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A Snowstorm in Tokyo and Volcanoes in the Philippines

A Snowstorm in Tokyo and Volcanoes in the Philippines

Old Feb 8, 2018, 8:48 am
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A Snowstorm in Tokyo and Volcanoes in the Philippines

What’s a better way to kickoff 2018 with a nice one week vacation? The plan was to visit one of my favorite cities in the world, Tokyo, for a few days then head down to the Philippines to tick another country off of the list. We were supposed to visit Manila and El Nido during our time down there, but as you’ll read later on, that didn’t quite go as planned. Planning for this trip was last minute as there were some final scheduling conflicts to overcome and we were incisive as to where we were going to go. The choices were a week in Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Myanmar or China.



Day 1



I’ll skip ahead a little bit here. Flights out to Asia on this Saturday were packed full in business class so I ended up having to fly from Tampa to Detroit to Los Angeles on Friday night in order to make the Los Angeles to Tokyo flight on Saturday. Not ideal, but it is what it is. So, the start of this trip is on Saturday in Los Angeles. I spent the night in the Hilton Garden Inn near LAX. Not a bad hotel and it was convenient, but it certainly felt dated. Delta’s Tokyo flight leaves quite early, so I was on a 6:00AM shuttle to LAX as I wanted some time in the SkyClub.

Los Angeles Airport T3.



Boarding began about 45 minutes prior which is when I was cleared into 2J.



For once, they had the Japanese meal available when they got to me. The appetizer consisted of roasted pork, lobster with Kimimayo sauce, chestnut with sweet yam paste, black beans and Japanese sweet rolled omelet. The sides were a shrimp salad and steamed sea urchin.



The main was Black Cod Misoyaki with miso soup and steamed rice.



Cheese plate for dessert.




I watched a few movies and got some sleep after brunch. Breakfast was served about 90 minutes before landing although we'd be landing at nearly 3:00PM in Tokyo. Never understood why westbound Asia flights do this... I wanted the Sukiyaki but the French Onion Quiche was all that was available.




Day 2



Upon landing in Tokyo I made a stop at the observation deck at Haneda. It was pretty cold in Tokyo, which is different from my past trips in the summer, so it was refreshing.



Haneda observation deck.



Hotel rates were surprisingly high for the middle of January but I did find a deal on The Gate Hotel in Asakusa. Not the most convenient location for visiting Tokyo, but could've certainly been worse. Asakusa is only a 15 minute metro ride down to Ginza. The room was tiny but comfortable.



The hotel also had a little rooftop terrace with a fantastic view of the Tokyo Skytree, the tallest structure in Japan.



Although it was in the mid 30s, I still went out for a walk after sunset. I stayed close to the hotel as I didn't think it was worth venturing far as I had a few days in Tokyo this time. I spent some time walking around Asakusa and the SkyTree areas.

Asakusa Nakamise Shopping Street.



The thing I love about Japan is the food. You can walk into any restaurant and, for the most part, not be worried about getting garbage food. Picked myself up a nice hot bowl of Ramen for 900 yen.



I stopped and shot a quick picture of the SkyTree although it was quite windy out at this point. For some reason I didn't pack a lot of warm clothing.



A very clean S13 in Asakusa.




Day 3


I had the day in Tokyo to myself as my friend wasn't arriving from LAX until later in the evening. I planned on making this day a photography day which would've involved sunrise/sunset, some street photography, etc. However, the weather was looking not so pleasant today. When I went to bed the night before the forecast was for clouds and rain basically all day and temps in the upper 30s. Not ideal photography weather. I decided to just hit some places I hadn't been to before (I've been to Tokyo 8 times now).

I started with Yodobashi in Shinkuku. A must visit for any photography nut.




They had entire floors dedicated to lenses, camera bodies, lighting equipment...



and tripods...



Each floor had tons of example imagery on the walls from around Japan.



Some lenses and camera bodies.



For lunch it was time for some Michelin-starred Ramen at Nakiryu. From what I read there's normally a 1 hour to 2 hour line. Since today was a weekday and it was raining/cold, I only waited in line for about 30 minutes.



