What an incredibly huge and sprawling city Tokyo is! We were here for two days between the end of our ski trip and our flight back home and, from our base in a Ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) near the University, spent the time exploring just a tiny fraction of this enigmatic metropolis with my brother and his family as our guides.

Tokyo is a city of modern and stylish architecture, an urbanised ocean yet with a feeling of space, with its open places and green islands of park land. It also has arguably the most efficient metro system in the world. This is a place where people wear masks when ill to avoid sharing their germs with you, where everyone stops at pedestrian lights, and where it took over a day to find a decent size piece of litter in the street. Footpaths have slotted tracks to aid the blind pedestrian, yet the homeless men are politely shunted out of view - it is an enigmatic culture.


Breakfast at the Ryokan (K.Briese)

Under a brilliantly clear blue winter sky with distant Fujiyama posing regally on the horizon, we wandered the streets and markets, window-shopped in the land of electronic dreams and watched the ancient art of Sumo wrestling. I am not really a fan of big cities, but Tokyo has to be high up on the list.

Fujiyama reigning over Tokyo

Kym, Yoko, Tom, Kris and Doug - thanks!

Tokyo skyline - a sea of buildings disappearing into the horizon

The sumo champions enter the ring

The ryokan - a touch of tradition in a modern city

Flying back home, it was interesting to reflect on our trip - what a contrast between modern, efficient, sophisticated Tokyo and the flamboyant chaos of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and the two very different Asian cultures they embody. Still for us, the time spent outside the cities was where we most appreciated Vietnam and Cambodia; beneath the superficial similarity of mass humanity, this is a region of astonishing diversity in people and landscapes.

The highlights were when we set off on foot, away from the madding crowd and into the quiet valleys and villages of the countryside. The treks here were not hard and did not have the wow factor of high mountain trekking, but they were different to anything else we had done. Tourist infrastructure and organisation in Vietnam is developing rapidly and is based around popular locations - Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Halong Bay, Hue, Hoi An, the southern coastal towns, the central highlands and the Mekong - with a tendency to organise things as group activities. You probably wouldn't go to Vietnam just to trek, but once you are there, doing a trek is a very enriching experience. As the French, the spectre of whose culture still hovers over Vietnam, would say - "ça valait le deplacement".