My South Thailand Islands hopping over CNY 2018

I will try to blog soon.

My BKK-Koh Samui-Ko Tao trip by domestic flight, minibus and ferries.

🙂

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Harbin Ice Trip 2018

Yeah, I fast forward this post. I will post about my 11 days trip to Seoul during winter later.

———————-

Finally I have decided to make the trip to Harbin. This is because of the recent direct Scoot flight from Singapore.

I also have decided to write this post in a easy to read manner.

This is written for 2018 Harbin Snow & Ice World (冰雪大世界). I went on the official opening day 5 Jan and I went again on 6 Jan.

Be prepared:

Once you land in Harbin Taiping Airport, you will need to walk down the stairs (outdoor) then transfer into a bus.

As we all know, even the normal day temperature is always below 0 deg C. So pls bring along some of your winter wear on your hand carry. You can wear the rest of the winter wear after you collect your luggage.

Airport taxi/bus

You can easily find taxi outside the airport. The taxi fare from airport to Central Street (中央大街) is about 130-160RMB.

For me, I have time so I use the airport bus.

If you land at the international Arrival, you can use the free mini bus transfer to domestic airport. This is because the airport bus departs from the domestic airport.

The fare is 20RMB and you will need to buy the ticket at the bus station inside the domestic Arrival airport. For me, my hotel is at Central Street so I will take Airport Line 3.

Usually the bus will leave when it is full so you may need to wait for a while.

The bus is fast, it takes about 40mins to reach Central Street. The drop-off point is opposite Central Street entrance. You will see Holiday Inn hotel as your landmark.

For the return trip to airport, the boarding area is opposite the drop off point when you arrive. The bus timing is pretty unpredictable but give and take, every half hour frequency.

Don’t be alarmed when the airport bus arrives and there are no more seats. This is because Central Street boarding area is the last few stops before reaching the airport. There are plenty of taxis around the boarding area and they will offer you car-pooling. If you are a party of 3/4 then it will be easier to just take a taxi. The car pooling rate is about 30-40RMB/pax. The toll for taxi to enter airport is 30RMB so it will/will not be included into the fare.

Airport bus timing

The signage at the drop-off and boarding bus stop is the same. As I have mentioned earlier the timing is not really accurate. So try to have enough time if you intend to take the airport bus.

Places to stay

For me I choose to stay at Ibis nearby Sophia Church, along Zhaolin road. This is excellent choice for me because I have paid $70/night (no breakfast). The room is heated, spacious and plenty of space to walk around. The reception is 24hrs and you can store your luggage with them if you need to go on tour such as Snow Town (雪乡) which usually requires 2D1N. It is located inside a shopping centre and just besides Central street. It is also within walking distance to the Ice sculpture park, a smaller scale exhibition compared to the Snow & Ice World (冰雪大世界) and Sophia Church.

I also have look around, there are plenty of hotels/motels around so no worries on accommodation. But if you are here during peak season, it will be wiser to make reservations.

Simcard/Wifi

At the hotel, their wifi is very good and I can even watch Korean drama using Chinese app.

If you need FB/Google/Whatsapp services, then you can either pay for VPN or use a roaming simcard.

If you are using wifi, you can use this substitute app.

  • Google Map – Baidu Map
  • Internet Browser – Baidu
  • WhatsApp – WeChat

Activities

Majority of the winter season tourists are here for the snow and ice festival.

There are many choices:

1. You can take tours from agents whereby they are all over the place. Note: BUYER BEWARE

2. At Ibis, there is a small tour desk at the lobby so I just use their service.

3. For the Snow & Ice World (冰雪大世界), there are many free buses but you pay for the admission fee. From the website, it cost 330RMB (at entrance), 310RMB (website).

4. Pls note that these free buses usually have a time limit, about 1.5hr to 2hrs for you to roam around before boarding.

5. If you miss the bus, you can easily find your way back by using the public bus/taxi.

This sign says from Central Street (中央大街) to Snow and Ice World (冰雪大世界) costs 5RMB single trip.

6. There is no need to spend the whole day there because it is only worth to see it during night time when the lights are lighted. This refers to 4.30pm because the sun sets at 4ish.

7. Furthermore the weather is really cold and the windchill is strong.

I paid for this tour 330RMB and nothing more. On the way back, they will drop you off at a “toilet” break whereby it is a shop.