They specialize in Dandan Ramen. I went for the extra spicy selection which was phenomenal. You can't beat a Michelin-starred meal for $11 in Tokyo.



The restaurant only seats about 12 so it never felt very busy like some other noodle shops I've been to in Asia. I'm talking about you South Korea.



Oddly enough, it was starting to snow out although the forecast was for rain. The temperature had dropped to about 33 so the snow was melting right as it would hit the ground. I decided to take the JR Yamanote line over to Roppongi to visit the Mori Art Museum.



Not too busy today.



It was really starting to come down now.



The Mori Art Museum is mostly modern art. This display was an extremely dark room and was supposed to mimic small row boats on a lake (though there's no water).



This display consisted of several panes of glass with clouds shaped as Japan. When put together, the panes of glass would resemble a 3D cloud.



When I exited the Mori Art Museum I ended up in this mall. I checked my phone and noticed I had some news alerts about Tokyo. It seemed like the forecast had now changed from rain to a heavy snow warning, rare for Tokyo. Tokyo only sees an inch or two of snow a year.



Oh ya, it's snowing alright.



I took the subway back to Asakusa to take a nap and wait for my friend to arrive from Narita. The snow was really starting to come down now and both Haneda and Narita were starting to show heavy delays so I was worried his flight would divert. He got lucky I guess as they landed but several other flights around that time headed to Nagoya.



The snow was starting to stick to the pavement so walking around in running shoes became increasingly difficult. Most workers were sent home early today so traffic was light and many restaurants were closed.



Hotels were once again expensive in Tokyo and I can only imagine it got worse as flights cancelled. Luckily I had reserved the Red Planet Asakusa for only $65/night for a twin room with a SkyTree view. Not a bad brand to be honest, cheap and basic but it gets the job done.



I napped for about an hour then had to go out to meet my friend arriving at Asakusa station. It was only about 6:00PM in Tokyo on a Monday yet there was no one on the road. The sidewalks were getting quite treacherous to walk on as well.

Last edited by ChiefNWA; Feb 8, 2018 at 2:28 pm
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Old Feb 8, 2018, 8:53 am
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Going out for dinner was a bigger issue than anticipated. We didn’t head out until 8:00PM but quickly realized most restaurants in the area were closed. We ended up at Ippudo in Asakusa which was a rather disappointing experience after my lunch experience.



Walking around Asakusa.




Day 4



The plan for Day 4 was to hit some of the main sights in Tokyo. My friend had been to Tokyo once but only for a few hours during a layover. We had a 7:30PM flight to Manila out of Narita so we only really had until about 3:00PM to sightsee. We headed down to the Imperial Palace Gardens first to only see that they were closed as they couldn’t “ensure the many safeties due to snows.”


Walking around the area near the Imperial Palace.



Snow.



The first stop was Ginza and Nissan Crossing. Ginza is the upscale shopping area of Tokyo. Nissan Crossing is located there which seems to be an exhibit of Nissan’s future aspirations.



Nissan Crossing.



Concept car.



The new Nissan Leaf.



The Crossing Caf is located in Nissan Crossing.



They then take your picture and it prints on the foam on top of the coffee. Pretty cool.



We then took the train out to Harajuku to visit the Meiji Jingu Shrine. Back in 2015, this is where I spotted Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Unfortunately, it was also closed due to snow on the walkway/path so we walked around Harajuku a bit. Harajuku is famous for all of its interestingly dressed people, cat cafes, shops, etc. Fairly touristy but at least it was something to see and do..



Cat caf



Stopped in a few stores to escape the cold. Also came across some Horse Oil.



Do people really enjoy a tuna pizza sauce cream cheese crepe?



Architecture.



We then headed over to Shibuya Crossing, the famous busy intersection you see on TV and in movies all of the time. It wasn’t too busy when we were there but there were some snowmen in the area.



Waiting at Shibuya Crossing.



Some Pork Tonkatsu for lunch with white rice and miso soup.



