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Thursday, 24 January 2013

Snowboarding Japan / Sun and Sand Philippines




This trip combined the two extremes, snow and sun! After a fast paced snow boarding trip why not sit on a beach…
For Australians no visa is required for these 2 countries.

Highlights!
Osaka | Hiroshima | Tokyo | Hakuba | Kyoto | Manila | Palawan

Ground work

Itinerary

THU 27TH DEC SYD - OSAKA (JQ 952 6:00 - 19:10)
FRI 28TH DEC OSAKA - HIROSHIMA
SAT 29TH DEC HIROSHIMA
SUN 30TH DEC HIROSHIMA - TOKYO
MON 31TH DEC TOKYO (NYE)
TUE 1ST JAN TOKYO
WED 2ND JAN TOKYO - HAKUBA
THU 3RD JAN HAKUBA
FRI 4TH JAN HAKUBA
SAT 5TH JAN HAKUBA
SUN 6TH JAN HAKUBA
MON 7TH JAN HAKUBA - KYOTO
TUE 8TH JAN KYOTO
WED 9TH JAN KYOTO
THU 10TH JAN KYOTO - OSAKA

FRI 11TH JAN OSAKA - MAN (3K764 17:25 - 20:15)
SAT 12TH JAN MAN - PPS 5J 641 18:25 - 19:40
SUN 13TH JAN San Vicente / Palawan
MON 14TH JAN San Vicente / Palawan
TUE 15TH JAN San Vicente / Palawan
WED 16TH JAN San Vicente / Palawan
THU 17TH JAN San Vicente / Palawan
FRI 18TH JAN PPS - MAN (5J - 636 11:55 - 13:15) Heritage Hotel Manila
SAT 19TH JAN MAN - SYD (JQ 78 17:30 - 6:50)


View Japan and Philippines (Palawan) in a larger map

Flights

We flew between Australia, Japan and the Philippines with Jetstar. They were definitely the cheapest airline at the time costing about $1400 round trip however I feel like I am fast learning that you do indeed get what you pay for.
Few tips or reminders for future travel is that usually cheap flights you will need to connect via another city which adds to your travel time. Also if any flight is cancelled or delayed (it did happen!) be prepared to spend hours in the airport waiting for the next flight (which is usually once per day) or being told by Jetstar “we will happily refund your money – sorry for the inconvenience” (though it costs 3 times to fly back to your destination), oh I almost forgot to mention the regular changes of flight times. Flying direct overseas to me is almost a better option, that or only use Jetstar for direct or domestic flights.

For interconnecting flights to Palawan in the Philippines we used:

Accommodation


The following accommodation was chosen for each city.
Japan
Hotel Osaka Baytower (Osaka) - 2 Nights
Very nice hotel, excellent view of Osaka bay, close to the train station though be careful if booking here of the room type since we couldn’t choose between a non smoking / smoking room  (and smoking is quite big in japan).
Backpackers Hostel K’s House (Hiroshima) - 2 NightsHiroshima Ryokan style, close to the train station and only a few tram stops away from most attractions. Staff was friendly and would stay there again!
E-Hotel Higashi-Shinjuku (Tokyo) - 3 NightsRight next door to Shinjuku station. Some of the tiniest hotel rooms i’ve ever stayed in, though location is very convenient.
Hakuba Kurumaya (Hakuba) - 5 NightsDefinitely not your usual hotel, this locally run ryokan lodge is located in the heart of echo land and the owners were very accommodating (picked us up from the train station because there was no taxis at the rank).
Though (to my understanding) they tried to explain that they don’t really run a kitchen (but they will cook you a fantastic traditional meal if you book well in advance) and most guests should work out their own meal plans (which there is plenty of variety in echo land) **big pointer – make sure you book and don’t just rock up in echo land. Many places wont accept non booked guests.
Last but not least we got a very good deal on ski hire from Rainbow hire since they have some deal for 50% off ski hire if you are staying at the lodge. Also Corinne accidentally left her diamond necklace there and they mailed it back! Thumbs up Kurumaya lodge!
Hotel Hokke Club Kyoto (Kyoto) - 3 NightsAnother hotel well placed across from the well constructed Kyoto station. Close to the underground subway and convenient for getting around, though slightly distant from the centre of town (shopping / nightlife)

Philippines
Heritage Hotel (Manila) - 2 NightsA short taxi ride from the international airport and close to the mall of asia. Nice hotel and they let us leave our bags there while we went out to Palawan (we had a booking when we got back to manila before flying out). Items were just as we left them when we picked up and staff were polite.
Secret Paradise Resort (Palawan) - 4 NightsWe booked 2 nights in the orchard cottage went to coconut garden for 2 nights then back in the fan room. Both rooms were good and probably would prefer here over coconut garden since they have better beaches and a pool table!
Coconut Garden Resort (Palawan) - 2 NightsIsland resort located on the way to Secret Paradise from port barton. Cheap, nice and worth a look (though beach was choppy when we were there). Public boat transfer service is available but only goes at certain times and not easily booked in advanced or online.


