Arizona

My husband and I just returned from a December trip to Arizona that put us in touch with nature’s most magnificent landforms and simplest enjoyments.

SEDONA

Sedona, AZ

Sedona, AZ

The red and white colors of Red Rock Country’s breathtaking mesas, buttes, and mountains surrounded us everywhere, especially at our hotel. We stayed at L’Auberge de Sedona, a luxury resort where we had our own private, creekside cottage along Oak Creek that included a deck, wood-burning fireplace, and enclosed outdoor shower. We could hear the plump, beautiful ducks quacking nearby and got to watch their feeding in the morning. The outdoor Sunday buffet brunch along the creek was exquisitely peaceful, and my spa treatment was blissful. It was one of the nicest hotel experiences I’ve had, even when compared to slightly fancier ones where I’ve stayed, because we were so blended with nature, but not in an overly rustic, outdoorsy kind of way (we’re too prissy for that). Might I also add that we were able to pay the AAA rate for a room two notches below our cottage, meaning we got our cottage a couple hundred dollars cheaper than what it normally goes for! That’s thanks to some good bargaining skills and a nice free upgrade from the hotel, whose name means “inn” in French.

We enjoyed the slow pace of dining and shopping at Tlaquepaque (which resembles a Guadalajara square) and Sedona Center in Uptown. It was a nice escape from big-city life and travels, which we’re all too used to. I also got to enjoy my favorite dessert – homemade ice cream. We went off the beaten path on a Pink Jeep Tour, which I highly recommend for seeing parts of Sedona you would have a hard time reaching on your own, unless you’re a serious hiker or biker, or really know how to maximize a Jeep’s capabilities (but you’d still be restricted from certain areas Pink Jeep Tours are allowed and your Jeep might not be souped up enough to handle the treacherous landscape). Our guide took us on the Broken Arrow Tour – a roller coaster ride through forest and over steep, rocky terrain I didn’t know could be driven over! I was sore from it the rest of the day, but the adventure was worth it. We were able to take in stunning views and capture some amazing photos of them.

view from our L'Auberge de Sedona cottage

view from our L'Auberge de Sedona cottage

We headed north out of town along State Route 89A, a scenic route that was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen. And as the sun set, the sky became pitch black and revealed thousands of stars – a sight you miss when living in the city because of all the smog and light pollution.

FLAGSTAFF
On our way through northern Arizona, we drove through the college town of Flagstaff. We stopped only for dinner in downtown at Mountain Oasis, which served pretty tasty food from various parts of the world, including Middle Eastern, Asian, and European. The cozy ambience and international music playing over the speakers were a perfect combination for a cold winter night.

WILLIAMS/GRAND CANYON
Both times I’ve been to the Grand Canyon, I’ve arrived in a different way. The first time was by helicopter. I departed from Las Vegas. We flew into the canyon and hovered down inside it. I felt like I could almost reach out and touch the canyon wall, we were so close to it. The aerial view was just like what you see in those nature videos or shows on TV.

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

This time, we stayed overnight in Williams and took the train – first class on the Grand Canyon Railway. It was a great, old-timey way to travel the winding path to the Grand Canyon – complete with a Wild West show at the train depot, a café car on the train with an old-fashioned diner atmosphere, and a fake railroad robbery while we were on board. The cowboys rode their horses alongside our train at one point and hopped on to “rob” us passengers. People throughout history have traveled to the Grand Canyon using the same railroad, which still has telegraph poles along it. We looked over the Grand Canyon from a few different points. I don’t need to say much about it because just about everyone knows how vast and visually stunning the natural wonder is. What’s particularly mind boggling about its size is when you’re standing along the rim and you look out into the canyon, the opposite wall can be miles away but appear so much closer.

The sun set on our return trip, so we could see the Christmas lights and decorations along the tracks and back at the depot — decked out for The Polar Express, a special train ride that reenacts the storybook and movie.

PHOENIX

US Airways Center in downtown Phoenix

US Airways Center in downtown Phoenix

We stayed in Arizona’s largest city, Phoenix, on the first and last night of our trip. The first night, we were hungry and tired after landing at the airport, but fortunately, we stayed at a hotel near the airport, which was near the COFCO Chinese Cultural Center (a mini Chinatown)! Usually, I don’t like having Chinese food in cities that don’t have a lot of Chinese people and thus don’t have very good Chinese restaurants. But we checked it out anyway. The food wasn’t the best but wasn’t bad.

