Wednesday, December 7, 2016

[Japan 2016] 7D6N Osaka - Kyoto - Nara - Kobe Trip Itinerary + Overview


Photo By: Elin Chow

Japan has always been on the top of our travel bucket list for years. But my husband and I have been postponing our travel plans to Japan due to the high cost of traveling. For years, we have been pushing back our plans to visit Japan just because people told us that it is crazily expensive.

We visited Japan for the first time this autumn and fell in love with the country the moment our plane landed. Japan has become my favorite country to visit and I could not find a reason not to love the country. We have high expectations before our trip, which is not a good thing because usually, it can lead to greater disappointments. But Japan did not disappoint. In fact, it went way beyond our expectations!

Japan is amazing in every way - the genuinely friendly people, impeccably clean streets, consistently delicious food, incredibly punctual transportation systems and breathtakingly stunning landscapes. Even though Japan is really not a cheap destination to visit, it is not a prohibitively expensive country as everyone thinks. With some careful research and planning, I believe anyone can travel in Japan without breaking the bank. For anyone planning your first trip to Japan but have no idea where to start, you should read my "How To Plan A Trip To Japan" post.

While most foreign visitors head straight for Tokyo, we decided to focus our trip on the Kansai region instead. The Kansai region (also known as the Kinki region) consists of seven prefectures - Mie, Nara, Wakayama, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo and Shiga. For this trip, we will be visiting the cities of Osaka, Kyoto, Nara and Kobe.

Transportation

Malaysia Airlines + Japan Airlines

I booked our flight from Kuala Lumpur to Osaka 8 months before our. trip. After searching and comparing flights with Skyscanner, we decide to fly with Japan Airlines this time.



We intended to book our flight with Air Asia initially because we assumed that it was always the cheapest. But surprisingly, it was not.  After adding in the charges for extra baggage, seat selection and in-flight meals and beverages, the cheapest flight on Air Asia actually end up costing more than the cheapest flight on Japan Airlines. 

From Kuala Lumpur to Osaka, we travelled on Japan Airlines code share flight operated by Malaysia Airlines. But unfortunately, that was a very disappointing experience. Seats were cramped and uncomfortable with limited leg room. Service was lacklustre and food was awful. They ran out of one of the meal choices and I was "forced" to accept the only choice that was left.




We finally get to fly with Japan Airlines on our way back home and I must say that we are highly impressed. Seating was spacious and comfortable with sufficient leg room for one to stretch out and relax. Unlike other aircrafts, the one that we flew with Japan Airlines has no window shades which you can pull up and down. Instead, the window are designed to tint at a push of a button - either by the passenger sitting at the window seat or the flight attendant's control panel.

But the windows will never go completely dark. It was great to be able to still see out the window even when the window is at its darkest setting. This is probably the only flight that I can fly without having the sun shining directly in my eyes during take-off and landing. Other than that, we are surprised that the toilet is equipped with a Washlet!

From Tokyo to Kuala Lumpur, it was a 7 hours flight. Immediately after take off, warm towel, light snacks, bread and drinks were offered. About an hour after take off, we were served lunch. Food was acceptable and are served hot and nice. We get to choose between two options - beef rice or chicken spaghetti. Between the two, I chose beef rice, which comes with a piece of fish, potato salad, fruits and a bottled water. After our meal, we were served Haagen-Dazs ice cream for dessert.

Generally, we found the flight attendants very friendly, attentive and professional. In-flight entertainment was also adequate with a great selection of latest movies. Overall, we have a very wonderful and pleasant experience flying with Japan Airlines. I really look forward to my next flight with Japan Airlines!

Cost Breakdown

Below shows the breakdown of the expenses for our long-week trip to Japan. I have recorded and tracked every of our expenses in a little notebook, so putting together a detailed cost breakdown of our trip was not too difficult. Hopefully this will give you a rough idea how much money you will need for your trip to Japan.

Total Cost Breakdown For 2 Persons
Expenses
Japanese Yen
Malaysia Ringgit
(100 Yen = RM 4.03)
Flight
RM 3,011.80
Kyoto Airbnb * 2 Nights
RM 660.00
Osaka Airbnb * 3 Nights
RM 1,225.00
Osaka AirTerminal Hotel  * 1 Night
11,500.00 JPY
RM 463.45
Transportation
18,420.00 JPY
RM 742.33
Food & Beverages
47,889.00 JPY
RM 1929.93
Entrance Fees
950 JPY
RM 38.29
Misc (Pocket Wifi Rental)
RM 104.00
Misc (Baggage Service)
2,500.00 JPY
RM 100.70
Shopping / Souvenirs 
35,382.00 JPY
RM 1,425.80
TOTAL
RM 9,701.30

For our week-long trip to Japan, we have spent a total of RM 9,701.30. If you exclude shopping, that will be RM 8,275.50, which works out an average of RM 4,100 per pax. Well, obviously, Japan is not a budget travel destination, but it is also not really that expensive to travel around, especially considering the fact that we actually made very little attempt to travel on a budget. Although slightly over our initial budget, we both agreed that it was well-worth every penny spent.

