China & Japan...Pacific Rim Rising

June 18, 2018

 

A globalized metropolis in every sense of the word, Shanghai is an ideal destination for travelers seeking to gain an understanding of how China has been propelled to the top of the world’s economic food chain. As the city has morphed into the commercial base of the East, it has also proudly opened its arms to the global community, and invested in infrastructure that makes group travel a breeze. You can expect to find numerous 4-5* hotels that are accessible even to those with tight budgets; highly affordable coach and guide services; an extensive subway network that can be easily navigated by tourists; fairly orderly roads (uncommon in most other parts of China); simple train connections to Beijing and other major cities; and of course one of the world’s most-trafficked airports, which offers direct routes to multiple US hubs. Another plus- the language barrier is surprisingly easy to overcome, with English signage throughout the city, and a well-educated populace eager to practice the English they’ve been studying since grammar school.  

 

When it comes to sightseeing, although Shanghai is known for stunning modern architecture, pockets of old-world charm and traditional culture can still be found if you know where to look. These contrasts can easily be explored in half or full day tours around the city. Be sure not to miss the following sights: 
 

•Shanghai Tower: A stunning addition to the city's already impressive skyline, the newly opened skyscraper is currently the second tallest building in the world and boasts the world's fastest elevator, which shoots you up to the 119thfloor at ear-popping speeds of 42.8 m/hr. Do a tour to get the full story of the tower's construction, or head straight up to the observatory for 360 views of the metropolis below. 
 

•Old City: After experiencing modern shanghai at the tower, head to the Old City to explore the city's traditional roots in its walled-in historical district. Marvel at buildings from the Ming and Qing dynasties; get your shopping fix at stalls selling Chinese handicrafts; visit the 400 yr. old Yuyuan Gardens; participate in a tea ceremony; explore Chinese "drug stores," filled to the brim with medicinal herbs; and don't forget to sample the famous soup dumplings!
 

•Xin Tian Di: Appreciate the European flare of the former French Concession and witness a different side of Shanghai’s history with a walking tour of this pedestrian area. Expect tree-lined streets, Shikumen architecture from the late 19th/early 20thcentury, cafes, galleries, and boutiques.

 

Outside of traditional tours, there are also many more interactive activities that should be considered during your stay in Shanghai, such as market visits; tai chi and calligraphy practice in a local park; cooking classes; and even home-hosted lunches. For groups with a business focus, there are a handful of big-name companies often willing to host site visits, including GM, Bao Steel, Volkswagen, and Coca Cola

 

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Historically the imperial capital of Japan, Kyoto is a charming, more laid back antidote to flashy Tokyo. The city's alluring mix of traditional culture and trademark Japanese quirk has turned it into one of the country's most popular tourist destinations, but don't be turned off by the high prices and large crowds- Kyoto has much to offer travelers, and it is absolutely worth spending at least 3-4 days exploring its many nooks and crannies. Here are some basic tips that will help you get the most out of your stay:

  • Getting around: 

    • Kyoto does not have its own international airport, so be prepared for a bit of a trek upon arrival. You can fly into one of Tokyo's airports, and then take an under 2 hr. ride on the famous Shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto; or arrive into one of Osaka’s airport, and transfer by coach (drive time ranging from 1 hr. to 1 hr. 45 min.)

    • With manageable traffic throughout the city, coach transportation is a simple and convenient way to get around. Most destinations can be easily accessed, but there are a number of smaller side streets unable to accommodate large buses, so a bit of walking may be necessary to reach your final stop (typically no more than 5-10 minutes). 

    • Although there is a decent subway line, and an extensive bus network, both systems are typically packed to the brim. While public transit is a good option for individual passengers/smaller groups during free time, we do not recommend it for full group transit. 

  • Where to stay: One of the best areas to stay in the city is the Downtown district. While there aren’t any main attractions in this neighborhood, you’ll be located in the heart of the city, within walking distance of countless restaurants and shops, and you’ll have easy access to Southern and Norther Higashiyama, two of the city’s key sightseeing neighborhoods. There are many hotels scattered throughout Higashiyama as well, however its prime location means rates are often inaccessible for most university groups. 

  • Sights to see: Kyoto has a seemingly limitless number of cultural and historical attractions to visit during your stay. A few of the most popular include: 

    • Fushimi Inari Shrine: Fushimi Inari is a Shinto shrine renowned as the international “headquarters” of all shrines worshipping the god Inari (of which there are 40,000 worldwide). While the shrine buildings themselves are impressive, the show-stopper is the path of thousands of torii gates leading up the neighboring mountain. 

    • Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion): This gold-leaf-covered Zen Buddhist temple and its lush grounds compose an iconic image of Kyoto.  

    • Arashiyama: This bustling neighborhood is most famous for its bamboo forest, however it’s also fun strolling along the river and through the streets lined with shops, restaurants, and souvenir stands. 

Keep in mind that it's hard to avoid crowds in Kyoto, so most attractions will inevitably be very busy. Depending on the attractions, we recommend using headsets in order to ensure that all group members can hear the content being shared by your guide. 

  • Kyoto is a very safe and immensely walkable city, so it is recommended to build some free time into your itinerary. Take a few unstructured hours here and there to stroll along the river and down Pontocho Alley; see if you can spot geisha in the Gion district; and simply explore the countless side streets of the city, where you may stumble across a hidden shrine, a cat cafe, or perhaps the best ramen you will ever eat. 

 

 

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