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24 hours in Tokyo


Tokyo is a fascinating city, with a greater Tokyo population of nearly 40 million, and deserves far more than 24 hours, but if that's all you have, en route to another destination in Asia, I have some recommendations for making the most of your visit.

1. Arrive refreshed in ANA First Class, JAL First Class or JAL Business Class

If you plan to hit the ground running, you'll want to have slept on your flight and arrive refreshed. Fortunately, Japan's two major airlines, ANA (All Nippon Airways) and JAL (Japan Airlines) have stellar first class beds, and JAL has my favorite business classbed. Both the ANA First Class and JAL First Class beds are 33 inches wide, full flat beds with well cushioned mattress pads that are placed on them. I give the edge to JAL First Class' airweave mattress, which even has a choice of firm or soft. You'll also be able to enjoy excellent Japanese or Western cuisine, and Japanese cuisine tends to be ideal for travelers, with its emphasis on seafood, vegetables, and lighter preparations. And both ANA and JAL First Class crews are consummate professionals, polite and attentive, so you'll lack for nothing.

JAL Business Class offers my favorite business class bed, since it also provides a thinner airweave mattress pad, the only business class product to do so. Pick a window seat, as this offers the greatest privacy for sleeping.

2. Take the Narita Express

Assuming you arrive into Narita Airport, take the Narita Express, both to avoid surface road traffic, and as the most economical option, at a current cost of about 3000 JPY, or less than $30, compared to taxi fares of about 22,000 JPY, or $200 or more each way. Use your savings instead towards one of Tokyo's top luxury hotels or a great sushi meal.

3. Stay at one of Tokyo's best luxury hotels

Tokyo is one of the world's best luxury hotel cities, and competition keeps standards very high. If you have an early morning arrival or a late evening departure, opt for The Peninsula Tokyo, since depending on how you book the hotel, you could enjoy flexible check-in and check-out. This enables you to gain early access to your room or suite or, if it's not available, to another room until your room is ready, a godsend when you only have limited time in the city and may be in need of a shower or power nap. There's also a good lap pool for those wanting an invigorating swim before or after sightseeing in Tokyo.

If you want to experience the best Tokyo luxury hotels have to offer, head to the Aman Tokyo, opened in 2015, with entry level Deluxe Rooms the size of suites at other hotels, at 764 square feet, each a peaceful sanctuary and with a distinctly Japanese aesthetic, from the shoji doors separating the bathroom from the bedroom, and an ofuro (Japanese soaking tub) with fragrant cedar salt and housemade Aman bath products. Don't miss the gorgeous pool, my favorite among Tokyo luxury hotels, with panoramic views of the city.

If you'll be spending more time elsewhere in Japan and will be departing Tokyo by shinkansen, or if you're like I am and prefer a plusher bed, head to Four Seasons Tokyo, one of the Four Seasons' smallest, boutique style hotels, right by Tokyo Station. The considerable advantage of the Four Seasons Tokyowhen arriving by Narita Express or departing by shinkansen is that one of their team members will actually meet you when arriving on your train, or escort you to the correct platform when you're departing, so your arrival and departure are seamless, yet you enjoy the advantage of taking the train. The Four Seasons Tokyo offers the new Four Seasons bed, with a choice of 3 different mattress toppers (our choice was the Signature Plush) and we slept better at this hotel than any other.

If your brief Tokyo stay is due to business, and you know you won't have time to sightsee or even leave the hotel much except for meetings, I recommend the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo, thanks to its many fantastic dining options, including sushi bar Sushi Sora, great pizzas at Pizza Bar on 38th, plus Cantonese and French cuisines, as well as molecular gastronomy at 1 Michelin star at Tapas Molecular Bar. Another great aspect of the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo is the high level of service, which we experienced when one of us inadvertently left our laptop 1 hour outside of Tokyo. One of the bell staff actually went and retrieved it for us, and refused to take any more compensation than the actual transport cost. The Concierge was, meanwhile, able to help find and procure a new camera battery charger for me overnight, to replace one I'd misplaced. Simply fantastic service.

