Wednesday, May 28, 2014

My faves (Japan)

Although there are still many parts of Japan where I have yet to visit (eg. Shikoku, Okinawa, most of Tohoku), but out of all those places where I've actually visited before, here are my list of favourites. 

I don't expect people to agree with this list, since this is simply my personal opinion just for sharing.

Coldest day:
Sounkyo onsen (Hokkaido) 
Temp: minus 20 degrees Celsius 
This was an extremely cold day during our visit to Hokkaido back in Feb 2012. 
It was about minus 17 degrees Celsius in the day, and minus 20 degrees Celsius at night. 
What made it even worse was that it was a very windy day as well (check out photo below taken during ice festival).
My husband went to an outdoor onsen (hotspring bath) at the hotel, and he said that within minutes, his wet hair became frozen.
You can see the wind in this photo. Everytime there's a gust of wind coming, people would turn to face the opposite direction so that the wind will hit their backs instead of faces.

Running at 2nd was our day at Nozawa onsen on Christmas eve back in 2012. 
(my blog entry)
Temp: minus 13 degrees Celcius
Our day at Asahikawa would have been a close tie for the 2nd place if not for the fact that I was walking around Nozawa onsen on this day with a hole in the sole of my shoe which got my socks wet. 
It felt like my feet were dipped in bucket of iced water during my walk around town on this day.
Nozawa onsen, on a snowy Christmas eve.

Favourite view:
Hakodate (Hokkaido)
(my blog entry)
This observation deck at Mt Hakodate has a great view of Hakodate. 
The view of Hakodate from Mt Hakodate was also listed as 1 of Japan's 3 best night views (along with Nagasaki's Mt Inasa, and Kobe's Mt Rokko).
View of Hakodate from Mt Hakodate.
Shirakawa-go (Gifu, Chubu)
Shirakawa-go is a UNESCO World Heritage site about 50mins by bus from Takayama.
The view from Shiroyama viewpoint has a lovely view of Ogimachi village in Shirakawa-go.
The view is even better in winter during the evening light-ups.
Tokyo Tower (Tokyo)
Some people prefer Tokyo Tower, whereas others prefer Tokyo Skytree. 
But for me, I would choose Tokyo Tower over Skytree...mainly because I grew up watching Japanese dramas, so I often see Tokyo Tower appearing in the dramas which made me wanting to go Tokyo and see a nice view of Tokyo Tower overlooking Tokyo city one day. 
So on my solo March 2013 trip, I went to the observatory deck at World Trade Centre building for a nice, unobstructed view of Tokyo Tower and spent 2hrs there, reading my ebook while waiting for sunset.

Favourite town:
For someone who likes photography, there is no shortage of photo opportunities in Kyoto. 
Red torii gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine, bamboo grove at Arashiyama, scenic train ride at Arashiyama, red koyo at Kiyomizudera in autumn, and the list goes on, and on, and on...
red torii gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine
Bamboo grove at Arashiyama
Scenic train ride at Arashiyama
Kiyomizudera during autumn

Yufuin (Kyushu)
This quaint little hotspring town in Kyushu is also 1 of my favourite towns in Japan.
It was a lovely stroll to Lake Kinrinko and there were many shops and cafes along the way which makes the stroll even more enjoyable.
Lake Kinrinko during winter.

Karuizawa (Nagano)
Although my visit to Karuizawa was pretty rushed, but I thoroughly enjoyed my visit there during autumn. 
This town has a Europe feel to it since there are many western styled buildings around. 
This is probably the one place in Japan that I've visited where it doesn't feel like I'm actually in Japan. 
Kumoba-ike pond during autumn