There is no obligations to buy anything. For example, the Russian chocolate are slightly more expensive than the same Russian chocolates you will find at Central Street.

》this Russian baby chocolate costs 28RMB

》whereas it costs 22RMB at Central Street (中央大街)

》the guide will get your contact number so it is easier to download WeChat to use here. You can also inform the guide if you are late for the return bus.

More activities

As I have paid for the Snow & Ice World (冰雪大世界), I was offered a 20RMB for a day tour the following day. I mean why not since I have more places to go and travelling in a bus with a tour guide is easier.

If you do not like all these day tours, you can easily take bus/taxi to visit but the overall transport costs will be higher.

As you know 20RMB bus for the whole day, means there will be many self-expenses.

Let me list it down here.

1. 龙塔 (Dragon Tower), for photo taking

2. 索菲亚大教堂 (Sophia Church), for photo taking

3. 松花江金河湾湿地 (Golden River), pay 300 RMB, a place whereby you can pay go-kart, ATV, dogs/horses riding, snow tube, winter swim performance and etc

4. Lunch included

5. 太阳岛俄罗斯风情小镇 (Russian style town), 20 RMB (alrdy included)

6. 东北虎林园 (Siberian Tiger Park), pay 300 RMB

7. 冰雪大世界 (Snow Ice Festival world), pay 330 RMB

8. You can skip the activities and wait in the bus or you can leave the tour on your own expense. There is no such thing as you must stay until the tour ends.

9. I revisit the Snow & Ice World (冰雪大世界) because I did not see everything on my first visit.

If you are going by yourself, I have check that for #3, you need to pay 330 RMB and #6, you only need to pay 110 RMB. For the Snow Ice Festival world, it will be 330 RMB. So all in all, total will be 330 + 110 + 330 = 770 RMB but transportation and lunch and other places not included.

I took this one day trip and paid 930 RMB, so it was about 140 RMB extra (I’ve -20 RMB for #5). Not forgetting I have paid 20 RMB in the first place.

So in total 140 RMB for 11hrs of bus , lunch and personal driver and guide was pretty a good deal.

More activities

You can visit Snow Town (雪乡)and if you are being quoted a ridiculous low price then pls start asking qns. Else for all included based on 4pax sharing accommodation will be about 1100RMB/pax. If you want to have non-sharing, you have to pay more. This place is small and have limited accommodation.

I did not visit because it is a 5-6hours bus journey and another 5-6hours bus journey back.

Since I have returned from Seoul and went Harbin the following week, I do not need to see so much snow or skiing.

On your own

I take my time to explore my surrounding, Central Street (中央大街)& Ice sculpture park (150RMB) & flood control memorial & Wal-mart.

All these places are within walking distances.

Winter wear

Yes, you need winter wear.

My suggestions are:

1. There is no need for thermal underwear unless you are working in the snow for the whole day. You need to be “easy” when you visit the toilets.

2. Pls wear more layers if you are on day tours.

3. Pls wear lesser layers if you are going in/out of shopping areas else you are going to burn inside your winter wear.

4. Be waterproof! You don’t want to be wet and get sick.

5. Pls wear good waterproof shoes with good traction. The roads are slippery and when it start melting, higher chance of slip n fall hazards.

6. Try to walk in smaller step to avoid slipping and look before you step. Avoid icy surface and metal surface.

7. Protect your other parts of body such as face, neck, ears and hands.

8. Protect your camera or iPhones. I always keep hand warmer inside my pockets so I can warm up my iPhone else they can just shut down despite having 40% battery life.

9. Another important thing to note. Pls exercise caution and be on high alert when you cross the roads here. Even when it is green man, the cars will still move. There are also roads without traffic lights and you can see many locals/tourists crossing. Don’t forget the road is slippery so pls be safe.

Toilets

I know it is strange that I list this section.

In general, if you use the toilets in the shopping centres, restaurants then it will be less dirty.

Pls bring your own tissue/toilet paper and be prepare for squatting toilets.

If you really “see” something then just try to “unsee” it.

Any other things

Pls bring enough RMB or credit cards which are accepted in China. It won’t be easy to change $ here because even tourists are being restricted to many verification.

If you are using WeChat Pay / Alipay, make sure they can work in China.