On the ground

Language

A large percentage of Japanese people do not speak english. We found some places slightly difficult in ordering food. Its worth learning some basic Japanese to help break the ice. Audio of the below can be found here
Thank you - Arigatoo gozaimasu.
Thank you very much - Doomo arigatoo gozaimasu.
You're welcome - Doo itashimashite.
Please - onegai shimasu
Yes - hai
No - iie
Excuse me - Sumimasen.
I'm sorry - Gomen’nasai.
I don't understand - Wakarimasen.
I don't speak Japanese - Nihongo ga wakarimasen.
I don't speak Japanese very well - Nihongo wa amari joozu ja arimasen.
Do you speak English? - Eigo o hanashimasu ka?
What's your name? - Onamae wa nandesu ka?
How are you? - Ogenki desu ka?
How much does that cost? - Kore wa ikura desu ka?
Where is the bathroom? - Ofuro wa doko desu ka?

$$$$$

Japan in comparison to other countries was slightly more challenging withdrawing local currency. Though the people were very hospitable and safety never felt like an issue trying to find places to dispense cash turned out to be quite difficult. Most ATMs only work with local Japanese bank cards, but most places accepted credit card payment. Post offices or 7/11s seemed to be a sure thing for getting money out, If your visiting a 7/11 to top up your funds make sure you try the steam buns!
As usual just the visa debit and 28degrees credit card worked a treat.

Getting around

Without a doubt catching the train in Japan is a must. Traveling within cities I would recommend familiarising yourself with a local route map since using the ticking machines was a surprisingly difficult task. Some cities have a subway and a rail line which tickets are not interchangeable. Its probably worth searching your portable device app store for travel / map apps (I found thetokyo rail map light app come in real handy). Maps for the cities we visited can be found below.

Japan’s entire rail system is made up by the JR group (Japan Rail). The JR Group has six regional passenger railway companies which are JR Hokkaido, JR East, JR Central, JR West, JR Shikoku, and JR Kyushu.
If you are traveling between cities I would recommend the JR pass. Its only available to tourists visiting (locals cannot buy) and is cheaper and easier than hiring a car (we looked into it but didn’t really seem viable).
A couple of pointers to know when catching Japan trains:
  • Using a JR pass is quite easy! Once you exchange your order for the pass all you need to do is show it when walking through (no using complicated ticket machines!). More information on the JR pass can be found here. Or you can purchase online here or here
  • Trains are divided up into reserved and general seating cariages, check on the station platform for information on which carriages are which
  • We got our hands on a printed timetable which came in pretty handy. Just ask at the information desk at any major railway station. The electronic copy can be found here (eastbound) and here (westbound).
  • When catching the Shinkansen (bullet train) the JR pass does not cover the NOZOMI or MIZUHO trains (which are the fastest – the others are almost just as fast!!). Any of the other HIKARI,” “SAKURA,” “KODAMA,” or “TSUBAME” are fine.
  • If your visiting Hiroshima you can also use your JR pass to catch the JR Miyajima ferry to see the Itsukushima Shrine.

Sightseeing

Osaka

  • Osaka Aquarium – Pretty big aquarium, big enough to house a whale shark!
Places that we didn’t go but worth a look

Hiroshima

Its worth a mention that Hiroshima is known for their Okonomiyaki (savoury pancake)
Places that we didn’t go but worth a look

Tokyo

  • Akihabara – A Giant department store just for electronics.
  • Imperial Palace – We were fortunate enough to go inside and see the emperor addressing the nation (happens twice a year)
  • Harajuku - If you are in Tokyo on a sunday go here to see people all dressed up (unfortunately we did it on the wrong day)
  • Meiji Shrine – Super busy around NYE time (didn’t see it all due to the number of people but saw the big arch)
  • Tokyo Tower - Tokyo’s Eifel Tower
  • Shibuya – Japans version of Times Square
Places that we didn’t go but worth a look

