asia journal

I’ve spent the past three weeks touring Hong Kong, Macau, Shanghai, Tokyo, Beijing and Xian – cities that have been on my bucket list for quite some time – and after an insanely manic fashion week and jam packed year in general, I was ready for whatever culture shocks that presented themselves…almost. During the time spent away, Mathew and I saw some of the great wonders of the world, went to bars way up in the clouds, dined at the most impressive restaurants and experienced the absolute worst driving imaginable. We got completely lost in translation along the way, but it was a fabulous trip, one that we’ll remember for many years to come. The whirlwind tour is all of bit of a blur – so here are a few of my favourite photographs and recommendations of the places we visited.

Hong Kong was like New York combined with Thailand – dazzling skyscrapers housing sophisticated corporate and social spaces atop Bangkok-style street markets. It was definitely one of the easier places to get around as English is an official language. Staying with Mathew’s brother and his girlfriend was a lot of fun and because they’ve been living there for a while, they’ve sifted out all of the best spots, so there was no time wasted playing detective trying to navigate the city. On day one, we took a vertical train up to Victoria Peak (pictured at the top), which had the most stunning views of the skyline.

A windy cab ride down through the hills lead us to Stanley – a gorgeous tropical setting, with dining spots lining the boardwalk and sandy shores with inviting turquoise water. We took a ‘junk boat’ cruise back to central HK around the coast. Definitely a good place to visit for any tourist.

Located on the 118th floor of the ICC Building in Kowloon, Ozone has got to be the most amazing bar I’ve ever been to. You are so high up, you can see for miles over the city and the ocean. We went at sunset and it was gorgeous. I loved the futuristic decor they had.

Macau is the Vegas of the East – the casinos are extravagant. The Venetian (two pictures up) was laid out like Venice, with internal canals and beautiful European facades housing the likes of Victoria’s Secret, Zara and H&M. The ultramodern Galaxy Hotel (directly above) was about as space themed as anywhere on Earth could come. They had an amazing candy bar with macaroons, pretty cupcakes and a perfectly put together Louis Vuitton bag cake. Too pretty to eat.

I didn’t expect to find architecture on par with Paris in Shanghai, but The Bund strip was filled with beautifully preserved Renaissance, Baroque and Gothic-style buildings. Inside were some of the best restaurants I’ve ever been to and the coolest roof top bars overlooking the financial district. Mr and Mrs Bund and M – both French restaurants – were amazing as was Lost Heaven, which serves Asian infusion and the best margaritas out. They all played 1920s tracks so you felt as though you were being transported back to the 20th Century. Another area worth checking out is the French Concession – there are shops for miles and cute boutique dining spots. Contrasting the historic areas, the financial district (pictured above from floor 100 of the Shanghai World Financial Centre) gained momentum in the 90s, with futuristic-style architecture popping up to accommodate the growing business landscape. If you want to splash out at Gucci, Chanel, Prada and most notably, the stunning new Louis Vuitton store, this is where it’s at. They also have some fabulous spas and restaurants.

Tokyo was all-round amazing, but the biggest impression was the people – everyone had such good manners. I found the Japanese to be incredibly gracious, classy and helpful. Out of our time there, the only thing that really made me cringe was seeing horse, whale and raw chicken on the menu at a local yakitori joint we went to – but other than that, it was as expected, a vibrant and interesting city. I imagined there would be skyscrapers galore, however the skyline was speckled with buildings generally under 20 levels high. Shinjuku had a few high rises, one of which was the Park Hyatt where Lost in Translation was filmed. They have the best cocktails in town and had a jazz band playing when we were there, it was stunning. Shibuya was a shoppers heaven – American Apparel, a multi-level Opening Ceremony, cute local boutiques and all of the typical High Street stores. Ginza was also a good strip for shopping and dining. My friend Ashleigh recommended this gorgeous Alice in Wonderland themed restaurant above the Bally store on Ginza’s main strip. It was super cute.

Beijing’s attractions lie in the popular tourist spots – The Great Wall, Tianenmen Square, Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven and the Ming Tombs. There is so much history and political activity here. I was looking through a Luxe City Guide before arriving to see what the recommendations were, and the opening line was: ‘At the China Ball, Hong Kong is the belle, Shanghai is the hussy and Beijing is the dowdy older sister.’ There is definitely some truth in that – unlike the rapidly developing Shanghai and lively, expat-filled Hong Kong, Beijing struck me as a little flat. Three and a half days were definitely enough. On the last we discovered a cute shopping area called Nali Mall, filled with vintage boutiques and a mix of high-end shops. I also spotted the Karen Walker Candy Bar at Coterie, a chic sunglass bar. Other than hiking The Great Wall and seeing all of the significant historical spots, the biggest highlight was the degustation at Maison Boulud, which is housed in the old American Embassy and owned by three star Michelin chef Daniel Boulud.

By the time we arrived in Xian, the travelers fatigue had well and truly kicked in. Luckily we had booked a spacious room at The Sofitel and had organised a private tour out to the Terracotta Warriors – the area’s main attraction. If ever heading to Asia, a private tour is so much easier than trying to fly solo or book a school camp-style bus tour. We did the latter in Tokyo out to Mount Fuji, and seriously, half the day was spent visiting souvenir shops selling plastic food and useless ornaments. Everyone else thought this was extraordinary use of time. I did not. But back to XIan – the Terracotta Warriors were incredible and the story behind it is absolutely bizarre. The detailed statues were only discovered in 1974, but are believed to have been constructed in 211-206 BC as a means of protecting Emperor Qin Shi Huang in the afterlife. The 700,000 labourers who built them were sacrificed to safeguard the secret and their remains were found underground nearby the Warriors pits. Extremely spooky.


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