Enjoy the ice!

The weather has been good to me. The lowest was -19deg C and the snowing is not as heavy as I have encountered in Niseko/Sapporo.

Of course I have lots of photos to share but my aim of this post is not about that.

❤️

Maldives

I will park this and try to complete this post soon. Updated: I have complete this post.

I have been visiting Maldives on a yearly basis ever since 201X. This is one of the few destinations whereby very little information on cheaper/alternative travels. I have stayed in a few nice resorts, locals islands and tried out seaplane, domestic and speedboat rides.

I will update soon. After all, my japan entries took me 10 years.

My Thailand entries are still missing and I have been to Thailand so many times over the last 20 years.

Don’t blame me. Blame the system.

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December 2017

Since I just got back from Maldives, I thought of writing whatever comes to my mind.

From where I am i.e Singapore, it takes about 4hr+ direct flight time to Male Maldives. Over the years, I have paid $200/pax the lowest with morning outbound flight and night inbound flight. However, this flight was discontinued and the outbound flight became a night flight. This means you will arrive in Male late at night and you have few choices (1) stay overnight in Hulhumale (connected to Male airport), (2) take a ferry to Male capital island which is nearby and stay overnight, (3) go to your resorts.

This is how Hulhumale looks like. Their buildings are short and it does resembles Singapore. Even their airport buses also look like SBS buses. On some local islands such as Hulhumale, there are public beaches too. But these are NOT bikini beaches so you have to be fully clothed to use these beaches. I also do not find these public beaches to have the clearest water.

Public beach in Hulhumale

Earlier this year, Male airport has changed their name but the airport remained as it is. All planes will have to use staircases for departure and arrival. Maybe in another few years time, when the new airport is ready, then aerobridges will be available.

public ferry terminal to go to Male capital island. Now they are building roads linking the airport to Male city so give them a few years.

If your resort is nearby, able to arrive via speedboat/domestic flight then it is possible to arrive late at night. If your resort is only accessible via seaplane then you will have to stay on overnight and fly out the next morning. This is because seaplanes only operate during day time.

For me, I will prefer staying overnight in Hulhumale because it is only 10mins drive by car. If you choose to take their airport bus, it is possible too! There are many timing but if your local hotel included airport transfers or you have a good deal on airport transfer then take it. Usually it is about 8-10USD/pax/round trip airport transfer.

In Hulhumale, staying one night will cost around $70-$100/night.

Simple Ensuite room

I have been to Maldives a few times and have stayed in local hotels and used their excursions to save costs. Yes, I did saved quite a bit as compared to staying in resorts. I did most of my excursions with the local hotel Operators. You can also purchase resort day pass to visit the resorts such as Centara Ras Fushi, Banyan Tree, Angsana etc from the local hotel Operators, costing 100+USD/pax and includes lunches and airports transfers and speedboat transfer to to resorts. You have to find out more from the local hotel Operators because they have the means to get you these day passes.

Day pass to Angsana Ihuru & on their private beach

Sample of resort food prices in USD before tax (as of today, 10% service charge & 12% tax)

Sample of food prices in Hulhumale local island in USD (taxes were included)

Warning: you need to have an open mind, in Maldives, everything is slow so pls expect to wait a lot!

You can also do live abroad whereby you live on the boat and dive as you sail. You will need to find out and make arrangements before arriving.

Most places accept USD so changing local currency is really redundant at the airport. But you still can change some if you want to spend most time on local islands. This is because if you pay in USD, you will get local currency as your change (if there is any).

There are public ferries too but their timing are unpredictable so you have to check and recheck. Sometimes you have to make transfers and you don’t know what time is the connecting ferries. So it will be wise to ask about transportation mode from your hotels/resorts.

I do not recommend island hopping because there are no such excursions. But if you have cash to burn, I’m sure there is a way around it.

Remember that I’ve mentioned before to have an open mind?

Types of transportation

(1) speedboat to resorts

If your resorts are nearby and only requires speedboat transfers then the waiting time will be shorter because speedboats can leave as the resort wishes. Although, most resorts will want to have as many guests as possible in a trip.