Of course, it is possible to travel to Japan on a much lower budget than ours. But again, it depends greatly on your travel styles and your preference. Please keep in mind that no two travel budgets are the same. Depending on your personal preferences, you might end up spending more or less for your trip. Fluctuating exchange rates could have a huge impact on your travel budget because it can either help you get great bargains or make your trip surprisingly expensive.

Accommodation

Accommodation are very expensive in Japan, especially when you are visiting the peak season. Price of typical 3-star business hotels generally range from RM 500 to RM 700 per night. Thus, finding the right accommodation to stay in Japan can be a daunting challenge, especially when you are on a limited budget.

During our 7 days stay in Japan, we stayed mainly in Airbnb apartments in both Kyoto and Osaka. Both the apartments were very clean and conveniently located within 10 minutes walk from major train stations. Our stay in Airbnb apartment has not only helped us to save about RM 1,000 on accommodation, but also gave us a chance to live like a local.

For our last night in Japan, we have no choice but to stay at Osaka Air Terminal Hotel located with Osaka Itami Airport as we have an early flight to catch. This was also the only hotel we have stayed in Japan.

Airbnb has become my top choice of accommodation in Japan because it is a cheaper option to hotels. This is definitely a great way to save money if you are traveling on a budget.

Transportation

Transportation is one of the most expensive aspect when it comes to traveling in Japan. You can travel to almost anywhere easily and quickly by trains, bus or taxi. However, the most efficient and convenient way to travel around Japan is by train. Just like any other foreign tourists visiting Japan, we relied heavily on trains to get around.



Trains in Japan are clean, comfortable, reliable and always on time. We did not purchase the Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) as recommended because it is not worth buying. As of October 2016, an ordinary 7-day JR Pass will cost 29,110 Yen (about RM 1,173.13) per adult. However, we only spent a total of RM 742.33 on transportation, which works out to be RM 371.17 per person.

Typically, the JR Pass will only pay itself off if we are planning to make multiple journeys (for example, Kyoto-Tokyo-Osaka) on the Shinkansen (Bullet train). But unfortunately, this is not the case for us. Since we are limiting our Japan trip to just four cities ( Osaka, Kyoto, Nara and Kobe) of the Kansai region, the cost of the JR Pass and regional passes will not pay off.

The major cities of Kansai are well-connected by inexpensive train lines, so you can travel around with ease. I recommend using Hyperdia to plan your route and work out the total cost of traveling based on your itinerary. This will help you to decide whether it is worth to buy a JR Pass or any other regional passes available in Japan.

Food

We never scrimp on food when we are traveling and we love everything we ate in Japan. Depending on your choices, eating in Japan can be an expensive affair. We ate so much on our trip and splurge on an expensive Kobe beef lunch and fresh seafood dinner - not cheap, but worth every penny we spent.

While eating is not cheap in Japan, it is probably not as expensive as what you have imagined. We try to eat inexpensively like a local most of the time when we were traveling in Japan. This is also how we managed to keep our travel cost down. However, eating cheaply in Japan does not mean you have to scrimp on meals, starve or survive on convenience stores onigiri rice balls. There are plenty of delicious and cheap eats available in Japan if you know where to find them.

There are lots of noodle bars selling huge hot bowls of Ramen, Udon and Soba all around Japan. It is one of the cheapest place to find cheap food in Japan. A bowl of noodle would cost between 500 Yen to 1,000 Yen, which usually includes a cup of hot tea or ice water.

Other than noodle bars, you will be amazed by the variety of cheap food options that you will find in all convenience stores too. There are a great selection of hot and cold bento boxes (a mix of rice, meat and vegetables), onigiri rice balls, snacks, sandwiches and even trays of sushi - all available at a fairly cheap price!

In total, we spent almost RM 2,000 on food and beverages, averaging RM 285.71 per day for two persons. Of course, it is possible to spent lesser on food, but with some many delicacies to try, we prefer to have a decent budget for that.

Pocket Wifi

In Japan, we rely heavily on Hyperdia and Google Map for directions. In order to access to Hyperdia and Google Map while on the go, we will need a stable and reliable internet connection. This is also why we decided to rent a Pocket Wifi for our Japan trip.



We rented our Pocket Wifi from Travel Recommends for RM 13/day, which totaled up RM 104 for 8 days. The Pocket Wifi comes with a red pouch with charging cable and universal travel adapter, and was usable the moment I landed in Kansai International Airport in Osaka.

Having a Pocket Wifi allowed us to stay connected with our friends and family and access to Hyperdia and Google Map at all times. Connection is fast and reliable with an impressive battery life of 10 - 12 hours (depending on usage).