The last night, we stayed at a chic, modern downtown hotel, where, for the third time on this trip, we managed to convince the reservation/check-in desk to give us a free upgrade! All you have to do is smile and ask nicely, and most of the time, hotels will oblige.

All in all, we found Arizona to be a naturally beautiful state full of friendly, laid-back people.

putting on makeup in WDRB-TV FOX 41 studio

putting on makeup in WDRB-TV FOX 41 studio

Most of my travels involve a stay of several days or a few weeks. But one stop I made was nearly five years long. The Louisville, KY metro area and southern Indiana was the region where I covered news for WDRB-TV FOX 41 from 2005-10. And I lived in Louisville, pronounced LOO’-uh-vuhl, for all you other non-natives. My experiences in Kentuckiana were rich and memorable: I made some great, lifelong friends; I got engaged; and my husband moved to Louisville after we got married.  So as an ode to a charming city and beautiful region, I’ll write about some of my favorite places. (These aren’t paid endorsements and don’t reflect my news coverage — just my personal opinions about my former home.)

Louisville, Kentucky

snow outside our home

snow in the backyard of our Louisville home

A city of more than three-quarters of a million people, Louisville is a place where you can enjoy all four seasons to their fullest extent. The downtown skyline overlooks the Ohio River, where boats and barges go by several majestic bridges. The city is quirky, has a campaign to “Keep Louisville Weird,” and is big on bluegrass and horse racing. April and May are the best times to visit to experience Louisville’s energy and local flavor, beginning with the Thunder Over Louisville air and fireworks show (which kicks off the Kentucky Derby Festival) and culminating with the Kentucky Derby itself on the first Saturday in May. The things I love most about the city are the fact that it’s convenient, easy-to-get-around, and quite peaceful.

Attractions

Louisville skyline and Ohio River, from Southern Indiana

Louisville skyline and Ohio River, from Southern Indiana

Louisville is probably most famous for Churchill Downs (and the Kentucky Derby Museum under the Twin Spires) and Slugger Museum & Factory (which makes the official Major League Baseball bat). Those two popular attractions are worth seeing, but so are the relatively new Muhammad Ali Center (interactive, multimedia museum honoring the famous boxer and humanitarian) and Louisville Mega Cavern (underground space that’s part storage facility, part bomb shelter, and now a tourist destination — it’s lined with Christmas lights during the holidays and creates a magical experience). Slow down and take a cruise along the Ohio River for lunch or dinner (watch the sunset) on the steamboat Belle of Louisville or smaller Spirit of Jefferson. Stop by Waterfront Park along the river to enjoy the scenery, abundant green space, and playground and spray ground for children.

Hotel
Named by Conde Nast Traveler as the nation’s #1 best hotel, 21C Museum Hotel is a must-see, even if you’re not staying overnight. The mirror in the women’s restroom (I don’t know about the men’s) has little built-in video monitors showing moving eyeballs of blind people. I’m told the men’s urinals are installed along a wall adjacent to a well-trafficked hallway, and men using the facilities face a one-way mirror through which they can see people in the hall walking by, but those people can’t see the men. The lobby and basement serve as an eclectic art museum with plenty of shockers. If you do stay the night, you’ll find a different piece of art adorning each room, plus an iPod with your personally selected list of songs.

Restaurants

fall colors on the golf course behind our home

fall colors on the golf course behind our Louisville home

The restaurant we frequented most often was Tea Station Chinese Bistro in Norton Commons, a classy mixed-use neighborhood with homes, businesses, a school, a fire station, seasonal farmers market, and more. The menu written in Chinese has the authentic dishes we liked, but it was the friendly owners who kept us returning. Another Asian restaurant I loved was Dragon King’s Daughter on Bardstown Road. I usually frown on fusion food because I like purity and authenticity in cuisines — one culture or another, not mixed. (Marriage is a different matter, since mine is interracial!) But I welcomed Dragon King’s Daughter’s fusion Japanese tacos, pizzas, and totally unauthentic sushi. The flavors were so exciting. For fine dining and luxurious experiences, you can’t beat The Oakroom at the Seelbach Hilton Hotel at Fourth Street Live! (downtown entertainment district). For a one-of-a-kind, extremely pricey, Continental dinner, dine in the cold wine cellar on a meal with more than 16 courses plus a few surprise additions, prepared by a chef dedicated to your table. You’ll be freezing your buns off for a few hours or more, depending on how fast you eat, but the tastes and experience are unforgettable, as is the bill!