(2) domestic flights then followed by Speedboat

If your resorts require a flight transfer, a domestic flight + speedboat option is always cheaper than seaplane. Pls take note that you will need to check-in for domestic flight 2 hours before flight time. So this means waiting and flight times are fixed. You also do not know what time is your domestic flight until 1 day before you arrive. So if you are arriving in Male in the afternoon then try to ask for afternoon flights else evening flights. If you are staying overnight and fly out the next day then try to ask for morning flights. Once you arrive at the domestic airport, you will be transferred into speedboats/dhoni to your resort. A Dhoni is a local boat.

This is how a dhoni looks like.

On our return domestic flight, the resort will inform you what time to leave the resort One day before. My flight was at 11+pm and the resort arranged the speedboat to the domestic airport at 5+pm. The domestic flight was at 7.30pm and flight time was only 20-25mins. So there was plenty of time.

(3) seaplane (maybe followed by speedboat)

This is the fastest and easiest mode of transport but also the most expensive. Depending on the resorts, the cheapest I have seen is about 500+USD/pax/round trip and this price keep increasing. Also, flight time is subjected to seaplane terminal so you may have to wait for sometime for your flight. Also, in the seaplane, there may have different passengers going to different resorts so you have to wait for them to disembark. However, the ideal plan is to put all passengers staying at the same resorts together. Once the seaplane land on the floating platform, you will be transferred to speedboat/dhoni to your resort.

Some tips:

For the above transportation modes, your luggage will be handled by the staff. So take what you need inside your handcarry such as sunglasses, swimsuit, sunblock and etc. So when you reach the resort and waiting for check-in, you can use the resort facilities.

Also, stop the duty-free alcohol purchase because you are NOT allowed to bring in alcohol. Upon departure, you are also NOT allowed to bring out alcohol. But you can buy them inside Male duty-free.

The food in Male airport can be quite expensive eg. Burger King double whopper meal cost 18USD. There is no harm in eating if you want to eat. I am just sharing.

Price taken in 2016

price taken in 2017

Most of my trips, I will get All-inclusive, meaning all my 3 meals (breakfast&lunch&dinner) and alcohol and water are included. Depending on the resort packages, some all-inclusive do not include drinks, whereas some only includes breakfast. So it is wise to find out more when you choose your resorts. Some resorts have half-board and this means breakfast&lunch or breakfast&dinner. I also know some resorts do not provide hot water kettle because they want to refrain guests from making instant noodles.

Types of accommodation

Water-villa is a must try if you have not. You can have your private stairs leading into the sea. You can have a pool/jacuzzi inside your water villa too.

Beach villa is easier in a way because you only have to walk a few steps and you are at the beach. You can also have a pool/jacuzzi inside your beach villa.

Weather conditions

You can find out about Maldives weather easily. Despite the weather forecast, some resorts can have different weather conditions. After all, Maldives is made up of thousands over islands scattered around. If you want specific weather forecast, you can ask the resort directly.

Excursions

I will do 1 or 2 excursions if I have time. Mostly I just go diving and snorkeling around the house reefs. I will say dolphins are easily seen in Maldives. They are all around you.

I also tried line fishing during sunset and it was pretty fun too.

If you cannot dive, you can use this semi-submarine too.

Or just use the resort non-motorised sports which will (usually) be free.

If you have questions, you can ask me and I will try my best to answer you.

🙂

Some more photos if you like to see more:

here are some videos on fish feeding the sharks and stingrays.

Apr 2017 – South Korea

Yes. I was in Seoul and now I am waiting to go Bali.

This Seoul trip was mainly on Cherry Blossoms.

Here are some photos taken at Jinhae Cherry Blossoms festival which was held from 1-10 April 2017.
First stop: Yeojwacheon river stream 


Second stop: Jinhae railway station


It was also the first week of opening of the new Seoul Sky tower located at Jamsil, Lotte world.


We also admired the beautiful Cherry Blossoms at Seokchon Lake nearby. The night views was very mesmerising.

………..

Also, I have updated on the tax refund post (link) on Seoul. In short, the tax refund in Seoul have been somewhat simplified but still not as easy as Japan tax refund.

Feb 2017 – Japan

<SAPPORO.LAKE SHIKOTSU.NISEKO.NOBORIBETSU.OTARU>

We flew into Sapporo New Chitose Airport for the last two days of the 2017 Sapporo Snow Festival. Upon arrival, we went down to the bus station to buy bus ticket to Sapporo Downtown Susukino. As mentioned before, taking airport bus can save the hassle of carrying luggage around the train station and direct route to destination. The time taken is not much of a difference.