4. Savor a splurge sushi meal at Sushisho Masa

While I've lived in Japan for a year and been fortunate to dine at several excellent sushi bars, my current favorite is Sushisho Masa in Tokyo. Make your reservation through your hotel concierge, and be aware that a meal here will run 25,000-30,000 JPY, or about $250, per person for food alone. But for us, it was worth it, given the variety of excellent nigiri, sashimi, and side dishes that we enjoyed, including many pairs of the fresh fish contrasted with a cooked or smoked version. Come hungry-we thought we were sufficiently hungry, but didn't manage to make it to the last dishes of the 50 or so that the chef wanted to serve us.

5. Take a private tour with the backstreet guides

We're so glad we reserved a private tour with the Backstreet Guides, particularly as our guide, Yoko, skillfully guided us through the busy Tsukiji Fish Market, including checking where we could take photos (many vendors, who don't want the distraction and inconvenience of being surrounded by tourists, prohibit photos), got us efficiently from place to place on the Tokyo subway system, and shared with us the history and traditions at Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa. There's also a popular Night Out Tokyo Tour that takes you to some of Tokyo's top nightlife spots, from Harujuku's Takeshita Dori and Shibuya, with a stop at a Yaketori Izakaya, to the Golden Gai.

Of course, the above is just a taste of Tokyo, but it can whet your appetite for another longer visit.

Hilary Stockton is the CEO atTravelSort.

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Out On the Dunes ATV Adventures in Jericoacoara


You've already read how in just one week, I fell deep under Jericoacoara's spell. While the tiny, remote Brazilian beach town had charm in spades, most people were drawn to what lay beyond its borders , miles upon miles of endless, untamed sand dunes, their shapes changing with the whims of the wind.

To explore them, you'll need a set of wheels. From what I discovered, the tourism industry in Jeri is still quite underdeveloped and most "tours" are arranged on a whim. If you're traveling solo like I was, you'll need to form a group of your own before approaching a tour operator or they are likely to shrug you off.

Thankfully, I was adopted by a group of a dozen Israelis who arranged two separate days exploring on ATVs for us. The first day we had a slightly smaller group than the second, and each paid 140R ($40US), while for our second outing we each paid 115R ($33). My newfound travel tribe were excellent negotiators, I should note , I have no doubt we would have paid more had I been the one in charge of setting a rate.

In general, it appears there are two general routes the guides will lead you on , one to the east, and one to the west. You could also tackle either of these routes in a buggy with your guide behind the wheel, if you didn't feel like self-driving. In our case, the guides zoomed ahead on monster-sized dirt bikes, leading the way for our caravan of ATVs.

On our first day, we went west. I have to admit that I'm not the most comfortable behind the wheels of an ATV , I've had a few friends get in serious accidents in the last few years and well, I just feel vulnerable bouncing around on this big ‘ol hunk of metal that could flip over and crush me any second.

So I was more than happy to be a passenger on this little excursion, though within moments I could tell that at the speeds my crew was driving, I was going to spend a lot of the day screaming with my eyes clenched shut.

Our first stop was in the hamlet of Mangue Seco. It's not every day you get to use the word hamlet, but in this case it seems the only descriptor appropriate for the blip on the map that Mangue Seco was.

Water levels were high in the area at the time, and so we eventually reached a standstill where our ATVs had to be loaded onto precarious rafts and pushed across the water onward. On the other side, our guide asked us if we wanted to take a short boat trip for another 10R to see the "Cavalo Marinho."

We puzzled over what this could possibly be, my Israeli friends turning to me and asking if my Spanish knowledge might reveal any clues. "Well... caballo means horse in Spanish," I said with a shrug. "Could they be talking about... sea horses?"

I said it with incredibly trepidation. After all, we were crossing a freshwater lake, right? But shortly after we loaded into the boat, the new guide leaned over the hull and scooped into a mason jar, yup, three tiny little seahorses. It was my greatest moment of communication victory in all of Brazil. Six weeks, and I finally was able to accurately predict what sea creature I was about to see.

After exiting through a surreal, jumbo-sized mangrove forest that we unfortunately didn't stop to photograph, we were back to the dunes.

