My trip to East Asia lasted three months. In the region, I travelled about 15,000km.
Taiwan was next and it was a very pleasant surprise. I had little knowledge of the country and zero expectations. I visited Taipei, Taichung, Chiayi, Fenqihu, Alishan, Kaohsiung, Chishang, and Hualien, from where I visited the stunning Taroko Gorge before returning to Taipei.
Another pleasant surprise was South Korea, a country that had modernised rapidly. I visited the varied districts of Seoul, the beaches of Busan, and the ancient remains in Gyeongju. I returned to Seoul in time for the Lotus Lantern Festival and to check out more of the many distinct neighbourhoods.
For my final few weeks, I returned to Japan: to the northern island, Hokkaido. From Sapporo, I went to Otaru, Furano, Hakodate, and Aomori. A joyful train took me to Akita, then on to visit the samurai houses in Kakunodate. My penultimate stop was to see the luscious greenery of Sendai. Finally, I returned to where the whole trip began: Tokyo.
Since returning, I’ve been asked which was my favourite place. It’s difficult to say. Each place has a distinctive identity and culture, but you can see connections everywhere in the region. There are low crime rates, fantastic public transport, high levels of cleanliness and hygiene, people are welcoming and helpful, and many places come alive at night when it cools down.
Thirty years ago, the vegan choices were scant. Now it’s fairly easy to find a place catering for those on a plant-based diet. I was constantly surprised how people went out of their way to accommodate me — such was the hospitality.
Another surprise was that it wasn’t overly expensive in the region. When I went to Japan in 2006, it was extremely expensive. Now it was easy to stay in a dorm for less than $15 (US) a day.