Renting a Pocket Wifi is the best way to get unlimited internet connection in Japan. It is inexpensive to rent and allows multiple mobile devices to connect at the same time. I suggest booking your Pocket Wifi online at least a week prior your trip to ensure availability.

Entrance Fee

While some attractions in Japan are completely free to enter, others charge an entrance fee, usually ranging from 300 Yen to 1,000 Yen. Although it was not outrageously expensive, entrance fees can add up quickly to a considerable amount.

For our trip, we have limited our sightseeing to free attractions such as temples, shrines, gardens and wet markets instead of towers and theme park that often charge hefty admission fees. This has helped us to save a lot of money on entrance fees. The only attraction we paid to enter is Kiyomizu Dera Temple in Kyoto. It costs us 400 Yen per pax.

Misc

We usually leave our luggage with the concierge after we checked out of a hotel so that we do not have to carry them around. But unfortunately, this is often not an option if we stay in an Airbnb apartment. Most of the Airbnb hosts are not able to hold our luggage after we checked out. As a result, we have to temporary store our luggage at the baggage storage room in the train station  Most of the baggage services in Japan charge somewhere between 500 Yen to 1,000 Yen for each item per day.

8D6N Osaka - Kyoto - Nara - Kobe Trip Itinerary

The below shows the itinerary we have planned and covered during the 7 days we spent in Japan. Hopefully, this will be useful to anyone planning your first trip to Japan.

As usual, all the places on the itinerary below will be slowly linked to individual blog posts that will follow by in the next months. So be sure follow me on Facebook or Twitter to get the latest updates on my 7 days adventures in Japan!


Our itinerary includes the following:

Osaka > Kyoto > Osaka > Nara > Osaka > Kobe > Osaka > Tokyo

As mentioned earlier, we will focus our trip on the Kansai region, where we visited the main cities of Osaka, Kyoto, Nara and Kobe. The four cities are all located with close proximity to each other and are well-connected by the rail network in Japan. Basically, we spent 2 nights in Kyoto, and 4 nights in Osaka, which we used as a base to explore the nearby cities of Nara and Kobe.

Day 1: Osaka / Kyoto

Kuala Lumpur International Airport > Kansai International Airport > Kyoto Station (By JR Haruka Train) > Check In Kyoto Airbnb > Fushimi Inari Taisha > Nishiki Market

Day 2: Kyoto

Kyoto Airbnb > Kyoto Station > Arashiyama > Uji > Nishiki Market

Day 3: Kyoto / Osaka

Check Out Kyoto Airbnb > Kiyomizudera Temple > Yasaka Shrine > Maruyama Park > Osaka-Namba Station > Check In Osaka Airbnb > Dotonbori + Shinsaibashi

Day 4: Osaka / Nara

Osaka Airbnb > Osaka-Namba Station > Nara Park > Osaka-Namba Station > Dotonbori + Shinsaibashi

Day 5: Osaka / Kobe

Osaka Airbnb > Osaka-Namba Station >Nankinmachi / Kobe Chinatown > Meriken Park + Kobe Harborland > Kobe Beef Lunch at Steakland > Osaka-Namba Station > Dotonbori + Shinsaibashi

Day 6: Osaka

Check Out Osaka Airbnb > Osaka-Namba Station > Minoo Park > Kuromon Ichiba Market > Osaka-Namba Station > Itami Airport > Check In Osaka AirTerminal Hotel

Day 7: Osaka / Tokyo / Kuala Lumpur

Check Out Osaka Air Terminal Hotel > Narita International Airport > Kuala Lumpur International Airport

So, basically, this is my itinerary for my 7 days trip to Japan. I will be posting individual posts about the places we visited in Japan soon. So, be sure to follow me on my Facebook or Twitter to get the latest updates on my 7 days Japan adventures! Also, do not forget to share my blog posts with your family and friends if you find them helpful. In the meantime, you might also want to check My Wanderlust page for some of my other travel adventures.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

[Japan 2016] How To Plan A Trip To Japan




Photo By: Elin Chow

My husband and I have been wanting to visit Japan for years, but were pushing back our travel plans due to the high cost of traveling and complexity of the public transportation systems. Japan has the reputation for being one of the most expensive countries to visit when compared to many other Asian countries. Just the thought of how much that would cost scares us.

We finally made up our mind to visit Japan this year, during the popular autumn foliage seasons. True enough, Japan is not cheap to travel in, but it is not a prohibitively expensive country that most people think it is. Although it is shockingly expensive, we find it absolutely worth every single penny.

Planning a trip to Japan can be an extremely daunting task. When I was planning our first trip to Japan, I feel stressed because I have absolutely no idea where to start. I found everything to be a little confusing, especially the rail systems. So I started doing lots of research online and tried to get as much information as possible. But with so much information available on the internet, it can be overwhelming at times.