Ice Cream
Delicious ice cream and the quirky-comfy atmosphere make The Comfy Cow the place for handmade desserts and a cozy, good time. It’s located in Westport Village and serves up some scrumptious, original flavors.

Shopping
That leads me to shopping destinations. Westport Village is a somewhat newly renovated shopping center in East Louisville with restaurants, clothing boutiques, home decor stores, and specialty shops. The Summit is another shopping center in the northeast part of town with more national chain stores. A hidden gem of a store is in Butchertown: Work the Metal sells home decor items and condiments from Bourbon Barrel Foods (which produces soy sauce in the warehouse behind the store).

Salon & Spa
I got my hair cut at Joseph’s Salon & Spa, which offers impeccable service. For spa treatments, like facials, massages, and body scrubs, I preferred the more luxurious Z Salon & Spa. Both are Aveda salons rooted in natural products and techniques.

West Baden Springs, Indiana

domed atrium inside West Baden Springs Hotel

domed atrium inside West Baden Springs Hotel

North of the Ohio River lies Indiana, so you can jump back and forth between the two states in just a couple of minutes. Clarksville, New Albany, and Jeffersonville are the three cities that sit along the river. But farther north (less than 2 hours from downtown Louisville) is an amazing hidden treasure called West Baden Springs — a small town with a hotel by the same name. When you come upon it, you’ll wonder how this magnificent hotel landed so off the beaten path in the middle of Indiana. Some call it the 8th wonder of the world, and it’s no wonder. The atrium used to have the world’s largest dome, until the Houston Astrodome was built. Standing in the atrium and looking skyward is breathtaking. A stroll through the lovely shops or just relaxing on one of the lounge chairs is a great way to spend an afternoon. It is worth seeing. And if you like casino-hotels, French Lick Resort is just a mile away.

A strange title for this blog post, but an appropriate one. I took an overseas trip with several family members in January 2010. We spent several days in Hong Kong (my 9th trip to my favorite place in the world) and then flew to Thailand (my first trip there).

Hong Kong skyline across Victoria Harbour from Kowloon (our view from Intercontinental Hotel)

Hong Kong skyline across Victoria Harbour from Kowloon (our view from Intercontinental Hotel)

You can read more about HK in a previous blog entry. This time, we added a few more highlights to our memories of my parents’ homeland: Lan Kwai Fong (a dining/entertainment district near Hong Kong Island’s busy Central business district), Gwennie Tam Fine Jewellery (my cousin’s store in Central with high-tech, futuristic display cases and beautiful jewelry for men and women), afternoon tea at Intercontinental Hotel on Kowloon Peninsula (a breathtaking panoramic view of the HK skyline across Victoria Harbour), and exploring new shopping malls on HK Island and Kowloon Peninsula. We also attended another cousin’s wedding.

Thailand

Thailand is a colorful place, literally and figuratively.

Bang Pa-In Palace, Ayuthaya Province, Thailand

Bang Pa-In Palace, Ayuthaya Province, Thailand

PATTAYA
Our first night in Thailand was a jaw-dropping one.

Pattaya Floating Market, Thailand (photo taken from a boat)

Pattaya Floating Market, Thailand (photo taken from a boat)

We dined alfresco by a body of water (no one could tell me the English name) and watched local Thai soccer fans cheer for their team on the big-screen TV projection screen — and I’m talking about a huge screen, the kind that you’d find at an outdoor amphitheater. Nothing strange yet. After checking into our hotel (with a Pattaya Beach view, no less), we headed out for a walk to a nearby mall and outdoor fruit market. And that’s where we started seeing patterns. Men were picking up female prostitutes from sidewalks left and right. Most of the men were white; I couldn’t tell if they were tourists or lived in Thailand. There were also groups of a few men with one prostitute to share among them. I also saw couples — one after another — that were made up of an elderly white man (around retirement age or beyond) and a young Thai woman (in her 20s). It’s not so strange if you see just one such couple, but one after another by the same description tells you something about relationships in at least that part of Thailand. I had known Thailand to have a “vibrant” sex industry, replete with gay tourists hiring personal escorts in the form of underage teenage boys, but I was seeing the industry with my own eyes. It got even more interesting. A nightclub/bar with no doors or exterior facades (as in, open to the outside for onlookers to watch) had a stage showcasing beautiful women dancing. It took us a while to figure out they weren’t always women. That was our introduction to Thailand’s transsexual industry. In the U.S., you can usually figure out a transsexual really fast, but in Thailand, they’re much more difficult to pick out. The surgeries and other transformation procedures are much more well done.