We soon spotted a crowd in the distance, and paused as we pulled up next to them to see what all the commotion was about, out here in the sand-filled middle of nowhere. We found an enterprising group of locals selling rides down into a rainwater lake for a mere 5R. After watching a few groups face-plant in the sand, I grabbed a board and took my own turn publicly humiliating myself. It was wonderful.

Finally, a chance to relax after the super stressful day we'd been having (ha!) Looking back at a map, I can't say for sure if we were at Lago Grande or Laguinho da Torta Tatajuba, but I can confirm that it doesn't really matter. The dunes surrounding Jericoacoara are surrounded by scenic lagoons dotted with in-water hammocks and fringed by palm trees. I wouldn't get too picky about which one you end up in.

This was the best part of the day. It was incredibly windy, but we didn't mind. Hours melted away as we lounged in the sun, watched kite-surfers work their magic, and marveled at the paradise we stumbled upon in what felt like the end of the earth. Seafood and beer were offered every time we so much as looked at a hammock; and my travel companions were all too happy to take one for the team with a few orders.

All good things must come to an end, and eventually we packed up and prepared ourselves for the long drive back to Jericoacoara. Now, all day, I'd been lightly teased for my clear discomfort with our driving speeds. As our guides geared up, one of the boys, Eliko, approached me and asked what was making me so nervous. "These things flip over all the time," I pointed out. "No, no," he assured me. "You are very safe. We all drove in much more difficult circumstances in the army. You are safe." Who can argue with a man who just dedicated three years of his life to compulsory military service?

I hopped on the back of another ATV and braced myself when the adrenaline-loving driver started taking it in tight circles. Maybe now would be a great time to ask him to stop doing this, I thought to myself, and in that exact moment I felt the left two wheels of ATV lift off from the ground as we both were launched into the air. Somehow, time really did go into slow motion, enough for me to push off with my feet to get as far away from the vehicle as possible, and enough for me to lock eyes with Eliko, who was looking on in horror. If I didn't know better, I might even recall that I had time to shake my head with disapproval mid-air. When we hit the ground, time resumed at a normal pace, and I was quickly surrounded by a dozen faces of concern.

We slowed down a bit after that. Eventually, the girls teamed up and I hopped on the back of Maude's ATV for a bit, where we happily enjoyed the view from the back of the caravan. Never a dull moment, as they say!

A few days later, when my bruises and memories of the crash had faded, I was talked into doing it all over again (sorry mom.) This time, we went east.

Our first stop was the famous arch called Pedra Furada. It was quite the scramble to get there after we parked our wheels, but it was worth it for the gorgeous geological formation that awaited us. Here, I wowed everyone with my remote shooting capabilities to capture a group photo with my dSLR balanced on a rock and triggered from an app on my iPhone. Stick with the travel blogger, I assured them. They always have the best selfie tricks.

Next up was Arvore da Preguica, a truly amazing tree shaped by years of wind and harsh desert conditions. We didn't have it to ourselves for long though before the next group rolled up next to us , this route was far busier and far less remote and wild than the one we'd taken the previous day, when I wondered how the guides knew which way to go into the endless dunes ahead of us.

This was a much more subdued journey, a balance I was more than a-ok with.

Again came my favorite portion of the day, the one in which we lounged in Instagram-ready water hammocks. This time, we ditched the local beer shacks in favor of the upscale beach club (or should I say lake club?) Alchymist at Lagoa Paraiso. As the fanciest of its kind in the area, stepping into Alchymist felt a bit like stepping into a portal to a European beach club , and I didn't hate it.

That said, we didn't spring for beach chairs or expensive cocktails. After splurging on a late lunch, we happily spent the rest of our time splashing around in the lagoon and enjoying our last day in Jericoacoara together.

Simply put, you'd be crazy to come to Jericoacoara and not spend at least one day out on the dunes exploring the wild west of the desert. These were some of my greatest adventures in all of Brazil , I loved them almost as much as the town we went home to.

Are you an ATV wimp like me or an adrenaline-loving daredevil like the rest of my crew?

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