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Hiking the Dragon’s Back in Hong Kong

Dragon's Back hike in Hong KongIf you’re going to give your hiking trail a name like “the Dragon’s Back,” then that trail had better be pretty majestic.

Dragon's Back hike in Hong Kong

And yeah, the Dragon’s Back definitely lives up to its name; it features some absolutely jaw-dropping views.

Dragon's Back hike in Hong Kong

The amount of satisfaction that I get from hiking is something that has really surprised me on this trip.  I sort of figured I’d be sticking completely to cities — and that is pretty much what I’m doing — but being able to get out and see nature every now and then is actually really nice.

Dragon's Back hike in Hong Kong

Of course, it helps when the sights are this spectacular.

Dragon's Back hike in Hong Kong

I think we’ve reached the point where I’m just going to let the pictures do the talking.

Dragon's Back hike in Hong Kong

Dragon's Back hike in Hong Kong

Dragon's Back hike in Hong Kong

Completing the Disneyland World Tour

Hong Kong DisneylandAnd with that, I’ve now been to all the Disneys.  Yeah, that’s right — all my friends might be getting married and starting families, but have they been to every Disney park in the world?  No?  Well then, I think we all know who the real winner is (what’s that? It’s them? It’s 100% them?  Yeah, that sounds about right).

Hong Kong Disneyland

It certainly can’t compare to the magnificence of the two Disney parks in Tokyo — particularly DisneySea — but Hong Kong Disneyland is still pretty great.

Hong Kong Disneyland

I’m not going to go into the same level of obsessive detail I did for Tokyo, but I do have some brief thoughts.

Hong Kong Disneyland

The Disney magic starts on the subway ride to the park.  Yes, those are Mickey-shaped windows, and Mickey-shaped hand holds.  Delightful.

Hong Kong Disneyland

The park was shockingly empty.  There appeared to be a decent amount of people when you were walking around, but we didn’t wait longer than ten minutes or so for any rides.  Some rides didn’t have a wait at all.  It was amazing.  Coming from the insane crowds of the Tokyo parks, this felt flat-out bizarre.

Hong Kong Disneyland

There were some great rides here, but the highlight was, without a doubt, a Haunted Mansion-esque ride called Mystic Manor.  I had heard really good things about it, so my expectations were pretty high, but it still managed to blow me away.  The animatronic technology was probably the best I’ve ever seen, and the ride itself was so fun, with so much personality and a really delightful amount of attention to detail.  It was easily one of the best rides I’ve ever been on.  We did this one twice, and I honestly regret not doing it a third or even a fourth time.

Harry Potter and the Delicious Creme Brulee

Universal Studios in Osaka, JapanUniversal Studios has a location in Osaka, and I figured that since I quite enjoyed my visit to Disneyland and DisneySea in Tokyo, I’d give it a shot.

Universal Studios in Osaka, Japan

The only wrinkle was that the big draw here is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and I hadn’t seen a single Harry Potter movie.  So I watched them all over the last couple of weeks — that’s just the way I roll.

Universal Studios in Osaka, Japan

The Harry Potter area was pretty amazing, including an impressively detailed recreation of Hogwarts.

Universal Studios in Osaka, Japan

And, of course, there’s the famous Butterbeer, which I obviously had to try.

Universal Studios in Osaka, Japan

It’s basically a cream soda float, only with melted ice cream.  It was fine, I guess?  It cost a whopping 600 yen (almost seven bucks Canadian) for a tiny cup, so it’s not cheap.

Universal Studios in Osaka, Japan

The centrepiece here is the ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, which was easily one of the best rides I’ve ever experienced.  It also made me feel like I was moments away from vomiting everywhere, so that was unfortunate.

Universal Studios in Osaka, Japan

Otherwise, the park was enjoyable but not quite up to the standards of the two Disney parks in Tokyo, especially DisneySea.

It was also insanely crowded, as you can see from this board with a listing of all of the various wait times across the park.

Universal Studios in Osaka, Japan

Yes, that’s a 170 minute wait (!) for the Harry Potter and Despicable Me rides.

Universal Studios in Osaka, Japan

As for the food, it was mostly nothing special, though there was one thing called a croissant brulee that was shockingly amazing.

Universal Studios in Osaka, Japan

It’s creme brulee with a croissant base; the custard soaks into the croissant, and it basically becomes the best bread pudding that you’ve ever had (only with a crispy, sugary top to make things all the more delightful).  It was so much better than I was expecting it to be.

Wacky Sights at Dotombori

Dotombori in Osaka, JapanThere’s an area in Osaka called Dotombori that’s pretty much tourist central, and when you go there, it’s easy enough to see why.  The main street here is absolutely festooned with restaurants, each with a zanier and more elaborate sign than the last.

There are any number of animals, including a crab (I probably should have taken a video of that one — its legs move up and down)….