Although challenging, it can be a very exciting and rewarding experience at the same time. At the end, it took me months to plan our first Japan trip because I wanted to make sure everything is smooth and perfect.

In this post, I am going to share about my travel planning process for my trip to Japan. Hopefully this post will be helpful to anyone planning a trip to Japan for the first time.

For anyone planning a trip to Japan, you might be interested to check out my itinerary:
[Japan 2016] 7D6N Osaka - Kyoto - Nara - Kobe Trip Itinerary + Overview

Which Part Of Japan To Visit

First, you will have to decide which part of Japan you would like to visit because this will ultimately decide which airport you will arrive. Most foreign visitors who plan to visit Japan will usually arrive at Narita International Airport (outside Tokyo), Tokyo Haneda Airport (in Tokyo), Kansai International Airport (outside Osaka) or Chitose International Airport (Sapporo, Hokkaido).

Narita International Airport, Tokyo Haneda Airport and Kansai International Airport are the main international hubs for Japan, with most major airline offering direct flights to and from many other destinations around the world. Other than these, there are also many other international airports in other regions of Japan. So, in order to decide which airport you will fly to, you will have to decide which part of Japan you are intending to visit first.

When To Visit

The most common question we often heard is "When is the best time of the year to visit Japan?". Well, I would say that there is no absolute answer because it will depend largely on your personal preference.

Japan is a year-round destination with four distinct seasons, each beautiful in its own unique ways. Visiting Japan at different times of the year offers a completely different experience.

Spring (Mid March - May)

Spring is the best of year to be in Japan. A good time to visit will be the cherry blossom season, which will happens somewhere around late March to early April. This is the peak tourist season, thus a very expensive time to visit Japan. All over the country, beautiful pink cherry blossom bloom and draw visitors from every of Japan and the world. The massive crowds make it nearly impossible for one to compose a nice photo.

During cherry blossom season, hotels also tend to get fully booked out fast, so you have book as early as possible, and expect to pay a much higher price than usual due to higher demand.

Summer (June - Mid September)

Summer in Japan is hot and humid, with July and August being the hottest and most humid months of the year. This is not a popular time to travel to Japan, so you can expect lesser crowds. Therefore, flight and hotel prices are much lower in the off season. During summer, the temperature is perfect for a little bit of hiking. This is also the best time to climb Mount Fuji or visit beach destinations like Okinawa. All around Japan, you can expect dozens of festivals happening, with countless of lively fireworks displays colorfully enlivening the dark skies every night.

Autumn (Mid September - Early December)

As autumn arrives, the leaves change from green to a brilliant red and bright yellow colors. Just like the cherry blossom season, the autumn foliage season is also a peak tourist season in Japan, drawing a large number of visitors from all over the country and the world.

The weather is mild, cool and dry during autumn in Japan, offering spectacular views of colourful autumn leaves.

Winter (Mid December - March)

Winter is a low season and the cheapest time to visit Japan, but it is also a slightly uninteresting time to visit because there are lesser to see. As winter arrives, leaves fall and trees become bare, making it less appealing to visitors.

Most of the tourist attractions also close earlier than usual during winter time due to shorter daytime. However, it is a great time to enjoy skiing, snowboarding and Onsen (hot spring). In regions where there are snow, you will be able to enjoy a beautiful snow scenery.

The most expensive time to visit Japan is during national holidays. Price of flights and accommodations tend to skyrocketed around these periods:

1. Mid December to early / mid January, around New Year

2. Late April to early May around Golden Week when most Japanese make use of their week-long holidays to travel.

3. Mid August during Obon period when Japanese travel to their hometown to visit their relatives and pay respects to their ancestors.

It is best to avoid these time because it will be extremely crowded almost everywhere in Japan, thus harder to enjoy the sights or take nice photos.

Length Of Your Trip

The next step will be to decide the length of your trip so that you can determine your budget and start searching for your flight. To experience the best the country has to offer, I recommend visiting for at least 10 full days.

Budget

Decide your budget and work around it. Remember to set a realistic budget for your trip. Your budget will eventually decide where you will stay, your choice of meals, attractions to visit and of course, shopping. It is not easy to work around the budget, especially in a country well-known for its high cost of living. I suggest bringing a notebook with you to record all your spending when you are traveling in Japan. This will help you to keep track of all your spending in Japan to make sure you don't overspend.

Airfare

After deciding a date for your visit, you can start searching for your flight online. Finding the right flight is undoubtedly one of the most time-confusing and stressful part of travel planning. Airfare is expensive and we often worry that we are not finding the best price or make the best decision.



I used to spend hours and hours searching through multiple websites for the best flight. But then I realized that there is no perfect time or way to buy a flight. But timing still matters, and usually the farther in advance one books a flight, the lesser one will pay. Most airlines will take advantage of public holidays. Price of tickets usually get even more expensive on days close to public holidays. It is advisable for you to book well ahead of time for travel around a peak period to avoid a sudden price-jump.