In this case from New Chitose Airport to Susukino, airport bus was 1030yen/pax for 67mins whereas subway train with one transfer was 1790yen/pax for 50mins. We got ourselves an airbnb for a week and it was situated right at Hosuisusukino station. After we alighted from the airport bus, it was about 7mins walk. Our luggage was light so we had no problems walking on the slippery ground with our luggage.

However on our way back to New Chitose airport, we took the subway train because of our heavy luggage and it would be impractical to walk 10mins to the nearest airport bus station. The entrance to Hosuisusukino station from our airbnb was less than a min away.

 

Day 1: We walked to see the ice sculptures at susukino station area and snow sculptures at odori station area.

Snow conditions: I want to emphasize on walking on snowy and slippery grounds. Yes, this is Japan and there will be workers to shove the ice/snow away. But they do not do it all the time so you still have to be careful. Upon arrival, we have seen so many slip-and-fall cases, ambulances being dispatched and many near-misses.

You just have to wear some good walking shoes with good traction. You can also add on metal cleats for extra traction. I can tell you that even with good traction, it is not 100% slip-proof. You still have to take precaution by walking in smaller steps, identifying “safe” grounds to walk on.

As for winter clothing, there is really no need for extreme clothing such as thermal underwear. Yes you can wear it but make sure that you will be staying outdoors for long hours otherwise you will feel uncomfortable in them in a heated place.

There was an onsen nearby which was about 15mins walk from JR Sapporo but we wanted to rest early.

Day 2: We bought the subway day pass because the weekend day pass was cheap, at 520yen for unlimited rides. We went to the Tsudome site for snow activities which was part of the Snow festival. Then we went back to JR Sapporo for some lunch. We booked ourselves with a  local bus tour operator to bring us to Lake Shikotsu Illumination and Ice Festival. On wkends, there were fireworks too. The bus journey was about 2 hours with one toilet break. We had about 2 hours free time at Lake Shikotsu and the fireworks was at 6.30pm. The fireworks lasted for 20mins and then we walked back to the parking area to head back to JR Sapporo.

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Day 3: We headed towards Niseko using local train. From our airbnb, we took the subway train to JR Sapporo then took the JR towards Otaru. From Otaru, we made a transfer towards JR Kutchan. We paid 1840yen/pax for 124mins. Our hotel in Niseko upper village had a free shuttle from JR Kutchan so we were taken care of.

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As we were early so we went for early lunch then took the free shuttle bus outside of our hotel to go to Hanazono 360 for our snow mobile – rabbit course.  Then we took the same shuttle to go Hirafu Gondola Station to take the gondola to go up to the mountains. This was the only gondola station which allowed “sight-seeing” at their gondola. The others would require you to ski/snowboard down the mountains.

Then we took the shuttle bus back to the hotel and checked-in. We had a private onsen in our suite facing the Hirafu Mountain. The hotel also had public onsen segregated into different genders. Also, if you are shy, you can rent their private onsen for 45 mins for 2000yen.  Then we had dinner at Abucha-2 and stood at the traffic intersection and witnessed many fall hazards. Both vehicles and pedestrian will experience these hazards so drive/walk with caution.

Day 4: We checked-out of Niseko and headed towards Noboribetsu, passing by Lake Toya.

We skipped skiing in Niseko because we would need about 4-5days and we did not had enough time. From JR Kutchan, we took the train to Oshammambe, made a transfer towards Noboribetsu. We paid 4370yen/pax for 225mins on unreserved seats.

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Upon arriving at JR Noboribetsu, once we exited, there was a taxi-stand and bus station. We had booked a ryokan for the night and it came with kaiseki and breakfast for 2.

We took the public bus heading towards Noboribetsu Onsen for 340yen/pax. We alighted at the JCHO stop which was the hospital stop. This stop was before the onsen so pls ask the driver or check your google map.  A few more stops will bring you the the popular Hell Valley/Dai-ichi Takimotokan.

Being a ryokan, it means living room + dining room + bedroom are combined into one room. The gentleman would come into your room to setup the tatami bed. The ladies would come into your room to setup the dinner and breakfast.