Dotombori in Osaka, Japan

…a blowfish…

Dotombori in Osaka, Japan

…an octopus…

Dotombori in Osaka, Japan

…and another crab (which also has moving legs).

Dotombori in Osaka, Japan

And the wackiness doesn’t stop there.

Dotombori in Osaka, Japan

Or there.

Dotombori in Osaka, Japan

I think you get the idea.

Plus, if you go around the corner, there’s a bunch of elaborate ads overlooking the Dotombori canal, including the iconic Glico Running Man, which has been an Osaka landmark since 1935.

Dotombori in Osaka, Japan

Plus, there’s this location of Don Quijote, a Japanese chain of discount stores.  Yes, that’s a ferris wheel, though it’s no longer in use.

Dotombori in Osaka, Japan

A Bustling Market in Kyoto

Toji Temple Market in Kyoto, JapanOn the 21st day of every month, the Toji Temple in Kyoto gets transformed into a bustling market — something I had no idea about until the owner of the pug cafe clued me in.  Ah, pug cafe: the gift that keeps on giving.

Toji Temple Market in Kyoto, Japan

It’s a pretty typical flea market, filled with all of the useless knick-knacks and quirky junk that you’d expect, but it’s still interesting to wander around, and the location can’t be beat.

Toji Temple Market in Kyoto, Japan

There are also intense, claustrophobia-inducing crowds, so it might be a good idea to either go first thing in the morning or later in the day, not smack-dab in the middle of the afternoon like I did.

Toji Temple Market in Kyoto, Japan

I was surprised by the amount of food to be had; there was all kinds of street food like takoyaki, okinomiyaki, and yakitori (all of the yakis, basically).

Toji Temple Market in Kyoto, Japan

It didn’t occur to me that there’d be so much food there, so I had already eaten lunch.  Like an idiot.

Toji Temple Market in Kyoto, Japan

I did, however, partake in one of these cakey, sweet bean-filled things.

Toji Temple Market in Kyoto, Japan

As far as I can tell, these are identical to the ubiquitous fish cakes that you see everywhere in this part of the world, just in a different shape.  It’s hard to go wrong with these things, especially when they’re hot and fresh.

Gravy Soup

Tenkaippin in Kyoto, JapanI didn’t think it was possible, but I may have found a bowl of ramen that’s too rich.  Because I just went to a local chain called Tenkaippin that specializes in an incredibly hearty chicken-based soup, and yowza.

Tenkaippin in Kyoto, Japan

It’s the heaviest bowl of ramen (or any soup) that I’ve ever had.  It really did taste like a bowl of gravy with noodles in it.

Tenkaippin in Kyoto, Japan

I don’t know if you can tell from that picture, but the soup was clinging to the noodles like alfredo sauce on fettuccine.  It was nuts.

Tenkaippin in Kyoto, Japan

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy it — it was actually quite good.  But it still probably falls under the category of “too much of a good thing.”  I don’t think a bowl of ramen has ever left me feeling so full.

A Memorable Cemetery in Kyoto

Cemetery near Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, JapanI was wandering around after visiting the Kiyomizu Temple (which was really nice, but completely overrun with tourists), and I stumbled across an absolutely amazing cemetery.

Cemetery near Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, Japan

I know: the word “amazing” is not generally used to describe a graveyard, but bear with me.  As I’ve posted about before, Japanese cemeteries are more interesting than you’d think.  And this one was stunning.

Cemetery near Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, Japan

I think the pictures speak for themselves.

Cemetery near Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, Japan

Just the location itself was impressive, not to mention the way the tombstones look, and the sheer, almost endless volume of them.  There had to be thousands of graves here.  It’s a little bit overwhelming.

Cemetery near Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, Japan

And like every other cemetery I’ve been to on this trip, I was pretty much the only tourist there, and I get it, but come on.  Look at that.

Cemetery near Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto, Japan

Wandering Around Nijo Castle

Nijo Castle in Kyoto, JapanI think this is one of those posts where I’m going to let the pictures do most of the talking, because Nijo Castle is pretty remarkable.

Nijo Castle in Kyoto, Japan

I think most days you can go inside the castle itself, which I guess is like a museum of sorts?  I was unlucky enough to show up on a day where the inside was closed, however the just the grounds around the castle are easily worth the 400 Yen admission fee.

Nijo Castle in Kyoto, Japan

I spent over an hour just wandering around and taking it all in.

Nijo Castle in Kyoto, Japan

The gardens are really impressive (and I’m sure they’d be even more impressive in the summer when all the leaves are still on the trees).

Nijo Castle in Kyoto, JapanNijo Castle in Kyoto, JapanNijo Castle in Kyoto, JapanNijo Castle in Kyoto, JapanNijo Castle in Kyoto, JapanNijo Castle in Kyoto, Japan