I recommend using Skyscanner to compare airfare across hundreds of different airlines and travel sites to find the best flight tickets. Do not assume that budget airlines are always the cheapest to fly because it might not be. Extra baggage fees, seat selection fees and extra charges for in-flight meals and beverages. With all these incidental costs, low cost flights would sometimes end up costing even more.

Besides price, there are several other factors to consider while choosing a flight - level of comfort, quality of services and flight schedules.  These are usually the factors that affect not only your flying experience, but also the overall cost of your trip. Sometimes, it is absolutely worth it to book a slightly expensive ticket with an international airline because it usually offers a better flying experience. The most important factors for us are price and flight schedules.

For Japan, I suggest choosing a direct overnight flight so that you can arrive early in the morning. This will help you save on an extra night's accommodation unless you want to sleep in the airport. Having said that, you would noticed that flights that arrive at odd hours, such as late night, are usually cheaper. Obviously, most travelers would want to arrive during the peak hours so that they would waste money and time on an extra night's accommodation.

Attractions To Visit

After booking your flight, the next step is to create your travel itinerary. I recommend reading through various travel websites and blogs for travel informations and tips. This will help you to start the planning process greatly. One of the most useful site I found is Japan-guide, which offers lots of up-to-date travel information on attractions, hotels, restaurants, entertainment, shopping and travel tips.

The next step is to create a must-visit list, which you can use to work out a draft itinerary later on. Putting aside the length of your visit for a minute, you would want shortlist all the attractions that you want to visit and the things that you want to do in Japan. From the list of attractions, try to fit them into your allocated time frame and create a draft daily itinerary.You might want to consider adding extra information to your itinerary including photos of the attractions, excerpts from travel blogs, local maps and tips.

You might want to make use of the tons of suggested itineraries available on the internet as a base for planning your own trip. Remember, DO NOT overplan! Well, I totally understand that when you are traveling to a new country on a limited time, you will want to see as much as possible and not to waste a single second of it. But trust me, you are not going to enjoy the trip if you try to cram too many things into a day. You will feel stressed, rushed and exhausted. The list of things and attractions that you can do and see is infinite, but your time, energy and money is not.

The best way is to plan a few big items daily, but make sure you leave some room and time for side-adventures to discover new things. Try to put down some optional attractions as well just in case you have some extra time to spare.
How To Get Around

After creating your draft itinerary, the next step is to check the locations, distances and traveling time between each of the attractions that you planned to visit. Public transportation in Japan is highly developed, especially in major cities. You can travel to almost everywhere easily and quickly by trains, bus or taxi.

Trains

The railway systems in Japan is amazing, yet complicated and confusing at the same time, especially for first-timer. Reading about the different rail systems in Japan confused me, and it was not until I arrived in Japan that I realized how easy it was actually to travel around the city.

However, the best way to travel around in Japan is by train. Japan has a very extensive and efficient rail network, but its complexity can make it difficult for first-timers to figure out an efficient route. This is also one of the reason why we have kept on postponing our travel plans to Japan over the years.

Surprisingly, public transportation in Japan is very expensive by international standard, but I can ensure you that it is going to worth the hefty price you paid for. Trains in Japan are clean, comfortable, reliable and unbelievably punctual. Even if you cannot read Japanese, most of the trains stations have signs and maps in both Japanese and English. Announcements are made in both Japanese and English too.

The first step is to research on the best train route and type of train for you for every attractions that you are planning to visit. Although confusing, I can assure you that it is really not as daunting as you thought it will be once you understand how the entire system works.

Japan Railway Group (JR) is the main operator, controlling about 70% of Japan's railway network. The rest of the tracks are owned and operated by private railway companies, which tends to be cheaper than JR. All railway and train lines are named by the operators, so make sure you know which line you are using. You might want to download and print out train maps in colors and use it as a reference while you are planning the route for your trip. I suggest adding train routes and directions in your itinerary as well.

Travel Passes

There are lots of travel passes for foreign visitors available in Japan, providing unlimited travels in a certain area, or round trip from a certain region to another region, plus unlimited travels in that particular region. Most foreign visitors would choose to buy the Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) which offers unlimited travels on almost all JR trains (including Shinkansen) and certain JR buses and ferries nationwide. But it cannot be used for private railways and subways within cities.

Foreign visitors can buy JR Pass for 7, 14 or 21 days, which must be used on consecutive days within its allocated timeframe. A 7-day pass must be utilized in 7 days and after that, it will be not valid anymore. You cannot buy JR Pass in Japan, so you have to order it online before you leave your home country for your trip. After that, you will receive a voucher that can be used to exchange the JR Pass at any JR Ticket Office.

However, the JR Pass is VERY expensive! An ordinary 7-day JR Pass will cost 29,110 Yen. But is it worth it? It might not be. Before you decide whether to buy the JR Pass, I suggest taking some time and work out the total cost of traveling first.

