Tokyo, Hong Kong, and China, Oh My! by Timothy J. Krenzien


The new O’Hare American Airlines First Class Flagship check for International First Class passengers is fantastic.  Private check in behind closed doors with a rear door straight to the TSA Pre Check agent.

First Class AA PJ's

First Class AA PJ’s

No lines and no waiting.  First Class offers pajamas, mattress pad, duvet, and a well-appointed amenity kit that doubles as an IPad cover; it was a pleasant flight to Tokyo.


When landing in Tokyo at Narita Airport, the walk from Jet Way to Immigration is very lengthy.  The Narita Express is the fastest way to central Tokyo and highly suggested.  The Station is in the lower level of the Airport Terminal and has easy access with luggage trolleys to the platform.  Advisor Tip: Travelers should purchase their tickets from a Narita Express agent (next to the Kiosks) as opposed to the self-serve Kiosk as there is a substantial discount for foreigner passport holders.

 Four Seasons Maranouchi is attached to Tokyo Grand Station and has a train meet and greet service.  We called the Concierge from the train and advised our arrival train, car and seat numbers.  When we arrived, a bellman from the hotel was waiting with signage and a luggage cart.  The walk to the hotel is 5 minutes.  We chose the Four Seasons Maranouchi this trip for its location and intimate size.  The hotel is unique in Tokyo with a ground floor entry, intimate lobby, 6 floors with guest rooms and a top floor with restaurant and bar.  The hotel has a boutique and quiet feel.  The Four Seasons is an intimate and quiet experience with wonderful service.  When we are looking for a livelier hotel, The Peninsula Tokyo is our top choice with large rooms and wonderfully appointed suites. The top floor Felix bar and restaurant is a happening spot with live entertainment and fantastic views.


We flew out of the brand new and delightful Haneda International Terminal.  Haneda is best reached by car (less than 30 minutes without traffic) and is a beautiful and efficient new Terminal.   We boarded a Japan Airlines 777 with Business Class lie flat (angled) seating aboard a new and spotless aircraft.  Crew service was amazing and highly attentive. Japan Airlines was our best flight on this run.


The Ritz Carlton Hong Kong is quite a place.  The hotel occupies the top floors 103 – 118 of the ICC

116th Floor, Ritz Carlton, Hong Kong

116th Floor, Ritz Carlton, Hong Kong

tower.   The hotel is attached to a gigantic western style shopping mall with the train station beneath the building.  There is a direct train from Hong Kong Airport to the station beneath the hotel.  Ritz Carlton offers meet and greet service at the train station.  The Star Ferry and The Peninsula are visible, and about 10 minutes by taxi, and a definite must visit while in Hong Kong.  We had a suite on the Club Floor (116).  The Suite was one of the most comfortable and well-appointed suites we have ever occupied.  The views over Victoria Harbor are indescribable.  You are actually higher than the Victoria Peak lookout and helicopters are flying beneath you.  Service is as good as it gets.  The staff is exceptional and highly attentive.  The Club Floor lounge is fantastic and a highly recommended.  Breakfast, light lunch and light dinner served with a wide variety of beverages, wines and drinks.  Floor 118 has a rooftop indoor pool and OUTDOOR space with lounge chairs and two hot tubs…The Ozone Bar on Floor 118 also has outdoor space…There are 4 restaurants including a Michelin 2 Star Chinese and an Italian 1 star Michelin.


Pudong ShanghaiWe flew Dragon Air to Shanghai, China where we had VIP arrival service.  We were met at the jet way and whisked past an enormous line right to the front of the Immigration.  The cost is RMB 500 per person and worth every penny.   The Bund is the place to be and The Peninsula Shanghai is one of the best hotels in Asia.  The Bund has an elegant art-deco era European feel and overlooks the futuristic George Jetson Pudong skyline (left). On the Pudong side, we recommend The Four Seasons, The Park Hyatt, Shangri–La and the Ritz Carlton.

American Airlines now offers direct flights from Dallas to Shanghai and we were luTim with Dallas Cowgirlscky enough to be at their inaugural flight from Shanghai to Dallas. We met the Dallas Cowgirl Cheerleaders in the lounge, and I regaled them with my interesting tales.  (In case you are wondering, that’s me second from the left secretly whispering “Go Bears”)


Tibet, Lhasa

Tibet is an Autonomous Region of China and subject to many travel restrictions. In addition to a Chinese Visa, travelers to Tibet require a separate official authorization to enter and travel through designated areas in Tibet.  We chose Imperial Tours as our ground operator and agent in Tibet.  Guy and Nancy Rubin launched Imperial Tours based in Beijing and are extremely well-connected and knowledgeable about all aspects of travel in China and Tibet.