After lunch we decided to give the Imperial Gardens another try as the sign that morning stated they’d be open again at 1:30PM. Well, the entrance was open but the gardens themselves were closed. It was still a pleasant walk at least and some of the snow was still around.



Imperial Gardens.



The last stop of the day was the Asakusa Shrine and Nakamise Shopping Street again as the hotel was in that area.



Asakusa Shrine.



Asakusa Shrine.



Asakusa Shrine.



This is where the stress began. Normally I use Hyperdia for train directions around Tokyo. Unfortunately, they weren’t aware that the Sky Access line was shut down. We ended up having to take the Keisei Main Line, though we got on the local instead of the Limited Express. After some shuffling around we finally ended up on the correct train. We were scheduled to arrive at Narita T2 68 minutes before departure (luggage check cutoff was 60 minutes, and Jetstar is at T3). However, we were delayed right before arriving at T2 so we didn’t get off the train until 48 minutes prior to departure. Somehow we ended up making the flight even though we shouldn’t have been allowed to check our bags or check in at all.


The Jetstar A320 taking us to Manila, Philippines. It was a five hour uneventful and uncomfortable flight to Manila.



This is sort of where the trip went south. On top of the stress of barely making the Jetstar flight, when we landed in Manila I received an email from AirSwift . Our flight at 7:00AM the next morning had been canceled as the recent volcano eruption was sending ash towards El Nido. Since our time in El Nido was only scheduled at 1.5 days we decided to cut our losses, get the refund from AirSwift and spend two days in Manila.


The Red Planet Hotel Aseana City for the night.




Day 5



Day 5 was supposed to start with an early morning flight to El Nido followed by some island hopping, but that obviously wasn’t happening. I spent a good portion of the morning trying to figure out what we were going to do in Manila. I got a hotel booked and a plan thrown together for a short self-guided tour of Manila. For the 2nd day, we booked a tour of Tagaytay and Taal Lake. Normally, I’d try to do this stuff solo but being so last minute I didn’t really plan on trying to hash through that.


Good morning Manila!



I chose to stay at the Bayleaf Intramuros, which isn’t in Makati where most foreigners stay. Makati is much more upscale and “ mall based ”. Intramuros is Old Manila.



The Bayleaf Intramuros Hotel.



We went out for a walk of Intramuros after checking in.



Intramuros Trolley.



Seems like fun.



Manila Catheral . Most of the structure was destroyed in the Battle of Manila in 1945 and rebuilt.



We stopped for lunch at the fast food establishment, Chowking. Several people recommended I get the Siopao oddly enough.



Not too bad for fast food. Cheap too.



The next stop on the itinerary was Fort Santiago.



Fort Santiago.



Pasig River and Manila.



Manila.



Map of the Philippines in Fort Santiago.



Jeepney! Jeepney’s are native to the Philippines as a concoction built from sheet metal and old Isuzu engines. They act almost likes buses but you can get on one when you desire. Their routes are hard to figure out and they’re horrible for the environment but hey, they look cool. This one even has the Mercedes star on it.



Street in Intramuros.



Street in Intramuros.



Street in Intramuros.



The volcanic ash started showing up in Manila around 2:00PM which resulted in some very yellow skies. Luckily a thunderstorm came through and cleared the skies up a bit.



We took an Uber over to Makati to go through some of the malls and see the area. Sort of reminded me of Singapore but a little less clean and tad more chaotic. Not a bad place to spend half a day.



Outside Greenbelt Mall in Makati, Manila, Philippines.



We relegated ourselves to the Italian restaurant in our hotel for dinner. I have to say, it’s the first time I’ve had dinner in a hotel while traveling. To be fair though, the place got fantastic reviews and was fairly cheap (by U.S. standards).




Day 6



Today was the tour of Tagaytay and Lake Taal. Honestly, I was a little disappointed with the tour but it gave us something to do and wasn’t too expensive. If I could do it again, I would’ve done one of the treks instead of this one. We were gone for 9 hours and at least 7 of that was stuck in traffic in a van.