Hyperdia

I would recommend using Hyperdia, a very useful website that you can use to plan your route around Japan by rail. Upon entering train departure and arrival stations, Hyperdia is an online timetable that will display the exact journey time, distance, fare, transfer stations (if any), time of arrival, as well as departure & arrival track (platform).

Hyperdia results are incredibly accurate, up-to-date and reliable, so you have absolutely nothing to worry about. I recommend you spending some time to check the fare for every journey that you are planning to take and try to work out the total cost of traveling. This will help you to decide whether it is worth to buy a JR Pass.

I actually intended to purchase the JR pass initially because it is highly recommended, but decided not to after I have worked out the total cost of traveling based on the itinerary I have created earlier. The cost of a 7-days JR pass does not pay itself off. It is significantly cheaper to pay with a prepaid IC card as you go.

Generally, the JR Pass will pay itself off when you travel longer distances, rather than short distances. Of course, there are many other cheaper travel passes available for foreign visitors other than the JR Pass. You can check out the list of passes on Japan-guide.

IC Cards


IC Cards are rechargeable cards that can be used to pay your fares on public transportation in Japan. You can travel on almost all trains (except Shinshinkan and Limited Express) and buses (except Airport and Highway buses) by simply touching the card on a reader at the ticket gates. Fares will be automatically deducted when you exit the ticket gate at your destination. The card is preloaded and can be recharged at any train stations throughout Japan.

There are a total of ten different major IC cards (Suica, Pasmo, ICOCA, Pitapa, Toica, Manaca, Kitaca, Sugoca, Nimoca, Hayakaken) issued by JR Railway and other private railway available. which can be purchased at ticket machine and counter at the corresponding railway stations. The card costs 2,000 Yen, which consists a refundable deposit of 500 Yen and an initial amount of 1,500 Yen to be charged on the card. You will get different brand of IC card depending which city you are buying it from (eg. Suica or Pasmo in Tokyo, ICOCA in Osaka). Even so, the IC cards are compatible with each other and can be used interchangeably.

Bus


Buses are a much cheaper alternative to trains, but they take longer time and may be less comfortable. While the cost is much lesser, you will actually end up wasting more time on traveling the road. So if you have limited time in Japan and would like to make the most out of it, I would not recommend taking the buses. But if you are not in a hurry and have plenty of time to spend in Japan, buses are definitely the cheapest way to travel around the country.

Taxi

Taxi are ridiculously expensive in Japan and most taxi drivers speak minimal English. It is not a great option to get around, especially for people with a limited budget.

Accommodations

Once you have decide the length of time you want to stay in each place, you can start looking for accommodations online. Looking for a place to stay in Japan can be a big headache, especially when you have a limited budget.


Price of accommodations are generally very high in Japan, when compared to most other Asian countries. You will be surprised by how expensive a 3-star business hotel would cost in Japan, especially when you are visiting during the peak seasons. Size of hotel rooms are unbelievably small and cramped, and often do not seem to worth the price you paid for.

Please note that most of the hotels in Japan only open for reservation 3 to 6 months in advance. Thus, there are limited choices if you start to search for hotel rooms more than 6 months prior your trip. So, the best time to reserve your accommodations will be 3 months before your trip. However, accommodations in Japan tends to get full really fast once they are open for reservation, especially during the super peak seasons. Make sure you act fast before the rooms are fully booked.

Please note that most of the local booking sites are in Japanese if you are intending to book directly through the hotel. I usually use Google Translate to translate the website over to English. It is not perfect, but good enough for comprehension purposes.

It is not worth to spend so much on hotels when you will be out sightseeing all day. Of course, there are other cheaper alternatives like guesthouses, inns and Capsule hotels. However, most of these have shared bathrooms, which offers lesser privacy.

When it comes to accommodation, Capsule hotels are obviously the extreme budget option, Although Capsule hotels are the cheapest option to spend a night in Japan, they are not for the claustrophobic. The hotel offers a bed in a tube-like pod barely bigger than a coffin in a common room at a relatively low cost.

For those who prefer more privacy and bigger space like us, I recommend renting an apartment on Airbnb. You can start looking for an apartment 6 months prior your trip in order to get a nice place to stay. Comparing to business hotels, apartments are generally cheaper and comes with all basic amenities you will possibly need for a comfortable stay. Most of the apartments would usually offer bigger space than a hotel room in a convenient location, at a fairly affordable price. In addition to that, you will also enjoy some extra amenities like your own kitchen and washing space - things that you will not find in your average hotel rooms.

There are a lot of listings on Airbnb, especially in larger cities like Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. I suggest one to search in a specific location. You will want to read the reviews on Airbnb and shortlist a few apartments that you like. Remember to check the exact apartment location and make sure it is close to major train stations. This will help you to save a lot of time and money on Japan's transport.