Favourite onsen towns:
Yufuin (Kyushu)
(my blog entry)
As mentioned earlier in this post, Yufuin is 1 of my favourite place in Japan. 
Interesting shops and cafes, nice view of Mt Yufu, a lovely little town to stay overnight at if you happen to visit Kyushu.
View of Mt Yufu from our ryokan room at Yufuin.
I've visited Kinosaki onsen twice. Once in Nov 2013 when I'm on my solo trip, and again a few months later in Feb 2014 when I brought my hubby and my in-laws there for a visit.
Most foreign tourists skips Kinosaki onsen since it takes about 3hrs by train from Osaka and instead, they opted to visit nearby Arima onsen in Kobe instead, which is much nearer to Osaka. However, this place is popular with the local Japanese.
Kinosaki onsen is an old hotspring town with a nostalgic feel with many public hotspring bathhouses. 
During evenings, guests who are staying overnight at Kinosaki onsen will wear their yukatas (provided by the ryokans they are staying at) and wooden clogs and stroll around the town. 
In winter (which is also crab season for this area), you will find many shops selling crab cuisines.
Canal area at Kinosaki onsen

Favourite hotel/ryokan stays:

This is my favourite room throughout all my stays in Japan. 
And that's because the room is spacious, has a nice view of the ski slopes, and there's an en-suite hotspring bath tub in our room.
Our 1 night stay here cost us 26100yen (room only, without meals) on Christmas day 2012.
you can see the hot tub in this pic, somewhere near the coat hanger.
Our own hot tub in the room.
View from the room and hot tub.

Hotel Miyarikyu at Miyajima (Hiroshima)
(my blog entry)
Another memorable stay which we had was our 1 night stay at Miyajima. 
While most people who visits Miyajima would stay at Hiroshima instead of Miyajima, however we were glad to have stayed overnight at Miyajima. We were able to walk right up to the torii gate during both low tides (once at 7pm and then at 7am the following morning during our stay) when most day visitors would have already left the island and headed back for Hiroshima.
This room which we booked had a sea view, and we were also able to see the torii gate from our window as well.
Our 1 night stay here costs 32000yen (room + dinner served in the room + buffet breakfast)
Dinner served in our room.

The thing I liked most about this particular stay is the view from our hotel room.
Our 1 night stay costs 18900yen (room + breakfast) in Feb 2012.
The Tower hotel at Hoshino Resort
Living area in our room
our room
View from our room.

Favourite trains:

Twilight Express (overnight train between Sapporo to Osaka)
It was extremely difficult to book this train, since local Japanese would be able to start making reservations for this train long before foreign tourists like us arrive at Japan. Therefore, I consider us lucky to be able to succeed in making a reservation for this train after we arrived in Japan.
The entire journey from Sapporo to Osaka will take about 23hrs onboard the train, however, since we boarded from Toya station instead of Sapporo, so we spent about 21hrs onboard the train.
Even though I was using a 7days JR Pass, we still had to top up additional charges to pay for the express surcharge and private cabin charges.
We stayed at a Twin cabin, and paid 16320yen for the cabin (total for 2 pax), plus 3150yen (per person) for the express surcharge. If you are not using JR Pass, you will have to pay even more than that to also cover for the basic train fare.
It was worth it. Totally enjoyed the journey.
Twilight Express overnight train.
Our Twin cabin. 1 bed above, and the bottom 2 seats can be transformed into another bed.
Viewing gallery
Dining car.

This special themed train (seasonal) runs between Sapporo and Asahikawa.
Recently, they have done a renovation on this train so although this is still a Zoo-themed train, but it looks different from the photos shown here which I took during my trip in Feb 2012.

Tama (Cat) train (Wakayama)
This train runs from Wakayama station to Kishi station.  This train operator also operates 2 other themed trains along this train line. The Ichigo (Strawberry) train, and the Omocha (Toys) train.
But out of their 3 themed trains, i prefer their Tama train. 
It is at the last station (Kishi station) where the Cat stationmaster Tama-chan is stationed at.
1 thing to note though, this train doesn't operate every day, so if you want to catch this particular themed train, you'd have to go to their website and check operations schedule (click the link with the word "PC" and you will see a page with calender. Click on a particular date to see train timings. Blue timings for Cat train, Pink timings for strawberry train, Green timings for toy train. "和 歌 山" = Wakayama station, "貴 志" = Kishi station).

