the cabin with me, although usually I just put this in between my rolls of clothing as padding and ship it in the hold.

I have seen some people bring carry on bags stuffed with things which they might want on the flight, but I personally think it is rather pointless. Well, at least for me, as I seem to be able to pass out and fall asleep on most my long-haul flights. Or if I wake up, there is always so much in-flight entertainment from which to choose that I don’t feel I ever need to pack things just in case I need them. Just stick with the bare essentials for your carry on bag would be my tip.

And like Father Christmas, make that list and check it twice to make sure you have everything you need.

A Jet-setting Guide: Japan – Basic food etiquette.

I first need to give a massive thank you to Nami and Hiro of Nécco, a Japanese café bar in London, for helping me with some of the ideas in this post. Nécco is a trendy, cute, and friendly Japanese café bar on Exmouth Market, just off Rosebery Avenue, in Central London. Do give them a visit at 52-54 Exmouth Market, London, EC1R 4QE, and savour their freshly made Japanese food, and sample their delightful cakes. For more information, visit Nécco’s website. Also visit Nécco’s Instagram and Twitter feed for mouth-watering photos of a sample of the amazing food served at Nécco!

Now then, as we all know, Japanese culture is steeped in ritual and formalities, and their approach to food is no different. The Japanese attitude to food is one of respect, and this is illustrated by the saying of itadakimasu (頂きます / いただきます) before eating. Itadakamasu translates roughly to “I gratefully receive“. This saying derives from Buddhist traditions of respecting life, including plants and animals, which have contributed to the meal you are about to eat. A book called the Koukou Michibiki Gusa (孝行導草 / こうこうみちびきぐさ) was published in 1812. This book was an etiquette guide for daily life, and one of the passages contained therein is as follows:

箸(はし) 取(と)ら ば、 天地(あめつち) 御代(みよ) の 御恵(おんめぐ)み、 主君(しゅくん) や 親(おや) の 御恩(ごおん) あぢわゑ

This translates roughly as “When you grab chopsticks, you should give thanks to all nature and living things, the Emperor, and your parents“. In going with the spirit of being thankful for food, it is customary to say Gochisousamadeshita (ご馳走様でした / ごちそうさまでした) after a meal. This is a way of thanking those who prepared, cooked, and served the food.

In line with the idea of reverence and respect to food, some commentators have noted that this may be a major factor in why it is generally frowned upon to eat whilst on the move, as it is considered to be too casual, and thus disrespectful to the food. Others note that there may be a practical reason for this, namely wanting to avoid dropping food in public, or onto other people. Of course there are always exceptions to the rule, but in general, whatever the reason behind this social rule, it is probably better to play it safe than inadvertently be rude. As the saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do“, or I suppose in this case it’s “When in Japan, do as the Japanese do“.

Japanese culture has a lot of other food etiquette rules which need to be remembered. The team at Nécco have put together the following video to help with Japanese table manners (posted at the end of this post), but I have summarised the key points also in case you are reading this on the move and need a quick reference.

DOs

It is okay to lift you bowl of rice or soup to your mouth to eat or drink in order to avoid bending down towards your food;

You can lift your donburi (丼), a bowl of rice with other food served on top of the rice, as this is considered a rice dish, and also not a formal dish;

You can (and should) slurp your noodles;

If your noodles come with broth / soup, you can lift the bowl to your mouth to finish the broth / soup.

DON’Ts

Do not stand your chopsticks into rice as this looks like putting incense into an incense urn, which is a customary act of respect for the dead;

Do not skewer your food with your chopsticks, as this is disrespectful to the food;

Do not lay your chopsticks across a bowl, or rest them on a plate. Instead, use the fancy chopstick rests. In the absence of chopstick rests, just leave them on the side;

Do not use your chopsticks to move the crockery;

Do not lick your chopsticks as if eating with more than just one person dishes are usually shared, without serving cutlery;

Do not pass food from chopsticks to chopstick.

There are a lot of rules and formalities, which obviously cannot all be covered here, but if you have time, casually observe what other people are doing in any given food setting. You can’t go much by doing the same. Alternatively, if it is grossly wrong, at least you won’t be the only one going wrong.

A Jet-setting Guide: Finding accommodation.

With the expansion of access to the internet, it’s very easy to search for information, including accommodation. Although on the flip side is that with the expansion of access to the internet, it’s also becoming increasingly hard to sift through the amount of information available. This sadly also applies to searching for accommodation.

As I mentioned in the Looking for flights post, you can find accommodation alongside your flight on various websites now, but what if you’re like me and want to find accommodation yourself? There are more than a few options available to you.

There are a number of sites which I tend to use to start my search for accommodation. The usual suspects are Hotels.com, Bookings.com, Agoda, etc, etc. If you collect Avios air miles like I do, then all three of the sites which I have mentioned will allow you to add to your Avios balance when booking through them. You can find a wide range of accommodation on those websites from hostels, to guesthouses, to hotels.

I wouldn’t necessarily say one is better than the other, and of course, there are plenty more out there, which you can find by simply searching for hotel comparison sites on a search engine.

As with flights, do go through a few sites because the same hotel for the same period for the same kind of room are all, for some reason, priced differently. For example, the guesthouse and the room type where I have booked in for my trip to Japan in March 2019 was priced at around £250 on Agoda, but on Hotels.com at just under £200. Whereas my accommodation for China in September 2018 was cheaper on Agoda than on Hotels.com.

When you check prices, do make sure what rates the sites are giving you. Some websites will give you the average rate per night, whereas some websites will give you the price for the entire stay. Make sure you know what rates you are looking at in order to make a correct and fair comparison.

Make sure you check the small prints though, as some hotels require you to leave a cash deposit with them for the duration of your stay. The websites usually will have something which mentions this, but failing that, it’s always good to look up reviews on Tripadvisor for any particular hotel (or any other accommodation type for that matter) which takes your fancy, and then searching within reviews for that accommodation for “deposit“. I mention Tripadvsior here not because I only swear by their reviews, but I like the fact that they have a search function built in on their website which allows me to search for a particular word or phrase within the reviews for each accommodation.

Have a look at the reviews whilst you’re on Tripadvisor, and also have a search for other reviews online to see what people think, although bear in mind that one man’s luxury pad, could be another’s hovel. But hopefully reviews will give you an idea of what the accommodation is like. Some reviewers will even post up pictures to help you along. Although do take reviews with a pinch of salt: people are far quicker to post about the bad, but not necessarily about the good, unless it is really good.