Pocket Wifi

Is pocket wifi important? Yes, it is very important. In fact, I would say pocket-wifi is a must-have for travelers to Japan, especially if you are intending to use Google Maps to get around. Most people rely heavily on their mobile devices for navigation, which requires mobile connection to stream map data. No internet connection, no map. No map, no directions.



Surprisingly, free Wifi is not widely available even though Japan is a highly advanced country. Free Wifi access points are still relatively few despite recent efforts by business and government to offer free Wifi in Japan for foreign tourists. Furthermore, the free Wifi tends to be slow and unreliable due to high usage.

Thus, I will recommend renting a Pocket Wifi if you are traveling in Japan. Pocket Wifi is a small, battery powered Wifi device that you can connect multiple devices to, such as smartphones, tablets and laptops. It is easy to set up, provide unlimited access to high-speed internet, allow multiple devices to connect at the same time and most importantly, inexpensive.

Pocket Wifi enables you to stay connected with family and friends at all time, share about your trip on social medias and access to Google Maps for directions at all time. I believe nobody would want to waste their time getting lost and searching around for directions.

It can be frustrating if you are lost and unable to search for directions. With pocket Wifi, you can check on sighting information anytime, anywhere, and navigate around the city effortlessly without getting lost. Pocket Wifi also enables you to access to Hyperdia and check on the fastest train route whenever needed. It is definitely the best way to guarantee a fast and stable internet connection while you are traveling in Japan!

Language

Most Japanese are not fluent English speakers as the language is hardly spoken in the country. Some foreign visitors might find the language barrier a huge problem, but we have not encountered any difficulty navigating Japan without knowing Japanese.

Although most of the Japanese could not speak well in English, they will be able to understand your questions. Even with language barrier, the Japanese people are generally very polite and friendly, and will goes extra miles to help you whenever you need.

Getting Ready For Your Trip

A week before our departure, I got everything printed out, which includes our boarding passes, accommodation booking confirmation, railway maps and of course, the itinerary I have created. I have also reserved my Japan Pocket Wifi rental online with TravelRecommends.

It is advisable to check the weather forecast online prior your departure so that you can pack accordingly to the season and climate. For autumn and winter travels, avoid bringing heavy coats. Instead, you might want to bring a lot of layers with you.

Electrical outlets in Japan are 2-prong. Remember to bring the universal travel adapter along with you if your electrical devices do not have 2-prong plug.

No matter what, it is important that you remain flexible even when you have an itinerary. Be prepared and willing to change your plans if something unexpected crops up because sometimes, these unexpected opportunities could end up being the best part of your trip.

Lastly, put all your worries behind and enjoy your trip to the full. Of course, I understand that there are always reasons to worry while you are traveling. Missing flights and trains, getting lost, not being able to access to your money and so on. The list can be endless! If you are person who have a tendency to worry about particular things, then the only way to deal with it will be to get organized before you leave for your trip. Stop worrying and I believe that everything will eventually work itself out. Enjoy your trip!
Be sure to follow me on my Facebook or Twitter to get the latest updates on my travel adventures! Also, do not forget to share my blog posts with your family and friends if you find them helpful. In the meantime, you might also want to check My Wanderlust page for some of my other travel adventures.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

[Review] Innisfree Jeju Volcanic Black Head Out Balm

Photo: Elin Chow

When oil and dirt build up in your pores, blackheads appear, which can be extremely unsightly. However, trying to force the blackheads out can easily damage the pores and scar the skin, which is definitely something  I do not want. Thus, I have been searching for a blackhead skincare removal product that is effective at removing blackheads without damaging the skin.

I chanced upon the Innisfree Jeju Volcanic Black Head Out Balm while I was doing some shopping online and decided to purchase it since it was fairly inexpensive.

What Innisfree Says



The Innisfree Jeju Volcanic Black Head Out Balm claims to melt and dissolve the blackheads without using the extraction method. Containing Jeju Volcanic Cluster sourced from Halla Mountain on Jeju Island, the balm absorbs sebum and impurities inside clogged pores and clears your skin while keeping it moisturized.

Packaging

The Innisfree Jeju Volcanic Black Head Out Balm comes in a little brown plastic tub containing 30 g of the product. Once you twist the cap open and you will see a film on top. Under the film is an opaque white hardened balm.


The packaging is compact, which makes it great for travelling. I can simply toss it into my bag without having to worry about spillage. However, the packaging is a little unhygienic as there is no spatula provided for application, so I have to stick my dirty fingers into the balm then onto my face.

Texture

The Innisfree Jeju Volcanic Black Head Out Balm is very easy to use. Simply swirl your fingers around the product and apply it to the area you want to treat. The solid balm form melts beautifully into an oil texture once you message it onto your skin.

The balm has a light consistency that becomes oily once it warms up against your skin. It is easy to apply and spread across the skin very well. You should experience a slight warm feeling while you are rubbing the balm onto your skin.