Hakuba – Snow Boarding

Hakuba village was home to the 1998 winter olympics, located about 274 kms from tokyo, home to Hakuba ski jumping station (which took about 2 years to complete and cost approximately 7.6 billion Yen) and get an average 11m of snow per year!
First thing I would mention is that its really worth while getting money out before coming to Hakuba. We found that one of the only places to get money is the post office near the train station. All other places in the town do not have ATMs for travelers and some places do not accept credit card (though most restaurants did). Definitely worth getting money out at the start of your stay!
Best way to get there from Tokyo is to catch the Shinkansen to Nagano (105min) then take a Alpico bus from Nagano to Hakuba (65 mins) which drops you off at the Hakuba train station. Trains and buses run every hour, White Horse Hakuba has a pretty good page for more information.
There are plenty of places to stay though the main 3 areas would be Echoland, Happo village and near the train station. All areas looked to have places to eat and drink however if you want to be able to ski on and off the mountain Happo village would be more for you however getting to the other ski fields is further/ more effort.
We stayed in Echoland since that seemed to be centrally located, easy to get snow hire and great for food, though futher away from an ATM which worked and the free bus was required to get up to all mountains. If I went back I would either look to stay in Happo village or Echoland again.
There are 2 different bus services which operate in Hakuba, one is the alpen resort free bus shuttle service which takes you up to Happo One, Hakuba 47 or Goryu and the other is a paid (300Y) Genki-Go shuttle which does a city loop. The only timetable I could find was located on the powerhounds website though most buses will go at least every hour.



There is about 9 ski fields in Hakuba though the main 3 (Happo One, Hakuba 47 and Goryu) are easily accessible from town. The other fields I believe you need to catch a train or some other mode of transport. We only managed to do the main 3 in the days we were there.
Lift passes are pretty cheap in Hakuba. Paying $50AUD per day or $40 AUD 1/2 day is not uncommon. You can usually get a discount by booking a multi-day pass and or discounts from your accommodation / ski hire place.
We hired our snow hire from Rainbow Rentals since they were the closest to where we were staying (and the bus shuttle stop). The equipment wasn’t fantastic though OK, we were quoted 10,000Y for 4 days but somehow we received a 50% discount since we were staying at the Kurumaya lodge = 5,000 ($50 AUD!!). Other places you could hire from are listed below. I’m sure they could have better gear but our hire price is hard to beat!
Onsens – Are Japanese public baths and a part of Japanese culture and are fantastic after a big day on the snow.

Kyoto

  • Nishiki Market – Pretty cool place to shop – worth a look if your in Kyoto
  • Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) – Not every day you get to see a zen temple covered in gold leaf
  • Higashiyama District – Oldskool Japan from back in the day
  • Gion – We went over the bridge to see Goin but we didn’t seem to find it, just a pub :)
  • Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine – This for us was a highlight of our Japan trip!
  • Sake Brewery Tour – Educating tour of how sake is made though you don’t see any of the brewing taking place (you do get to drink it though)
Places that we didn’t go but worth a look

Cost

Travel Insurance = $95.50 AUD (TID - 10% DISCOUNT CODES: TIDTHANKS)Flights to/from Australia = $1656.15AUD (Jetstar)Connecting flights = $95.15 AUD (Cebu Air Pacific)Accommodation = $1088 AUD ($838.15 – Japan + $250 – Philippines)
Japan Rail Pass  =$560 AUD
Snow Hire + Lift Passes = $250 4 days ($50 AUD – Hire + $200 AUD Lift Passes)
Philippines Island transfers = $154.30 AUD
Car hire (to airport) = $25  AUD


Food – Japan
Okonomiyaki = 680Y
Pizza = 1300Y
Pasta  = 1100Y
Ghanko Hot Pot = 3980Y
Draft Beer = 600Y

Soft Drink = 300Y
Coffee = 380Y
Saki tasting = 300Y
Maccas meal = 620Y
Food – Philippines
Palawan
Red Horse beer = 79 peso
Coconut = 50 peso
Vegetable fried rice = 120 peso
Pork and vegetables with rice = 290 peso
American breakfast = 320 peso
Coffee = 75 peso
Bottle of water = 40 peso
Grilled fish = 295 peso
Crab in coconut sauce = 285 peso
Manila
Macdonalds coke = 45 peso
Cinema coke + popcorn = 95 peso
Meal at japanese restaurant (2 people) = 1008 peso
Seafood meal for 3 people = 1323 peso



Misc – Philippines
Movie ticket = 300 peso
Misc – Japan
Osaka aquarium entrance = 2000Y
Skii hire = 4000Y Day / 20000Y week
Batman pants = 2425Y
Peace museum hiroshima entrance = 50Y

APPROX TOTAL PRICE = $3924.10 + Spending Money ($3000)

Final words.

Japan is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world, home to vast history of culture (and people) and has fantastic food. Definitely a country given the opportunity is a must see.  And on the other hand Philippines has a lot of nice islands and warm weather!

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