A trip to Benxi Shuidong National Park

I spent the last week in Shenyang, enjoying some more cold northern China weather, and decided to get outside the city a bit to see what’s out there! About an hour away is a good mountain for winter sports, but since I’ve already seen the Harbin International Ice Festival, I decided to go see a different nearby site instead- the water caves at the Benxi Shuidong National Park.  These caves actually have a river running through them, so you can take boat tour to see the different cave formations (in different colored lighting of course).  If you ever find yourself in Liaoning, China, it’s worth a stop to go see.  Because the park has a lot to offer as far as hiking trails, I suggest going a little later in the year than I did.  The caves of course are accessible year round since they stay about the same temperature, but I wasn’t very tempted to walk around outside considering all the snow and ice covering the ground!

Benxi Lake

There is a small lake as you walk to the entrance of the caves, as well as a small museum.  This is why I think it would be a great spring or summer mini vacation, since there is actually quite a lot to see if it’s not all covered in snow!

Benxi Tower

The park is about an hour and a half from Shenyang if you drive there directly, but you can also take a bus to the city of Benxi and then take a taxi or tourist bus to the park as well (total two hours).  My taxi driver turned park navigator snapped a photo of me outside the cave entrance:

Benxi Me

Luckily the visit to the caves required no advance planning on my part- upon entering the park I paid a fee (150 RMB) that granted me entry to the different sites.  As I entered the cave, I just joined the line and hopped in a boat!

Benxi Entrance

The cave itself was really impressive, as they had installed lights to show many of the different formations.  I enjoyed the colored lights, but I think some people might want to see normal lights to get a sense of what the stalagmites really look like.

Benxi Lights

What is it like to take a boat tour through a cave? I planned ahead and brought my GoPro Hero 2 along on my journey with me, and took a video of some of my journey:

I’ll post a more detailed entry later on what it was like in the city of Shenyang, but I hope you liked seeing the water caves! Next time you go to a park, don’t forget to love the nature there, even if it’s covered in snow.

Benxi Sign

A Look at Tokyo Tower

I posted a couple days ago about my trip to Tokyo last week, and as I was looking at my pictures, I realized I had so many of Tokyo Tower that I think it warranted its own post.  Like everything I saw in Japan, there were so many interesting aspects of the Tokyo Tower tour that there was something for everyone.  As soon as I got there, I realized that Tokyo Tower has its own mascot, which is some sort of tower looking person, and is of course– pink.

Tokyo Tower Mascot Lots of families were hoarding around this guy and taking pictures with him, but I just thought he was cute. Not cute enough though, to warrant my buying any miniature versions at the myriad of souvenir shops peppered throughout the tower.

???????????????????????????????This is the shop on the main level as you wait in line to go up the elevators to the observatory.  I was glad I found this place, though, because that’s where I bought my Tokyo Banana treats my friend recommended to me. They are, in fact, delicious.

As far as touring Tokyo Tower, there are a few different options. The base ticket entry will get you to the first observatory, and from there you can buy a ticket to go even higher.  It’s all pretty straight forward, but be prepared to stand in quite a few lines.  I felt the whole thing was really organized, and all the lines moved relatively fast. Also, there’s a guide at every step of the way to take your tickets and guide people in and out of elevators.

Tokyo Tower Tour GuideI had to take a picture of one of the tour guides because I liked their little hats.

Once I got up to the observatory, I could wander around and get a good 360 degree view of the city. The brochure that you get with the ticket has the pictures marked with the different landmarks so that you know what you can see from each part.

Tokyo Tower BayThis is a view of Tokyo Bay.  Next time I go, I’ll have to go take a boat out there.

Tokyo Tower is no longer the tallest building, so maybe that’s why the crowds weren’t as bad.  I did get a glimpse of the new Sky Tree Tower, which is still so new that the lines to get to visit that are around three hours long.

Tokyo Tower Sky Tree In this picture you can see the Sky Tree, which is the tall pointy building in the back left.  Maybe next time I can go visit that!

Tokyo Tower Panorama It was pretty fascinating to look down and see all of Tokyo below, and I took a few panorama pictures, although it was a little difficult with the window panes and the people in the way!