Tama the Cat Station Master at Kishi station.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Places to visit in Kyoto (other than shrines/temples)

Recently, I've come across a post on a travel forum about someone who wants to visit Kyoto but doesn't want to visit shrines and temples. That gave me the idea of coming up with this particular blog entry.

When people visit Kyoto, most people visit the many lovely historical shrines and temples in Kyoto.
My favourite places in Kyoto are Kiyomizudera (esp in Autumn) and Fushimi Inari Shrine (got to love those red torii gates).
However, if you are not so much into temples/shrines/historical sites, or you are going with children who may not appreciate temples and shrines, then here are some other places within Kyoto which might interest you.

Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum
(re-opening as Kyoto Railway Museum on 29/4/2016)
(new website)

To get there:
Bus: Take a bus from Kyoto station to "Umekoji Koen-mae" bus stop.
Train: From Kyoto station, take a train on the JR Sagano line to Tambaguchi station (3mins, 140yen), then another 15mins walk from Tambaguchi station.
Walk: About 20mins walk from Kyoto station.

Kyoto Aquarium
This Aquarium is located somewhere between Kyoto station and Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum.

Admission fees:
2050yen (adults), 1550yen (University/Highschool students), 1000yen (Junior High/Elementary School students), 600yen (children)

To get there:
Walk: About 15mins walk from Kyoto station.

Kyoto City Zoo

Admission Fees:
600yen (adult)

To get there:
Bus: Take Bus no. 5, 32, 100 (Raku-Bus) to "Dobutsuen-mae" bus stop.
Train: From Kyoto station, take Kyoto City Subway Karasuma line to Karasuma-oike station (5mins journey), then at Karasuma-oike station, transfer to the Kyoto City Subway Tozai line and then alight at Keage station (7mins). Total fare is 260yen. From Keage station, walk about 5mins to reach the Zoo.

Kyoto Tower
For a 360 degrees panaromic view of Kyoto.

Admission fees:
770yen (adult), 620yen (high school student), 520yen (Junior High/Elementary School student), 150yen (children)

To get there:
Kyoto Tower is located opposite of Kyoto station.

Toei Uzumasa Eigamura (Kyoto Studio Park)
This is an Edo period film set as well as a themepark.

Admission Fees:
2200yen (adult), 1300yen (Junior High/High School students), 1100yen (children)

To get there:
Train: From Kyoto station, take the JR Sagano line train to Hanazono station (10mins, 200yen).
From Hanazono station, walk about 13mins to reach Kyoto Studio Park.

Udon Museum
There are not much English information about this place. But those who loves to eat Udon might want to consider visiting this museum. They do sell small portions of udons from different parts of Japan at the museum for you to try.

To get there:
(Train) From Kyoto station, take the JR Nara line local train to Tofukuji station (3mins). Alight at Tofukuji station and transfer to the Keihan Main line train to Gion-Shijo station (5mins). Total fare is 270yen.
From Gion-Shijio station, walk about 5mins to reach the Udon museum.

Arashiyama area in Kyoto is easily reachable from Kyoto station via a short 15mins train ride onboard the JR Sagano line (alight at JR SagaArashiyama station, train fare costs 240yen).
This area is a nice place to spend half a day if you are visiting Kyoto.

Monkey Park (Arashiyama area) (my blog entry)
This monkey park has a nice view overlooking Kyoto at the summit, however, it would take awhile for you to climb up the summit. Since my speed of walking was pretty slow, so it took me about 40mins to walk from the park entrance to the summit.
Wear comfortable shoes if you plan on visiting, since I won't recommend that you do the walk up in high heels.