View of Manila from the rooftop of the hotel in the morning.



We drove through some poorer areas of Manila.



The first stop was the Las Pias Bamboo Organ. It is made almost entirely of bamboo and was built in 1824.



St. Joseph Parish Church. The Philippines are mostly Catholic.



Then we arrived at a Jeepney factory. They had several waiting for delivery and a few others being constructed. There were tour buses here so I don’t know if I even believe it’s real, but that’s just my opinion.



The factory.



Jeepney.



The factory.



The Jeepney we rode in.



After another hour or so in the van we arrived at the lookout in Tagaytay of the volcano and Taal Lake. The tour guide arranged a Jeepney to take us up as there was an elderly person in our group.



Taal Volcano and Taal Lake. Taal Volcano is the smallest active volcano in the world.



Taal Lake.



The view from the lookout.



We then went to lunch. I don’t remember the names of the dishes. These were the small sardine like fish.



I believe the left was pork and the right was chicken. Both were fine, not great.



The tour guide dropped us off around Rizal Park where there’s a promenade. We walked along that for a while but had to leave since the smell (fishy) was just unbearable.



A friend recommended we ask for a tour of the archives at the Manila Hotel. The Manila Hotel is the most historic in Manila dating back to 1909.



U.S. General MacArthur resided here for a few years in the 1930s. They found this hat in the room but can’t confirm he actually wore it.



The Manila Hotel lobby.



National Flag of the Philippines in Rizal Park.



The flag.



Rizal Monument. The area is dedicated to Jose Rizal who was a nationalist that helped push for reforms in the Philippines when they were under Spanish rule.



Rizal Park.



Sunset along the Manila Baywalk.



Long exposure shot.



Walking across Roxas Blvd, one of the main roads in the area.



For dinner we went to Illustrado for dinner. They were out of a lot of items and the food was meh. The presentation was good though.




Day 7



The original schedule had us on a late redeye flight on Jetstar back to Tokyo. Since our schedule changed with cutting El Nido, we decided to use the day a fly Delta back to Tokyo instead of Jetstar, which would’ve been dreadful.


The Delta 767-300ER taking us back to Tokyo, a route Delta has held on to from the Northwest days.



Appetizer.



The choice for the entre was breaded salmon or salad. I opted for the salmon.



The Delta 767-300ER in Tokyo after arriving.
.


We hopped on the Keisei Main Line and headed back into Tokyo. We stayed at the same Red Planet Hotel in Asakusa as, once again, the rates were very competitive. For dinner, we grabbed some quick ramen and some snacks from 7/11 as we were pretty tired. It was also about 7:00PM by time we got to the hotel so we called it a night.


I stopped for a shot of the Asakusa Shrine as well.




Day 8



We had the full day in Tokyo for Day 8 (Saturday). I threw together a decent itinerary of things we had missed or wanted to do, which included the super touristy Robot Restaurant show. Not the kind of thing I’m usually into but I gotta say, I enjoyed it. Unique is the best word to describe it.


Our first stop was Akihabara, which is where a lot of the anime, toy shops, and maid cafes are located in Tokyo.



Cards.



Akihabara. The weather today was once again cold but also very windy so being outside wasn’t ideal.



Akihabara.



Akihabara.
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Last edited by ChiefNWA; Feb 8, 2018 at 6:06 pm
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Old Feb 8, 2018, 8:55 am
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Stopped in a model car store in Akihabara.



Then we took the train back down to Ginza as my friend wanted to get some Kitkat gifts.



We ended up finding Kitkats in Tokyo Station later on as this place ended up being more up-scale.



We then went up the Bunkyo Civic Center for a panoramic view of Tokyo. You can get a great view of the city with Mt. Fuji in the background. I wish I had a proper long lens for this.



We then stopped for some lunch. We were planning on getting some Wagyu beef for lunch as I had read that the set meals for lunch are a much better deal than dinner. However, most places we looked at were still $100 plus per head. We ended up going with some sirloin, miso soup and white rice instead for $9. Not bad.