After wandering around the observatory, you can go back down to a few different floors. I went down one and found a live band.  I thought they were pretty impressive for some live music in a tourist destination. You can make your own opinion of their music after you watch the video:

There are of course floors with more souvenir shops as well as cafes, so you can sit and eat while looking out over the city.  I took the elevator down, and found an entire floor that was an out door amusement park for kids.  They had carousels and a giant Pikachu statue:Tokyo Tower Pikachu

It was actually really nice to sit on the amusement park floor and get some fresh air, since the observatory levels were all closed.  From here I could look up and really see parts of the tower’s structure, and appreciate the gorgeous blue skies of Tokyo that day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tokyo Tower Structure

Overall it was really interesting to go there, and although it is quite a tourist trap, I feel it’s something worth going to at least once when you’re in Tokyo.  If you don’t want to pay to see the Tokyo skyline (Tokyo Tower entry is around 800 yen or 8 USD), you can also go to an observatory in the Mori tower in Rappongi to get a good view.  Either way, the city is really impressive, from whatever height you look at it.

Timeout in Tokyo

This past weekend I took advantage of a long holiday to go to Tokyo, Japan for a much-needed few days of relaxation, time with fun friends, and of course some delicious food! It was my first trip to Japan, and all I can say is, I can’t wait to go back!

Tokyo is only a short four-hour plane ride from Beijing, which means it only takes about a half day to travel there. This is a nice change from the long flight from China back to the United States! When I arrived, I met up with my friend who was gracious enough to let me stay with her for my whole trip. It’s great having friends all over the world, isn’t it?  Once I got settled, she asked me if I wanted to go to a sake tasting! Of course I said yes. 🙂  The tasting was led by a sake specialist who concentrates on importing sake from the Akita region of Japan into the United States. She had even prepared food pairings for all the different sakes we tasted, and the whole experience was really eye-opening for me.  Although I’ve had sake before in a few Japanese restaurants, having all the different types explained and introduced to me in an educational way really helped me appreciate it for the taste and the thought that goes into each type of brew.  It was an excellent first night in Japan, and just the welcome I needed! You can read more about all the sakes I tasted on their website.

The next day I met with another friend Ai who was visiting Tokyo from Kobe. She and I ventured on the subway to head to Harajuku.  If you haven’t seen a Tokyo metro map, you will be blown away.  I’ve gotten a handle on Beijing’s subway system, but Tokyo’s lines opened up a whole new level of craziness, and I’m glad I had my friend to help me navigate the system at first.

Once at our stop, we headed to Meiji Shrine.  The whole area was gorgeous with lots of greenery.  We were even lucky enough to be there on a day when a wedding was taking place, and stopped our touring to view the procession of the wedding party from one gate to another.

MeijiWedding

At the shrine itself there is a section to make a prayer, and I think I did it correctly after watching a few other people.  I also left a written note in an area where people can hang their wishes on a wall.

After wandering around this peaceful place, it was time to go visit some more exciting parts of Tokyo, which led us to Takeshita street!  This whole area was full of shops and vendors.  It was really neat to see the variety of things to buy (and eat!).  I’ll tell you an anecdote to give you an idea:  As we were walking, I noticed a store with really small clothes and thought that they were really small, and seemed silly to buy for a baby because they’d be outgrown so quickly! My friend then had to point out that the shop was selling dog clothes, not baby clothes. Hehehehe.

The silliness continued when we walked into Kiddyland, and frankly I was a little too scared by all the crazy music and the idea that there was a whole floor devoted to Disney toys and the like. I took a quick picture before running away.

Harajuku

The next day my friend Sheila and I went out for a few more touristy adventures. I’m glad she indulged me, because after living in Tokyo for four years, she’s already done most of this! Tokyo Tower was amazing (even though it was a little tourist trappy and I was greeted by a life-sized Tokyo Tower mascot), and gave an excellent view of this enormous city.  There is now a tower that’s taller, but since it’s so new, the lines are three hours or more. I think I’ll stay content with the views from here though:

TokyoTowerView

Although my days were pretty filled, there is still a lot of Tokyo that I have yet to see. I had such an awesome time, and it was so easy to get to, that I will definitely be planning a trip back there some time soon.  Just the blue skies and slightly warmer temperatures made it a great respite from Beijing, and it was fascinating to see a radically different culture.  In addition to seeing the sites, I really enjoyed all the different culinary adventures in Japan. These are so unique that they merit their own post, so keep your eyes out for another Tokyo post in the future!