Admission fees:
550yen (adult), 250yen (4-15years), Free (below 4yrs old)

How to go:
From Kyoto station, take the JR Sagano line train to JR SagaArashiyama station (15mins, 240yen).
From JR SagaArashiyama station, you can walk (took me about 30mins actually) to reach the entrance of the Monkey park.

Sagano Scenic Railway (Arashiyama area) (my blog entry)
This 30mins train ride is a lovely train ride with nice scenic views throughout the ride.
However, it is not available all year round since they won't operate this train during winter season (end Dec to Early March).

Train fare (1 way):
620yen (adult), 310 (children)

How to go:
You can buy the tickets and board this scenic train from the scenic train's station (Torokko Saga station) located just next to JR Saga-Arashiyama station.
To reach JR SagaArashiyama station, take the JR Sagano line train from Kyoto station to JR SagaArashiyama station (15mins, 240yen).

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Japan (Feb 2014) Day 5: Osaka

Japan (Feb 2014) Day 5: Kinosaki onsen to Osaka. Stay at Osaka.

After a breakfast served in our room at the ryokan where we stayed at at Kinosaki onsen, we checked out of the ryokan and went to catch a morning train (3hrs train journey) from Kinosaki onsen station to Shin-Osaka station. It would be around 12:30pm by the time we arrived at Shin-Osaka station.

From Shin-Osaka station, we took a Haruka Express (since we are still using our 4 days JR Kansai Area Wide Pass) from Shin-Osaka to reach Tennoji station, where our hotel is located at.

After depositing our luggage at the hotel, we headed out to explore Osaka. We went to Osaka castle first, and then went to Shinsaibashi/Dotonbori area.

Our breakfast at our ryokan at Kinosaki onsen.
We woke up really early, and the lady from the ryokan arrived at around 7am to our room to start setting up our table for breakfast.
After breakfast, we took a 3hr Ltd Exp train ride from Kinosaki Onsen station to Shin-Osaka station.
Since we were using a 4 days JR Kansai Area Wide Pass, so instead of regular trains where we had to lug our luggage and squeeze with other commuters, we took a Ltd Exp Haruka Express train from Shin-Osaka to Tennoji station.
Our hotel is Tennoji Miyako Hotel, located just opposite JR Tennoji station. The thing I liked about this hotel is that there's an underpass linking the hotel directly to the subway station.
Our Double room. Costs us S$673 to book 2 rooms (1 Double, 1 Twin) for a total of 3 nights.
After we put our luggages in our hotel rooms, we had a quick lunch at the basement of a nearby dept store before going to catch a train to Osaka castle.

Lunch. Tempura crab with rice.

From Tennoji station, we took a subway to Tanimachi-4-chome station to reach Osaka castle.
The Osaka castle grounds is just a short 5-10mins walk away from the subway station.

Sister-in-law playing with a sleepy cat at Osaka castle

Hubby bought this One Piece themed heat packs from the convenience store.

Total of 5 heatpacks in the packet.

Franky heatpack.
 Since plum blossoms where just starting to bloom, so we visited a plum blossom garden at Osaka castle.

Osaka castle
Back to taking photos...

After Osaka castle, we went to Shinsaibashi and Dotonbori for some light shopping and dinner.

The building with the large yellow ferris wheel (I think) is a 24hr Don Quijote store, where we went after dinner. The Ramen shop in the photo is where we had our dinner...Ichiran Ramen. (Ichiran Ramen also opens 24hrs)
Awaiting for available table at Ichiran Ramen.

Every table is partitioned.

My Ramen spring onions. 790yen.
 After dinner at Ichiran Ramen, we went next door to the 24hr Don Quijote store for some light shopping.
They sell snacks, beauty products, home appliances..etc..and the store spans over a couple of floors.

Inside Don Quijote

Choc coated potato chips

Beauty products section

Cute socks!

Go back to Day 4 Kinosaki Onsen / Go next to Day 6 Nara