Three-headed Elephant in Samut Prakan, Thailand

Three-headed Elephant in Samut Prakan, Thailand

We got tickets to Tiffany’s Show, the world’s premier transsexual stage show. It was a clean show — no nudity, just elaborate sets and costumes and beautiful music and dances, Vegas style. I was very impressed. If you looked closely at facial features, you could tell some of the women were once men, but with a few of the performers, you just couldn’t tell. They looked like Barbie dolls from head and toe — tall, thin, model bodies and near-perfect faces. They even danced like women, moving their hips fluidly and striking graceful positions.

Thai massage and foot reflexology services were advertised everywhere. Our tour package included an hour-long Thai massage, but we paid for a second hour to get the full-body treatment. It’s painful knowing how inexpensive massages are in Thailand, compared to what I pay in the U.S. An hour of massage in Thailand runs you less than $10, including tip! In the U.S., the nicer, cleaner spas charge upward of $60-70/hour. Thai massage was a new and laugh-inducing experience for me and some of my family. The masseuse stretches you in awkward positions and hits your bones in between staccato squeezes of your flesh.

Water sports made a morning at the beach in Pattaya City a fun one! We watched my brother parasail, but the rest of us dared not try. He and I went on an underwater Sea Voyage, wearing swimsuits, water shoes and helmets, and staying vertical so the water wouldn’t come into our helmets. After pinching my nose and “blowing” to prevent painful ear pressure, I was giddy to reach the bottom of the sea floor — about 20 feet deep where we were — where we saw coral, fed and touched fish, and touched other ocean creatures. My husband and I jet skied, while the rest of the family shopped the seemingly endless line of shops along the beach. We all took a few boat rides to and from an island and the mainland. The clear, green water was beautiful.

BANGKOK
In Thailand’s capital and largest city, you’ll find very developed commercial areas next to very run-down residential areas, where metal roofs of homes overlap each other and people live in more primitive ways.

Downtown Bangkok, Thailand

Downtown Bangkok, Thailand

We saw a panoramic view of the city from atop the city’s tallest tower, Baiyoke Sky Hotel, on a 360-degree rotating outdoor platform. There we also dined on a sprawling buffet of all types of Asian foods; the food was as heavenly as the height of the restaurant near the top of the hotel tower. Our hotel, Luxor: The Egyptian Design Hotel, was just as it sounds and truly one of a kind. Our rooms were two stories, with the bathroom, living room, closet, and desk downstairs and bedroom upstairs.

We visited Southeast Asia’s largest aquarium, Siam Ocean World, filled with very interesting, exotic sea creatures. On the outskirts of Bangkok, we visited Buddhist temples of traditional Thai architectural design, took a wooden-boat dinner cruise at sunset down the Mekong River, and toured the Bang Pa-In Royal Palace. We also saw the faithful arrive in droves to buy incense and flowers to worship the 4-faced Buddha and release birds from cages to bring favor upon themselves from the gods. The open-air shrine was located right next to a Burberry store and other buildings and elevated highways — an interesting juxtaposition, considering how the area was far less developed more than two decades ago, when my father visited the same spot. In the nearby Samut Prakan province, we saw an imposing 3-headed, giant elephant at the Erawan Museum. It’s a symbol of the Hindu influences in Thailand. We rode a real elephant through a park and swamp, sat on an elephant’s tusks which the animal brought together to form a “chair,” and pet a baby elephant as it performed tricks.

elephant in Pattaya, Thailand

Julie on an elephant in Pattaya, Thailand

Boston

Boston Harbor

Boston Harbor

Boston

Boston

Boston was the site of the 2009 Asian American Journalists Association Convention, so I was there in August with my husband and mom in tow for some sightseeing as well. We stayed at the waterfront Seaport Hotel at the World Trade Center, where the convention was held.

History all around you
The neat thing that sets Boston apart from most other American cities is the sheer amount of history you can see and touch all around you. So many significant events happened there that shaped this country. So that’s the positive side of an old city. The negative side is that many building facades are worn and ugly, and the subways are creepy and depressing. But overall, the greater Boston area was quite charming and scenic.

Boston Harbor near downtown

Boston Harbor near downtown

Seafood
I was unimpressed by the seafood I ate, even though it was at popular joints recommended by locals. It’s no better than fresh seafood I’ve had elsewhere, including my hometown of Houston, which sits near the Gulf Coast. Alaska’s fish is still the best I’ve ever had.