For the most time, we just left our main door unlocked.

Once we have arrived, we got to choose our preferred timing for dinner and breakfast.

We chose 5.30pm for dinner and 8.30am for breakfast. The ladies would enter your room slightly early to set up so pls be prepared.

After dinner, we went to the public onsen. Although the onsen was small, it was good enough. The outdoor onsen was too hot and even in the snowy weather; we could not tolerate the hot temperature in the natural onsen.

WE ENJOYED OUR KAISEKI DINNER AND BREAKFAST.

Day 5: The next morning, the hotel was kind enough to send us to the Jigokudani Hell Valley. In fact we can walk about 20mins or take the public bus and alight at bus terminal and walk along the street to reach the hell valley.

On our way back, we chose to walk back in the snow. It was fun but not recommended for senior citizens.

After check-out, we were supposed to head back to JR Sapporo. There was a direct bus at the bus terminal near our hotel but that day they only had a morning bus.

We can also take a bus and make transfer. But we chose to head back to JR Noboribetsu. Yes, we can take the JR back to JR Sapporo but we chose the bus option because it was much cheaper and only cost 1850yen/pax for 100mins.The bus stop was beside a supermarket so we had our lunch there while waiting for our bus.

Then we had a luxury course for dinner at a Japanese restaurant with hairy crab and etc in Susukino. Then we crossed over to take the tram to Mount Moiwa. As we had our ICOCA card, we used it in Sapporo for our travels. In Hokkaido, they accept ICOCO /SUICA/PASMO as well.

We alighted at the Ropeway iriguchi tram station and walked over to the free shuttle bus to reach Mount Moiwa Cable car station.  Then it was the same way back to Susukino.

Day 6: We went to the Ice Star hotel whereby the hotel was made of ice. The hotel provided paid shuttle bus service and we used it. The meeting point was at JR Sapporo North Exit at the Bell Square and cost 1000yen/pax/way. Once we arrived, we played on the snow mobile again and this course had up/down slopes and it was fun.

We visited the ice hotel and ice bar and you can stay at their ice hotel if you are up for a challenge. We went back to JR Sapporo and took the train to Otaru. From JR Otaru, it was easy to walk to the famous canal and the Sakaimachi shopping street. Then we walked back to JR Otaru and went back to JR Sapporo.

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Day 7:From our airbnb, we walked about 10 mins to visit the Nijo Market to have fresh seafood for breakfast. Then we walked in the snow towards the Sapporo TV Tower and took the subway train to Makomanai Station. Then we would take a local chuo bus number 106 to visit Takino Suzuran Hillside Park Snow World. It was a free entry snow park during the winter and you can play their snow tube for free.  The local buses have timing so pls check before you go as there will not be any taxis available once the bus services have stopped.

If you are into bulk shopping for Japanese snacks, you can buy them at Tanuki Koji near Odori station. Here you will pay lesser than what you will pay at airport DFS and they will pack in carton boxes for you to check-in at the airport.

At the time, I will need to inform you that in New Chitose Airport, it is a huge shopping center. This means that you can buy whatever you need at the airport and then check-in. This is completely different from Tokyo airport, whereby you need to check-in your luggage before entering the DFS zone.

So try to arrive at the New Chitose airport early for shopping and visiting the Hellokitty/Doraemon/Royce Chocolate parks.

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We arrived early and left our luggage at the locker storage. Then we took the free shuttle bus to Rera Chitose Outlet.

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Then we went back to the airport for more shopping!

I hope we will come back again to Hokkaido the 3rd time. We have been here during autumn and winter.

 

—————————————-

I have written a comparison on how to do tax refund in Paris/Bangkok/Tokyo (link). In Hokkaido, it will be the same. But over at the departure immigration, there are staff asking you to remove the tax refund slips, stapled inside your passport. Be careful to remove it slowly or else you might tear a passport page.

 

You can read about my previous post on my <Tokyo.Osaka.Kyoto> (link).

Dec 2016 to Jan 2017 – Japan

This was a trip to welcome 2017 and we landed/departed in/from Tokyo Narita.

We preferred the airport bus transportation mode because there was no need to do any train transfers, carrying luggage up/down the stairs/escalators and pushing the way through commuters.