Sorry for this being out of focus, but the restaurant was the tradition Japanese kind where you sit on the floor, take your shoes off, etc.



Ginza.



We finally made it back to the Imperial Palace East Gardens and yes, they were open this time. Plenty of snow still on the ground.



Pagoda.



Imperial Palace East Gardens.



Imperial Palace East Gardens.



Imperial Palace East Gardens.



Koi.



Imperial Palace East Gardens.



We headed back to the hotel to rest for about an hour and grabbed some coffee at Starbucks. We were being good tourists today and had reservations for 5:50PM at the Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku. Like I said before, we dont usually go for things like this but soooo many people recommended it (for being odd mostly) that we just had to go.


Shinjuku.



Entrance to the Robot Restaurant.



Sorry for the poor quality shots, but the 60D was struggling with the lighting conditions during the show. The first act was drumming.



Yeah, pretty odd.



Robot Restaurant show.



Overall though, it was a decent show. Not the greatest of quality as they were having some sound issues and there werent exactly a lot of robots but it was fun.



Grabbed some milkshakes before heading back to the hotel to pick up my tripod.



I went out for a bit to take some pictures but quickly lost interest in it as I was freezing. I started in Ginza.



Then headed to Shinjuku again.



From a bridge in Shinjuku.



On the way back to the hotel on the metro.




Day 8



Day 8 was our departure day. I was flying standby back home and my friend was confirmed on American to LAX. We had basically covered everything we wanted to in Tokyo so we slept in and did some last minute shopping.


We did some shopping in Akihabara in the morning.



I also stopped at a conveyor belt sushi restaurant for lunch.



This is where the day went downhill. We showed up at Tokyos Haneda Airport around 1:30PM as the flight to Los Angeles on Delta departed at 4:00PM. When I checked in they warned me of a potential weight and balance issue with todays flight. A little worrisome but Ive come to expect that with flight out of Haneda. Well, I was still waiting at 45 minutes prior to departure when they finally informed me that they wouldnt be taking any standbys on the flight and that theyre actually offloading cargo. So, I was met with the decision to either spend another night in Tokyo and use an extra vacation day (which wasnt ideal for several reasons) or to use 60K Aadvantage miles to book on American to LAX. I ended up choosing the latter even though its not the greatest value of AA miles.


The American 787-9 taking us over to Los Angeles.



Dinner/snack in the JAL Sakura lounge.



JAL Sakura lounge.



We boarded about an hour prior. My seat was 8J, the last row in business class. AA uses the new Super Diamond seats.



AA 787-9 seat 8J.



Orange juice PDB in plastic.



Starter was some crusted tuna and salad.



I opted for the steak which was overcooked as usual, though my friend in 6J said his was cooked medium.



A rather disappointing cheese plate for dessert.



Breakfast quiche before landing in LAX.



Welcome back to the United States.




Overall, this was a great trip even with the problems we had with not getting to El Nido and the weight and balance problems out of Haneda. The Philippines was my 40th country Ive visited as well, though not quite as I had hoped. I have quite a bit more travelling coming up for 2018, so stay tuned. I leave for a week in India soon and Im in the early stages of planning a trip to Nigeria in July.

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Old Feb 8, 2018, 10:08 am
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Very nice! We were in Tokyo in March and your report brought back some great memories.
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Old Feb 8, 2018, 12:51 pm
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Fantastic trip report, we were in Tokyo over the holidays, nice to see Harajuku less crowded.I am a big dude and walking down it was an experience when we were there! You are so right about the food, one of my favourite cities in the world, people are great there as well!

