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Monday, April 11, 2011

GRAND SUMMARY OF THE ORIENT: SPRING 2011

The top five experiences were:

1.  The Great Tohoku Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear Catastrophe occurred on 11March2011, the eighth day of my trip when I was in Bangkok.  I was scheduled to fly to Japan the next day, and did.  This is now a nuclear accident level 7 disaster, equal in severity with Chernobyl.  The Huffington Post has published several articles of mine discussing this tragedy.  Fukushima Dai Ichi Nuclear Power Plant to left.

2.  I spent almost half my travel time on train trips.  Paul Theroux wrote two books about his train adventures:  The Great Railway Bazaar and Ghost Train to the Eastern Star.  His seats were usually on the lowest class possible, and food was an afterthought.  The second book, in particular, was grimy.  My train trips were at the opposite end of the comfort scale:  the Eastern and Oriental Express from Bangkok to Singapore featured the highest cuisine imaginable with some very fine wines, while two weeks on the Green Car (first class) Shinkansen per se were mostly bentos (Japanese box lunch), beer and sake, but, at each stop, I asked the concierge, what was the best restaurant in town.  On this tour I focused on the latest, cutting edge fusion establishments.  One problem with train trips is that you have some baggage, you must be careful about falling asleep because the stop is only for a minute, and if you don't get off, it could be 100 miles to the next station.  All told, I caught 26 trains of one hour or longer, and made only one mistake.  My plea to Japan Railway is to open up the Nozomi to Rail Pass users, for there are five times more of these, and their Green Car averaged an occupancy of 10%, at most.  My Hikari trains were also nicely private, for I must have had more than a dozen rides when I was the only passenger in first class.  All my friends in Japan think this is just crazy to waste so much time when you can fly.  I now realize I gained a kind of Zen patience to strengthen my will into the future.  This daily blog provides the mostly boring details.

3.  I had a dozen cutting edge fusion eating experiences.  The memorable ones in roughly chronological order included:

  a.  First Class cuisine and drinks were spectacular, with the best being Thai Air, although United Airlines is making a comeback.  However, the Lufthansa flight from Delhi to Munich is still the best.

   b.  Italian Rossini with Frank Sinatra in Bangkok.

   c.  Eastern and Oriental Express.


 d.  Japanese-Chinese fusion at the Marine Bay Sands in Singapore.

   e.  My best Chinese lunch, ever.

   f.  Peiking Duck at Da Dong, (right) a very high tech Chinese experience.

   g.  In Seoul, a fabulous brunch, plus a Korean-French fusion restaurant.

h.  Robuchon, (left) Michelin 3-Star French cuisine.

   i.  Italian-French fusion in Nara.

   j.  Kyoto Kaiseki.

   k.  Yonemura (French-Japanese fusion) in the Ginza.

   l.  Mikuni (French-Japanese fusion) Sugini Me (seafood) in Sapporo.

   m.  New York Grill (American steak, at right) at the Park Hyatt Tokyo.
















4.  Sakura

   a.  Shinjuku Gyoen and  Jindaiji.

   c.  Ueno Park

5.  Hotels

   a.  Four Seasons, Park Hyatt and Tokyo Westin are somewhat similar.  The first two cost abut $500/night, while the Westin is closer to $300, but, with my Plantinum status, comes with free breakfast, evening cocktails and internet.

  b.  Both JR Nikkkos, at Nara and Sapporo, were okay, and ideally situated at the train station.  These run in the $250/night range.

  c.  The two JR Kyushu's I stayed in (Fukuoka and Nagasaki) were quite good, for $100/night, free breakfst and free internet.  The staff of the Fukuoka hotel was the most pleasant and helpful.

   d.  I was very pleased with the Toyoko Inn at Aomori.  Free breakfast/internet, at a cost of $60/night.  

   e.  The Sheraton Grand Sukhumvit has become one of my very favorites, as the usual internet/breakfast/cocktails come with a $250/night suite.  The St. Regis Beijing, also a suite, for $300.  Excellent hotel.  The W in Walker Hill, Seoul, is worth a stay for the high tech surprises.  A bit expensive for the value.  The Marina Bay Sands (right) is a must stay for a visitor to Singapore, but, it is expensive at $450/night.  It has a Casino with a number of great restaurants.

All those prices depend of what type of room you take.  There are also specials now and then.  For example, I only almost went there, but the Ekimae Fuji Grand Hotel normally costs $120, but is going for $50/night.  Oh, this is in Fukushima.
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