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One of the more interesting things I’ve seen in Ho Chi Minh is the Independence Palace, the former home of South Vietnam’s president, right up until it was taken by North Vietnamese forces in 1975.

Independence Palace in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

You can basically just wander around the enormous building, where everything has been left the way it was in the ’70s.

Independence Palace in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

It’s a fascinating piece of history.  There’s an old movie theatre.

Independence Palace in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

Including the projection room.

Independence Palace in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

Plenty of offices.

Independence Palace in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

People lived here.

Independence Palace in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

It’s a bit eerie, and absolutely worth spending some time wandering around.

Independence Palace in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

 

And 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.

Aside from Sakurajima, Sengan-en is one of those things that comes up a bunch when you’re looking for things to do in Kagoshima.

Sengan-en in Kagoshima, Japan

It’s a former residence dating back to the 1600s that’s been turned into a pretty amazing garden.

Sengan-en in Kagoshima, Japan

It costs 1000 yen to get in (about 11 bucks Canadian), but it’s totally worth it.

Sengan-en in Kagoshima, Japan

Just getting there is pretty spectacular.  It’s about two kilometres from the city, and you could take a bus, but the walk is impressively scenic; it’s clearly the way to go.  I mean, I think this video speaks for itself.

Then you get there and it’s enormous and seriously impressive.

Sengan-en in Kagoshima, Japan

That’s not to mention the hiking trail that leads to a spectacular view of the surrounding area.

Sengan-en in Kagoshima, Japan

It’s pretty much just endless steps going up, so it’s crazy exhausting, but once you get up there it’s totally worth it.

Sengan-en in Kagoshima, Japan

That’s not a bad view at all.

Sengan-en in Kagoshima, Japan

Universal 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.

There’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

The Gamcheon Culture Village in Busan is definitely one of the more striking sights I’ve seen on my trip so far.

Gamcheon Culture Village in Busan, South Korea

The whole neighbourhood is on a pretty serious incline (I’ll admit that I got so winded walking up a particularly long and steep hill on my way there that I legitimately wondered if I was going to have a minor heart attack), and all of the houses have been painted in various vibrant colours.

Gamcheon Culture Village in Busan, South Korea

Most of it is just a regular neighbourhood that people live in, but there is a road going all around the area that has coffee shops, food vendors, and random quirky stores and murals.

Gamcheon Culture Village in Busan, South Korea

The main appeal is just looking at it from afar, but it’s a neat area to walk around in, too.

Built in the early 1400s, the Forbidden City is a really impressive palace compound (consisting of 980 buildings over 180 acres) right in the middle of Beijing.

Forbidden City, Beijing, China

There’s not a whole lot to do in there other than wander around and admire the various buildings and statues (like Pompeii, this is one of those places I kind of wish I had done in a tour for a little bit of historical context).

Forbidden City, Beijing, China

Still, it’s seriously impressive, and if you’re in Beijing, there’s really no excuse to miss it (when I say it’s in the middle of the city, I mean it’s literally almost exactly in the centre of the city, so it’s very easy to get to).

Forbidden City, Beijing, China

I almost didn’t even bother going to see the Great Wall of China.  I figured it’s cold, it’s expensive, I’d have to wake up early, and wouldn’t it be easier to just… not go?  I mean, it’s a wall.  What’s the big whoop?

The whoop, as it turns out, is pretty big.  The Great Wall might have been one of the most awe-inspiring things I’ve ever seen.

The Great Wall of China near Beijing

The most commonly visited section of the wall from Beijing is Badaling, which is apparently the most well-preserved section, and the closest to the city — but it’s also the busiest by far.

The group I went with started at the Jinshanling section of the wall, and hiked to Simatai.  It’s a bit farther from the city (it was about a three hour bus ride each way), but aside from our group, I saw maybe a dozen other people on the wall, so it’s clearly worth it to take the extra effort.

The Great Wall of China near Beijing

Before I started researching it, I wasn’t even entirely sure what you do at the wall.  Do you just look at it?  Do you get to stand on it for a bit, then you have to leave?

Yeah, no, it’s a hike.  The stretch of wall that my group did was about six kilometres, and it was surprisingly exhausting.  A good chunk of it was uphill, with lots and lots (and lots) of stairs.

The Great Wall of China near Beijing

That isn’t any kind of camera trickery — I just stood at the bottom of the steps and took that photo.  They really are that steep.

There were some fairly steep inclines that didn’t even have any steps.

The Great Wall of China near Beijing

But man, it was so worth it.  It’s one of those things that’s impossible to capture in photographs, but it was absolutely stunning.  Between the mountain vistas and the jaw-dropping enormity of the wall itself, it was unforgettable, and something that you really should experience at some point in your life.

The Great Wall of China near Beijing

Remember the Guinness Storehouse that I wrote about in Ireland?  Well, they have something in Amsterdam called the Heineken Experience that’s pretty much the exact same thing, but with Heineken instead of Guinness.

The Heineken Experience in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Like the Guinness one, it’s in a converted brewery, and you basically just walk around and look at various exhibits that tell you the history of the beer.

The Heineken Experience in Amsterdam, Netherlands

It has pretty much all of the faults of the Guinness tour (it’s all very surface level, with little to no insight on how they currently brew their beer), but it’s an engaging enough way to spend an hour or so.

The Heineken Experience in Amsterdam, Netherlands

The biggest issue is that it’s extremely crowded, and it doesn’t seem to be particularly well-designed; you’re often in tiny little rooms that wind up feeling a bit claustrophobic, especially at the beginning of the tour.

The Heineken Experience in Amsterdam, Netherlands

But of course, you do eventually get to drink some beer.  There’s the standard Heineken (which is quite refreshing), plus one called H41 which had a really in-your-face clove flavour.  It was interesting, though I don’t know if I’d ever want to drink it again.

The Heineken Experience in Amsterdam, Netherlands

If you walk around Dublin for long enough, you’re going to see someone holding a bag from the gift shop at the Guinness Storehouse.  It’s definitely one of those must-visit places for tourists.

Well, I’m a tourist.  I like must-visit places.  I also quite like Guinness, so yeah, it’s a no-brainer.

Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, Ireland

And the Guinness Storehouse is neat, but it’s hard not to compare it to my recent tour of the Glengoyne whisky distillery, in which we got to see every step in the actual production process.

The Guinness Storehouse is a slick multimedia experience that’s compelling to walk through — but it has very little to do with how the drink is actually made.

Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, Ireland

You get to see a bunch of historical equipment, and there’s a lot of talk about things like the perfect temperature to roast barley (232 degrees) and the number of nitrogen bubbles in every pint (30 million), but almost no insight on how Guinness is actually produced today.  What machines do they use?  What does the factory look like?  Who knows!  There are photos and videos of what the factory looked like decades ago, but pretty much nothing on how it looks now.

Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, Ireland

Still, it’s an enjoyable enough way to spend an hour or so, plus at the end you get to go up to the Gravity Bar (which is surrounded by windows offering amazing views of the city) and have a pint of the black stuff.  Anything that ends with you drinking a glass of Guinness can’t be all bad.