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Old Feb 8, 2018, 1:28 pm
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Sorry to hear that it didn't go as planned, but sounds like you made great use of your time. Such great photos!
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Old Feb 8, 2018, 1:54 pm
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Nice trip report. I wish the Japanese won't use their war-time military symbols on their souvenirs. If the Germans tried to sell a Nazi logo T-shirt, they would be arrested.
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Old Feb 8, 2018, 2:25 pm
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Tuna pizza sauce cream cheese crepe sound (and looks) very strange. I wouldnt take it BTW the descriptions of the prictures dont match, I guess they shifted.
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Old Feb 8, 2018, 2:28 pm
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Originally Posted by hkskyline
If the Germans tried to sell a Nazi logo T-shirt, they would be arrested.
At least its the way it should be. Perhaps not arrested but prosecuted. If its sold visible you dont sell it very long. On the black market idiots get this stuff but of course the options to wear them are very limited.
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Old Feb 8, 2018, 6:07 pm
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Originally Posted by offerendum
Tuna pizza sauce cream cheese crepe sound (and looks) very strange. I wouldnt take it BTW the descriptions of the prictures dont match, I guess they shifted.
Thanks, should be fixed now. I must've deleted a line or something when I copy and pasted it originally.
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Old Feb 8, 2018, 7:08 pm
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Great report and pictures. DH and I go every year for three weeks. We always go for Sakura but last year went in November for the foliage. It was 80 in Tokyo and no humidity or clouds. Alas, no foliage until we were coming home from Okayama. Just showed DH your pictures of the snow. Even the snow stays clean in Japan and their snowmen are so clean and well maintained ...I love Japan
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Old Feb 8, 2018, 8:17 pm
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Truly fantastic photos - thank you for sharing!
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Old Feb 10, 2018, 12:11 am
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Looks like a cool trip to Tokyo, literally with all the winter snow too!

Bummer about the Volcano interrupting your plans. Manila looks like a super busy Asian megacity too. Just booked flights for a trip later this year and decided to fly into CEB instead to avoid some of the chaos.
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Old Feb 14, 2018, 8:16 am
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Originally Posted by farbster
Very nice! We were in Tokyo in March and your report brought back some great memories.
Thanks!

Originally Posted by Admiral Ackbar
Fantastic trip report, we were in Tokyo over the holidays, nice to see Harajuku less crowded.I am a big dude and walking down it was an experience when we were there! You are so right about the food, one of my favourite cities in the world, people are great there as well!
Yup, that was my experience my 1st time in Tokyo. The city felt much less crowded that day due to the snowfall, so that was nice... minus the snow.

Originally Posted by aquamarinesteph
Sorry to hear that it didn't go as planned, but sounds like you made great use of your time. Such great photos!
Thanks, I think we could've made slightly better use in the Philippines, maybe a flight down to Cebu for Bohol or something vs Manila, but you live and you learn.

Originally Posted by hkskyline
Nice trip report. I wish the Japanese won't use their war-time military symbols on their souvenirs. If the Germans tried to sell a Nazi logo T-shirt, they would be arrested.
Thanks

Originally Posted by cruisr
Great report and pictures. DH and I go every year for three weeks. We always go for Sakura but last year went in November for the foliage. It was 80 in Tokyo and no humidity or clouds. Alas, no foliage until we were coming home from Okayama. Just showed DH your pictures of the snow. Even the snow stays clean in Japan and their snowmen are so clean and well maintained ...I love Japan
Lol. People always tell me to visit Japan, especially Kyoto in the fall. Maybe one day and hopefully it's not 80!

Originally Posted by Madone59
Truly fantastic photos - thank you for sharing!
Thank you.

Originally Posted by DanielW
Looks like a cool trip to Tokyo, literally with all the winter snow too!

Bummer about the Volcano interrupting your plans. Manila looks like a super busy Asian megacity too. Just booked flights for a trip later this year and decided to fly into CEB instead to avoid some of the chaos.
Thanks, the snow certainly made it an interesting experience, albeit slightly more difficult to travel around the city. Manila is indeed your stereotypical Asian megacity which is what I expected. Cebu was definitely the better choice. Will you be making it to Palawan/El Nido during your trip? Looks very much like Ha Long Bay but much nicer water, etc.
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Old Mar 20, 2018, 1:37 pm
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From your day 6 pic:
I believe the left was pork and the right was chicken. Both were fine, not great.
Looks like the left one is Chop Suey, and the right one is Pancit.

Great TR!
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