Monday, May 27, 2013

West Japan: A Practical 7 Day Travel Guide for Kansai Area - Kyoto, Kobe, Nara, Osaka for RM3500 (USD1200)

Dear blog, finally some time to breathe. Here's one for the road.

That was feeling when I looked up the air ticket to Japan. It was a few strokes to midnight on the 8th of April, during the sakura seasons when I saw the flight from KL to Osaka was selling at RM500 (including taxes and surcharges). Should we buy? Yes? No? Arrrrrrrrrrrr! Screams!!! BB was screaming too! Japan!

Well, if we did not buy the flight ticket, I would not be writing this post. So anyway, thanks to Tony Fernandez's Air Asia, Malaysians can now travel corruption free. 

We picked a date in May as it was the cheapest. Albeit missing the sakura season, the heralding of summer and mid spring was still a season to behold. The Kansai area, includes the major cities of Kyoto, Kobe, Nara and Osaka.

For the record, here is the international plug that you should buy the US, Taiwan, Japan, Thailand plug. Don't bother with the 3 pin type - you can only use that at the airport.Get the 2 pin version instead.

Passport and Visa
For all you Malaysians reading this, as of 2013, Malaysian citizens require a passport and visa to enter Japan. If you are not in Kuala Lumpur, better get a travel agent to do it for you. If you happen to work in KLCC area, the Japanese embassy is off Persiaran Stonor, just opposite the US embassy.

The visa itself is free of charge but will take 3 days to process. Check out their website here.

What travel pass to get? 

In Japan, tourists can get massive discounts on travel on several cards. This post is for 2013 so do check for any changes.

If you are going within Kansai area only I would recommend the Kansai Thru Pass which gives you unlimted access for subways and buses within the Kansai Area and discounts to attractions for 3 days or 2 days (5000/3800 yen respectively). No bullet trains or highspeed trains.

If you will be going further out, you might want to consider the Haruka+ICOCA offering for 4000 yen (worth 8000 yen). This will give you:
1 ticket from Kansai airport to any Japan Rail within Kansai
1 ticket return to Kansai airport from the Kansai JR stations
1 ICOCA card with 1500 yen credit and 500 yen refundable deposit (ICOCA is like a Touch and Go/Oyster/MyKi if you are from Malaysia/UK/Aussie)
The pass is good for short free and easy trips if you are not planning to do hardcore visiting. Each tap in and out at the any subway or bus can cost from 200 to 300 yen each way.

Both can be bought at main stations, showing your passport and return ticket, and we got ours at Kansai Airport and Kyoto Station. Go check their website for more locations.

We bought at 2 day Thru Pass and Haruka ICOCA but topped up 2000 yen on each ICOCA card. (Total 9800 yen). The ICOCA cards were cute souvenirs though.

On hindsight, we could have saved a bit more by buying a 3 day Thru Pass (it can be used on separate days) along with the Haruka ICOCA without topping up (Total 9000 yen) as we did not do Kobe.
If you did intend to do Kobe two Kansai 3 day Thru Passes could save you more.

GPS saved us lots of time when we needed to find out where we were. I had international roaming on which was tad expensive (paid by company). Other research that looked at was finding a SIM card in Japan (quite inconvenient), using wifi to determine your location, or preloaded maps apps as GPS does not require mobile data (This is not true as I found out that GPS on Samsung needs mobile data). The traditional way would be looking at a map and a compass at worst.

Watashiwa Nihongo ga hanasemasen
I can't speak Japanese. However we got on just fine with numbers 1,2,3 (ichi ni san) and Eigo (pronounced A-go) meaning English. Together with menu, smartphone cameras and pointing, we managed to meander our way out of difficult situations. Bottom line is, Japan is quite tourist friendly but it does help to do some prepwork in terms of language as most Japanese speak very little English.

Day 0 - Depart KL to Osaka Kansai Aiport

Leaving Malaysia at 1530 on a Saturday afternoon. The 6 hour journey took us from LCCT to Kansai Airport, Osaka. The time to pack for sparse. Arriving at 2230 at Kansai Airport, we were greeted by clear air and a cool dry night. We decided to stay the night because check in was not until 2 pm the next day and we wanted to save a bit on accomodation.

Not all airports let you stay the night so do check prior to getting kicked out. At Kansai, there were airport chairs which were not that bad for sleeping while the airport information counter gives out blankets for weary travelers. There is a Lawson's (24 hours 7 eleven like shop) within the airport which sells hot food too, with a McDonalds opening till 11pm. Some supper was in order.

 It was some sleep till 6 am when the sky was already bright and the airport looked brilliant from the outside

Here's the rest of the trip and pictures for each day! Let's go!

Day 1 - West Kyoto - Arashiyama and the Golden Pavilion


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