2016 Travel Round Up & Destinations for 2017
Where I've Been Travelling in 2016
At the start of 2016 I made a promise myself to do more, see more, live more. I already had big hopes and was feeling optimistic. With my best friend living on the other side of the world in Hong Kong for the past two years, it was somewhere both myself and Luke wanted to experience with them living there before they left to return to the UK. First on our list we didn't need to think much about considering going, we just booked a flight and we were on our way. Something that had been in our plans for some time, nothing prepared us for actually landing there and the reality of it.
From Hong Kong we thought, we are all the way over here - what's another four hours flight to Tokyo anyway? We booked a cheap hop-over flight and immersed ourselves in the heart of Tokyo for four days. I have no words for describing Tokyo. The entire time we were there nothing felt real. It still doesn't feel real. It's absolutely one of those places on earth you really just need to experience and live in the moment for.
Fast forward to the end of 2016, with Christmas approaching I booked my third travel destination for the year. In December I'll be heading back to the USA to visit family in Arizona. Somewhere I've been going since I was a child, Arizona was a big part of my childhood. With the biggest sky you'll ever see, sprawling for miles across the Grand Canyon watching the sunset, there's nowhere quite like it.
As well as some places a little closer to home, I became more of a tourist in my own city, Edinburgh. Moving here two years ago, I threw myself straight into work after becoming a graduate. Making the most of the city was often left behind. This year I made more of an effort to get to know my new home better. From the National Museum of Scotland to admiring the old town and hikes up Arthurs Seat, there's never a dull moment here. I also took a trip with best friends here for a long-weekend in the countryside of Crieff Hydro.
After a thirteen hour flight through the day, the night, and then the day again - we were finally come into land in Hong Kong. I knew it was made up of different islands, but nothing prepared me for how lush, green and mountainous it is. I had read all of these things in guide books telling us the best temples, the best views, the best food. But nothing told us about the green-ness of it all. In my mind I was consumed by the thought of high rise buildings and millions of people, so our landing was a surprise. Flying in over the mountains of Lantau Island we spotted the Big Buddha in between the clouds above. A rare day in summer time for Hong Kong for it to be so clear, the view from up-high was incredible.
Within two hours of landing we were at our friends apartment in the city suburbs, and before I knew it we were climbing to a temple. It didn't feel real. Maybe it was a combination of the sleep deprivation, the excitement and adrenaline - the heat. I've been to some hot places in my life but nowhere prepared me for summer in Hong Kong. Even the locals were feeling it, turns out I'm not a tropical climate kind of girl! Never before have I been so relieved to get back to the cold and damp UK weather.
We were in Hong Kong for just over two weeks, with a trip to Tokyo in-between. We went to every island, every temple, every red sail junk boat. Our travel destinations were none stop, but we were determined to make the most of our time in such an amazing place.
Although Macau is technically mainland China, it too has the same exemptions to Hong Kong as an autonomous territory. Due to being previously administered by the Portuguese Empire, Macau has an interesting mix of both Portuguese and Chinese culture. I've never been to Portugal, but all of the buildings there all had a nod to the likes of Lisbon. All perfectly pastel and colourful, with white trims, for a moment you would forget you're on the other side of the world in China.
We took a ferry from Hong Kong to Macau, and after going through a brief security visa checkpoint and passport control, we were on our way. The journey lasted around 45 minutes to reach Macau. As gambling is legal in Macau, you'll find lots of it replicate popular mega casinos and hotels in Las Vegas. Whilst you're there you must check out the traditional Portuguese history and remains that still stand. St. Paul's Cathedral is one of the biggest remaining pieces of Portuguese history here, where across the road you'll also find the best egg tarts.
Spending just the day there was enough, and we got back on the ferry towards Hong Kong for the next leg of our adventures.