Debating Monks in Lhasa

Debating Monks in Lhasa

Lhasa is one of the world’s highest cities at 13,000 feet in elevation.  Travel is rigorous and focused primarily on the Buddhist Palaces, Monasteries and Temples.  Altitude sickness is a common problem and precautions are vital.  It is highly advised that travelers inquire with their physicians and discuss Diamox as a prescription drug which helps with acclimation.  The hotel Doctor can also prescribe an altitude sickness medication used by the Chinese Army, which was a miracle drug for several of our traveling companions.


Advisor Tip: High Altitude precautions:

  • Walk, talk and eat slowly.
  • Limit alcohol intake and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
  • Do not take a hot shower or hot bath for 24 hours after arriving.  Doing so expands the capillaries and increases oxygen loss.
  • Order a tank of oxygen the first night and sleep with oxygen.
  • Use the Oxygen Lounge often during your stay and especially after a long day of touring.
  • The hotels have Doctors on staff and an on-site clinic.  Doctors are readily available, come to the room, and are reasonably priced.

We stayed at the brand new Shangri La which was quite good. Excellent Chinese restaurant and very good buffet restaurant serving three meals daily with a wide variety of food stations featuring cuisine from various countries.  This is a luxury hotel by Tibetan standards. The staff’s incredibly helpful attitude and genuinely friendly outlook make up for any service shortcomings. We enjoyed the Horizon Club Lounge privileges.


Potala Palace.  There are 320 steps to the top of the Palace and at this altitude, it is slow going.  The site is amazing and we were able to walk through the Dalai Lama’s former residence.

  • The Drepung Monastery is famous for its Debating Monks.  The Monks (left) gather in a shaded courtyard and debate, rather animatedly – philosophy and Buddhism.
  • Jokhang Temple.  The Buddhists believe in doing a Kora, which is a counterclockwise circumambulation of a Palace, Monastery, Temple or other religious site.  Quite amazing to see the Tibetans make a pilgrimage to holy Lhasa and doing the Kora with the prayer wheels, prayer beads, and other religious icons.  Both on foot and prostrating. We then went into the Jokhang Temple where we were invited to a special blessing ceremony with the monks.
  • Gendung Monastery at 15,000 foot elevation.  At its peak, Gendung Monastery was home to 10,000 Monks.  We walked a Kora around the mountain and then had a great surprise.  Mediation mats had been set up on the mountainside overlooking the Lhasa river valley.  Fantastic views!  A Monk from Gendung then led us through meditation.  We proceeded on for a picnic lunch on the mountainside complete with a Tibetan band.  We then saw something quite unique to Tibet.  A Sky Burial site.  Some Tibetans believe in a sky burial where your body is chopped up into pieces and placed on a sacred stone platform.  For centuries, a large juniper burner has been lit that produces smoke. The smoke attracts the vultures (enormous with a seven foot wing spans) who know there is food and flock down to eat the body.  What little is left is burned over a fire and turned into little ash statues that are distributed around the Kora.  Gruesome, but fascinating.  Buddhists do a similar thing with a water burial for children under 13, and that is why Buddhists do not eat fish.

 Xi’an China

Terra Cotta Warriors:  We then flew down to Xi’an and visited the Terra Cotta Warriors (left).  Truly tim Terra Cotta Warriormagnificent.  Located one hour from the airport and one hour from the Old Town in Xi’an.  Allow at least 2 hours to see the three pits and the museum housing the bronze chariots.  Advisor Tip:  Imperial Tours arranged VIP access to the “Hospital” area where you go into the pit and can walk among the Warriors.  We highly recommend taking advantage of this special access.

We then went on to the newly opened Sofitel Legend Peoples Grand Hotel – the perfect hotel for the ultra-luxe traveler.  Highlights of our stay included:

– Hotel meet and greet service includes Butler greeting at airport, in vehicle check in and passport scan, full briefing on hotel amenities and services, hotel menus with advance reservations and pre-ordering if desired.  Outstanding pick up service.  VIP meet and greet at Jet Way available for an additional RMB 500, and definitely worth the upgrade.

– Butler service for all room categories and suites.

–  71 rooms in an elegantly restored building on the Accor Remnin Square Complex.  Ideal location within the walls of the Old City.

–  The physical plant is elegant and exudes a true sense of place and history.  The 1953 bar on the main floor and the Louis XIII Bar on the top floor are comfortable and elegant.  The Louis XIII Bar has an upper level for resident guests that has an exclusive private club ambience.

– The suites are large and residential in feel, beautifully appointed and well laid out.  Sophisticated light, ventilation, sound, and other room controls.  Strong selection of English Television channels and complimentary Wi-Fi.  Service levels are extremely high with the feeling of one on one personalized service.  English widely spoken throughout.

Advisor Tip: Dine at Dolce Vita, the Italian restaurant in the Sofitel Legend Peoples Grand.  We had one of the finest Italian meals in recent memory; and in China!  Terrific food, elegant atmosphere, and attentive service.