Chinatown
Boston’s Chinatown is similar to Chicago’s in that it’s old and it’s a walking Chinatown. Several blocks shoot off the main street, and you can walk the sidewalks to get to restaurants, bakeries, and other stores. Residential units sit above the ground-floor storefronts. It’s unlike Houston’s or Los Angeles’ more modern, sprawling Chinatowns that are best traveled by car to each shopping center. Like other Chinatowns, Boston’s boasts good food at dirt-cheap prices. An 80-cent slice of cake, anyone? You’ll find it at Great Taste Bakery & Restaurant. We also ate at Gourmet Dumpling House — a popular, crowded eatery open late at night.

Boston Common

Boston Common

MUST-SEES

Freedom Trail

Freedom Trail

1. Freedom Trail. The Freedom Trail encompasses most of Boston’s famous historic sites. Boston Common is believed to be America’s first public park, and it’s a scenic one. From there, you can cross the street to see the Massachusetts State House with a gold dome (made of real gold). Then you pass historic churches and meeting houses along the trail, which is delineated by a continuous thin strip of red brick on the ground. It’s especially chilling to go past the site of the Boston Massacre. On a more positive note, Faneuil Hall Marketplace is a fun shopping and dining complex, which includes Quincy Market. But again, like almost everything else in Boston, it’s got that old-world charm. Freedom Trail wraps up with the USS Constitution (“Old Ironsides”), Charlestown Navy Yard, and Bunker Hill Monument.
2. Harvard University & Harvard Square in Cambridge. People definitely look intelligent on the campus of America’s top-ranked Ivy League school, Harvard. The campus itself looks as old as it is. Minus the passed-out drunks on outdoor benches, Harvard Square is a delightful nearby shopping district of cafes and boutiques. I had the best salmon sandwich at Crema Cafe.

Harvard Square

Harvard Square

3. MIT. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It looked like one: very institutional and geeky. (I can say that because I went to a brainy university myself, but Rice has beautiful Mediterranean architecture. MIT looks like the rest of Boston: old and a little depressing. Sorry, I like contemporary style!)
4. Boston Harbor. Waterfront dining and shopping opportunities are abundant, as well as just places to sit and enjoy the view of sailboats on the famed Boston Harbor.
5. Beacon Hill. A charming, wealthy neighborhood where gaslights line the street and stay lit all day and night, Beacon Hill has been home to famous figures both historical and current. Even the 7-Eleven is classy.
6. Newbury Street, Back Bay, Copley Place, The Shops at Prudential Center. All are a shopper’s heaven. Newbury Street is like the Rodeo Drive of Boston. Filene’s Basement, which is famous for its annual Running of the Brides, during which brides-to-be rush into the store to grab deeply discounted bridal gowns, is a bargain-hunter’s paradise for everyday items you’d find in a department store. Back Bay and Copley Place are also nice shopping destinations not far from Newbury Street. And Prudential Center is an office building with a floor of department stores, restaurants, shops, and a food court — just like a mall.

Boston Harbor

Boston Harbor

We took the Boston Duck Tours to see most of the main attractions. The tour guide took us around the Boston area in a World War II amphibious landing vehicle that starts on land, then drives into the Charles River and functions much like a boat for us to see the city from the water.

Boston Duck Tour in Charles River

Boston Duck Tour in Charles River

My love affair began on Sunday, June 22, 2008. Eleven flights, four countries, and 15 days later, my husband, my mom, and I had collected enough photographs, full stomachs, and memories to make us yearn to go back to the practically litter-free, modern metropolises and pristine islands of East Asia.

Highlights: the world’s tallest buildings, best night views, and largest Ferris wheels, plus the 2008 G-8 Summit location and a former Winter Olympics site… in Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau.

Over the next four weeks, I’ll be taking you on my journey through these thrilling places. Come back each week to visit a new place.

Japan

outdoor shopping arcade in Sapporo

outdoor shopping arcade in Sapporo

My first trip to Japan was six years ago, when I was still single. My mom and I toured cities including Tokyo, Nara, Osaka, and Kobe. Our return to Japan this summer, with my husband, took us to several cities on the northern island of Hokkaido — a slower pace and more relaxing environment than the bustling, high-tech city of Tokyo and the feverish shopping arcades of Osaka.