Prior to our trips, I would checked the options of getting day passes for subway/buses and if our planned activities transportation costs will exceed the day passes.

The way or the manner in how I plan will depends on the following: types of airlines, arrival airport, flight timing, accommodation place, airport buses timing and etc.

As I have been to Japan over the last ten years, there is no need for me to blog on everything. Otherwise, I may not be able to complete this post. The first step is difficult and I have taken the first step.

I am sure many of you know about the JR pass eg. 7 days JR pass. I always have no chance to use it. This is not because I do not travel to many places in Japan. It is because in order to maximize the cost-effectiveness, I will have to travel to more places in a short span of time. On the other hand, there are so many cheaper alternatives to travel. So there is no reason why a JR pass will be useful to me.

Alright, enough of my personal view. Let’s get things done fast.


<Tokyo.Osaka.Kyoto>

We bought the airport limousine bus package which consisted of a round trip airport bus ticket and 3 consecutive days for Tokyo subway. Then we took the airport bus to Shinjuku Expressway Bus Terminal because we had an overnight bus to Osaka at this bus terminal.

IMG_2192

As we had landed early, we had 10 over hours to spend in Tokyo. In Japan, many types of storage lockers for luggage were easily available. So we wanted to store it at the bus terminal and board the bus directly. The self-automated lockers were mostly unavailable but as always, there was a plan B. The Tokyo Tourist Info Center was on the same level of the bus terminal, which was at level 3. This center closed at 11pm so we had to come back early. Our bus departing to Osaka Namba OCAT was at 11.45pm so it was alright.

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winter illumination at shinjuku – they look like sakura trees

> I will skip the details on what we did in Tokyo because I want to focus on the overnight bus to Osaka which costs us 10500yen single seat configuration. I bought the instant when the tickets were available online because it was the peak season.

There are many different types of overnight buses available so take your time and choose the bus you need. For me, I look at the departure/arrival timing, types of buses, types of seats, departure/arrival point and price.

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Throughout the 8 hours journey, there were 3 toilet breaks and you have your own charging point, curtains to create your personal space and blanket and the ride was so smooth. There were 2 bus drivers and they took turn to drive the bus.

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Toilet breaks was awesome! Clean and hi-tech toilets. I thought they were karaoke room in the first place.

So in order to minimize walking and spending on unnecessary transportation, I made the choice to arrival at Shinjuku Bus Terminal so that we could just walked over to the Tokyo Hotel whereby we would be staying towards the last leg of our journey; to safekeep one of our trolley luggage and send our amazon/rakuten packages to the hotel reception.

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I sent all these to hotel so that I could checked-them in. Of course you can get them at Narita DFS tax-free but not all are available and you need to hand carry. In any case, there is hardly any price difference and shipping from amazon/rakuten is free. Amazon can send to convenience store which means you can collect it from eg. lawson if you do not have a local address.

Then, we spent our time in Shinjuku area and went back to the bus terminal to board our overnight bus. Since we would be arriving in Osaka OCAT, we found an airbnb in Namba area which was nearby Dotonbori. This airbnb saved us $300 because it was the New Year peak season. I understood how airbnb works because I have been using their services for some time. The largest factor in getting a good experience is all about the airbnb host. So if all else fails, I will just book another place or hotel. The backup plan was to stay in this hotel nearby OCAT and it would cost $300 more than what we have paid for our airbnb in this peak period.

Airbnb host had rules so we respected that. Once we arrived at OCAT, we walked over to JR Namba East Exit at Osaka Takashimaya which was the nearest to our airbnb, found a storage locker and stored out stuff. We could not checked-in until 4pm in the afternoon and it was not a big deal.

So we just went ahead of our sight-seeing within Osaka. There were many types of transport passes in Osaka and the most suitable for us on this trip was: 2 days Osaka Amazing pass. Even if we did not do most of the activities on the Osaka Amazing Pass, our transportation costs would exceeded the price of the amazing pass. As for the other days in Osaka, we would just used the ICOCA pass which worked the same as PASMO/SUICA in Tokyo.

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I will emphasize on the time before you can buy your tickets online eg. disneyland tickets. So I will buy it at disney store at takashimaya tokyo. I did try to find discounted tickets but there is no such tickets for disney. However, there is discounted tickets for sanrio puroland at those discounted tickets shops nearby shinjuku station. Many years later, you can buy all types of tickets online, receive e-ticket, print it and proceed to entry.