A short four hour flight from Hong Kong to Tokyo, we figured - why not? We we're already half the way across the world, it would be a shame not to make it to Japan too. Before leaving Hong Kong after getting accustomed, I almost expected Japan to be the same, if not very similar. As soon as we landed it was obvious this wasn't going to be the case. We landed in Tokyo airport around 2am feeling totally un-aware of our surroundings.
After a mix up with hotel payment after leaving my credit card back in the UK, we needed to find a cash machine before we went anywhere. Easier said than done when you're in a foreign country where English isn't the first language! Before leaving the airport we found a cash machine and tried to withdraw from it. Much to our surprise it started to shout at us in Japanese. We figured it must be broken so found another one. The cameras on the machine were following us across the arrivals lounge. Attempting with a second machine, this time it flashed up with a message in English to state that ATM's aren't in service between certain times of day and night. I still haven't figured out why this was an issue, but it certainly gave us a fright!
I had already booked us an airport transfer to the city on a bus. Amazingly we were able to find the bus and got on our way. Before we knew it we were immersed in the neons of the city which truly never sleeps. We were staying in Shinjuku, the centre of Tokyo. Looking more than confused, we came across some very helpful fellow 20-something's who were able to translate into English for us and pointed us in direction of our hotel. We had made it, somehow!
Arriving in Shinjuku
Arriving in the hotel we were given access to our room. Our hotel room was large by Tokyo standards, but it was obvious things were going to be a bit of a squeeze for the next few nights. Adding to the experience we put on the television to see what Japanese TV was like. We were delighted to find a channel which purely consisted of people's home videos of their pets set to classical music. With that we drifted off to sleep ready for the next few days ahead of us.
As far as cultural differences go, we felt incredibly out of place. When do I bow? Who do I bow to? How low do I bow? Constantly worried I was going to un-intentionally offend someone! The hotel stated that it had a pool on it's top floor. Now my idea of a pool and a Japanese pool was clearly a different thing. We made our way to the 60th floor and left each other to go in the separate designated changing rooms. Assuming that these re-joined at the pool area, I went through and waited. More than baffled when I entered the 'pool' area in my swimming costume to find four naked Japanese ladies in what I then realised was a public bath. Truly horrified at the fact that I was in a swimsuit things were instantly un-comfortable and I had no idea what I was doing there!
Walking around the city we split our time between traditional temples and gardens. With city sky scrapers and futuristic experiences - and the likes of the infamous Robot Restaurant. Leaving the Tokyo Skytree after marvelling over the sprawl of the city, we stopped to admire a Buddhist temple. Before we knew it a monk appeared and was ushering us inside. Not wanting to be rude we obliged, but before we knew it we were taken to the great prayer hall.
The monk asked us to recite a Buddhist chant with him at what I can only explain as the most surreal experience of my life. Were we really sat here chanting with monks? An elderly monk lady who had minimal English grabbed my hand and told us that me and Luke had a wonderful energy together and she wished us well in life. We left a short-while later and looked at each other outside of the temple, did that really just happen?!
My final travel destination of the year, in less than months time in December I'll be heading to Arizona for Christmas. With family living out there, it's somewhere I spent every year of my childhood visiting. Lucky enough to have seen both sides of the Grand Canyon, and stayed on the North Rim in a log cabin, it's a place I hold dear. There really is no-where like Arizona on earth for it's endless roads and expansive blue skies. It's going to be strange having a warm Christmas in the desert, but I'm looking forward to it!
After such a busy year of travel destinations ticked off my list in 2016, I'm not sure how 2017 can top it. I do have some places lined up already where we intend on visiting, with friends getting married in Ireland in summer 2017. It's somewhere I've surprisingly never been, so we are hoping to make a trip of it. I'd also love to see more of Europe. With places like Paris* and Barcelona being just a short flight away, it's perfect for a long weekend or mini-break. What's on your travel destination list for 2017?
This post was in collaboration with Citizen M hotels. Any sponsored links are marked with an asterisks.