Perfection

Japanese garden in Sapporo, Hokkaido

Julie sniffing flowers in Odori Park in Sapporo, Hokkaido

In two words, Hokkaido is clean and green. The grass is green and lined with lovely gardens full of lavender. And you can go miles before seeing even one piece of litter. The impressive part is that there aren’t trashcans everywhere, so people truly exercise self-discipline as they look for a place to dispose of their garbage properly. The Japanese strive for perfection. As an American, you can see it in their electronics and cars sold in the U.S. And if you ever have a chance to travel to the “Land of the Rising Sun,” you will see it in almost everything they do. The customer service is the best you’ll find anywhere… and I’ve been around the globe. When you walk into a restaurant, the host/hostess and waitstaff all chime in like a choir, one after another, to greet you with polite words and smiles and bow repeatedly. Store employees welcome you with free green tea in tiny teacups. And when you leave, they send you off with just as many thank-you’s and good-bye’s. Every morning, as our tour bus left each hotel we stayed at, several staff members waited outside for us to board the bus; then they waved to us until we could no longer see them. Persistence and hard work.

fake-food display outside restaurant

fake-food display outside restaurant

We spent two days in Sapporo, home to the 1972 Winter Olympics… and Food Garden in the underground Pole Plaza shopping mall. If you’re like me and enjoy delicately-wrapped sweets and beautiful pastries designed with the utmost attention to detail, then Food Garden is your “heaven.” I felt like I had died and gone to paradise… and I didn’t want to get out. I once again fell in love with the food in Japan — as well as the fake, but very real-looking, versions almost always on display in a glass window near the entrance to every restaurant: the food is perfect not only in appearance, but in taste and quality too. The food and lifestyle are so healthy, they counter the Japanese’s excessive smoking, to give them the world’s longest lifespan. They understand the concept that it’s not only what’s on the inside that matters… the outside matters too. That’s certainly evident in the pretty, petite women dressed

kimono store in Pole Plaza

kimono store in Pole Plaza

like Stepford Wives — made up like dolls and decked from head to toe in tailored dress-suits and cute hats. Japanese women are the epitome of femininity. You’d almost want to pinch our Asahi Beer factory tour guide.

G-8 Summit
We took a pleasure boat ride on Lake Toya, just a couple days before the world’s most powerful country leaders descended on its shores for the 2008 G-8 Summit. We stayed at the official hotel for American staffers and military personnel: Noboribetsu Grand. Speaking of languages colliding, I played translator for my husband throughout East Asia — going between English and Mandarin, Cantonese, and Taiwanese… but I could help with only several words in Japanese.

MUST-SEE

night view of Hakodate from atop Mt. Hakodate

night view of Hakodate from atop Mt. Hakodate

1. Hakodate. Atop Mt. Hakodate, you’ll see the world’s third-best night view, as ranked by multiple sources. If you’ve been to Hong Kong, this night view pales in comparison, but is still worth taking the cable car (Ropeway) up to see the uniquely shaped land mass all lit up at night.
2. Shinsaibashi. We didn’t go this time, but in 2002 my mom and I spent hours shopping in this outdoor arcade in Osaka, which is home to an ultra-cool Sony store. It was where I discovered Starbucks’ green tea frappuccino before they came to the U.S.
3. Hot springs. Most of the hotels where we stayed had public baths with hot-spring water — where nudity was required. Don’t waste your time: You won’t find any naked pictures of me. In the rooms, yukatas (Japanese pajamas) and tatamis (low-to-the-floor Japanese beds) awaited us. At one of our hotels, we even enjoyed our own private hot-spring tub on the balcony.

our tatami hotel room at Noboribetsu Grand Hotel

our tatami hotel room at Noboribetsu Grand Hotel

4. Green tea ice cream. If you want to travel Japan like I did, you must eat green tea ice cream every time you see it — at ice cream shops and vending machines. I ate the creamy goodness several times a day, although green tea ice cream is more prevalent in the central part of the country, where more tea is grown. In Hokkaido, you’ll find more melon-flavored ice creams.
5. Two canteloupes for $65. Yes, that’s two canteloupes for US$65 — the average selling price. So make sure you get a free sample piece from an outdoor market. It’s not worth paying that much for it, but the melon is mighty juicy.
6. Giant Ferris wheels. Tokyo, home to Tokyo Disneyland, boasts the world’s second- and third-largest Ferris wheels.

Next week, come back to travel with me to the next leg of my East Asia trip… we’ll visit the tallest building in the world in Taiwan. And in the following weeks, we still have Hong Kong and Macau left to visit. Find out why Macau has surpassed Las Vegas as the gambling capital of the world and why Hong Kong continues to capture my heart year after year. Thanks for reading!