This is a good way for me to use those credit cards with cashback and I get to save some money. At the same time, I also feel more secure because I have book/buy my ticket before I land. I also can pay for most of my expenses and have more cash to pay for other stuff. There is this website which I always use to buy my attraction tickets and with the referral fee, I get to save even more. (link)

Back to our trip, I will skip most of it until I insert some photos.

Here is a run-down:

Day 1: Arrive in Tokyo, take overnight bus to Osaka

Day 2: Arrive in Osaka OCAT, Osaka Castle Aqua-liner, Shinsaibashi, Amerika-Mura, Tsutenkaku Tower, check-in airbnb, Matsuzaka Beef at Yakiniku M.Hosenji, Tomburi River cruise, Abeno Harukas, Dontonbori

Day 3: Umeda Sky building, HEP Five ferris wheel, Umeda Pokemon Center, Shitenmoji Temple, Kuromon seafood market, Den-Den town, Tenjinbashisuji shopping arcade, Miyukimori Shrine Korean town (optional), Sengoku The Real (show at Osaka castle), Dontonbori, countdown at Kitamido Temple, walk back to JR Namba

For Day 2 & 3, we used the 2 days Osaka Amazing Pass. As I am looking at my itinerary while writing this post, my total costs for activites and transportation for 2 days is approx 8000yen but the 2 days pass only costs 3000yen. So it was a good deal. As I have mention before, there are too many transportation tickets to buy so you need to work out the sum in order to find the most ideal pass.

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Day 4: Namba Yasaka Shrine, Sumiyoshitaisha Shrine, Rinku Premium Outlet, Osaka Prefectural Flower Garden

note that day 4 was 1 January 2017 so many shrines were crowded and many shopping places were closed. we went to Rinku Premium Outlet because it was New Year Day and lucky bags were for sale. I planned it this way because I wanted to buy lucky bags aka fukubukuro because it was a great deal!

Before I had planned to visit Osaka Prefectural Flower Garden at night, I checked the transport timing. This garden had some awesome winter illumination and in order to go, we would need to take the JR to Mikkaichicho station, changed to a local bus and walked about 10 mins. It was not a big issue but on the way back, the local bus were out-of-service so we had to walk to Mikkaichicho station approx 30mins. This was not a big issue to us but it was winter and the wind-chill factor was a concern. We can prepared ourselves with proper clothing but there was no urgency to visit the garden and suffered later. I was also not sure about getting a taxi because taxi might not be available and I also did not want to drive there. So we just stayed put at dontonburi and it was fun because there was so many things to eat and shop.

The Japanese use solar calendar so beside New Year, they also welcomed Year of Rooster even though the lunar calendar for CNY was later.

Day 5: USJ

from JR Namba, we walked to JR Osaka Namba station and alighted at Nishikijo Station to make transfer and arrived at Universal City Station

Day 6: checked-out Osaka airbnb and took local train to Kyoto station, deposited our luggage at hotel and went sightseeing, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Tenryuji Temple, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Yasaka shrine, kyoto station to check in. we skipped Gion which was planned for the night

Day 7: walked to Nishiki Market then to kimono rental shop, we had a kimono outdoor photoshoot at Gion then it was an overnight bus back to Tokyo. The bus boarding point if just right outside the hotel we stayed in kyoto. So we just deposited our luggage with them and came back at night to wash up and collected our luggage.

> The overnight bus back to Tokyo costs us 6630yen single seat configuration. I bought the instant when the tickets were available online because it was the peak season. This bus type had early bird price.

Day 8/9/10: we used the 3 days consecutive Tokyo subway pass here. I will skip on this part.

On our day of departure, we had to be at the airport by 9am so we had to leave the hotel by 8am. But the airport bus was at 7.20am  so we took this timing and the boarding point was just right outside the hotel lobby.

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usually I will stay at the apartment behind this hotel and if I have a morning flight, I will board at this hotel or if I have more time and NEX is cheap, I will take NEX else any airport bus will do. Usually when I take NEX, it will means I do not have many luggage. I can use the forwarding service but I did not.

Now I will try to add in the photos so that I can continue to blog on the Hokkaido trip.

You can read it here (link).