However, it takes a lot of time and effort to message the balm in order for it to dissolve the white heads and black heads on my skin. I would definitely prefer something easier and quicker than this product.

Greasy

I actually find the balm a little too greasy for my liking and I was worried that its greasiness might break my skin out badly. But luckily, it did not. Usually, I will cleanse my skin thoroughly with a facial cleaner after using the balm to avoid clogged pores.


The balm is very gentle and does not irritate my skin. But I did notice some minor redness on my cheeks area the next day after using the balm.

Smell

This product has a very waxy smell which I find a little too strong and overwhelming for my liking. Well, I believe some people might like the smell while others might not. It totally depends on your personal preference.

Price

The Innisfree Jeju Volcanic Black Head Out Balm is unbelievably cheap. I bought this on Hermo.my for only RM 15! Furthermore, a little of the product goes a long way. Only a pea-sized amount of the product is needed every time. I believe a tub of the balm is probably going to last me for more than half a year. So the low price makes it a great value.

Blackheads Removal

Unfortunately, this product will not give you immediate result. Do not expect miracle to happen overnight, or else you will be disappointed. I actually find the results a little underwhelming and unnoticeable after using it for 2 months. The balm is not very effective in removing blackheads, especially those deep-rooted and stubborn ones.



After rubbing my nose and cheeks continuously for several minutes, I started to see little white clumps coming off my skin. The balm effectively 'melt' and wash away some of the visibly extruding blackheads and whiteheads on my nose and cheeks areas. It does help to improve the appearance of blackheads, making it less visible. But probably I have to use it more frequently for a longer period of time in order to see a significant result.

The balm is highly moisturizing and does not dry my skin out even though it controls oil. My skin always feels smoother and cleaner after use.

How To Use

Apply onto the areas where blackheads is concentrated (eg.nose) before cleansing. Gently message the balm around your skin and let it sit for 5 - 10 minutes before rinsing it off with lukewarm and cleansing foam. But I actually recommend leaving it on longer for maximum effect. I usually use it once a week, but probably. I would need to increase the frequency for better results.

Final Thoughts

Will I repurchase the Innisfree Jeju Volcanic Black Head Out Balm again? Probably yes, probably no. This is definitely not a must-have for me. Even though it is amazingly cheap, I find the results a little disappointing. I would not recommend this product to anyone who expect to see results quickly. But it could be a great choice for people with a low budget.

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Friday, October 28, 2016

[Bali, Indonesia 2014] Ulun Danu Bratan Temple


Photo By: Elin Chow

Ulun Danu Bratan Temple is a famous water temple located on the western lakeside of Lake Bratan (or Lake Beratan) in Bedugul, Central Bali, 2 hours drive away from Denpasar. The temple is an iconic landmark and an absolute must-see in Bali.

Admission Fee

Entry to the temple is not free and visitors are required to pay an entrance fee in order to enter the area. The price of admission is 20,000 IDR for domestic tourists and 50,000 IDR for foreigners, which was actually a little bit steep for Balinese standard. Ulun Danu Bratan Temple opens at 7 am and closes at 5 pm daily.


Located 1200 m above sea level, Ulun Danu is surrounded by lush mountains and greenery. Entering the gate leading to the main area of the temple, we passed through a lovely manicured garden. To the right, you will see a magnificent Banyan Tree, and to the left, a seemingly-out-of-place two-tiered Buddhist stupa with cloth swaddled Buddhist figures.

Due to its high altitude, the atmosphere surrounding the temple is cool, with temperatures between 18 to 22 degree Celsius, offering a great respite from the hot and humid weather. The air was crisp and fresh and its grounds and facilities were very clean and beautifully maintained. So peaceful and tranquil.

We walked past a beautifully tended little flower garden leading to the temple ground. Despite its popularity, it is surprisingly not overcrowded at the time when we visited. Well, perhaps we were there too early then. So I would advise anyone to arrive early if you wish to avoid the crowds.

A short walk further into the temple grounds will get you to the beautiful Lake Bratan. Situated in a crater of an inactive volcano, Mount Catur, it is the second largest lake in Bali. The lake is shallow with a maximum depth of 22 metres. Visitors may hire traditional jukung outriggers or pedal boats to tour the lake. This is great for photographers who wish to capture the beautiful lake from different angles.

For those who prefer a quicker ride, there are motorized boats available for hire too. Besides that, the other side of Lake Bratan also offers an abundance of water activities like Parasailing and jet-skis. Visitors can even hire fishing gear and bait to pass time away at the scenic lakeside. 


Considered as one of the most holy lake in Bali, Lake Bratan is home to one of the most famous water temple on the island. The temple sits on the edge of the scenic Lake Bratan amidst the majestic lush mountains shrouded by misty clouds and skies.

Ulun Danu Bratan Temple is built in the 17th century by King of Mengwi, to worship the main Hindu trinity, Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva, as well as the lake goddess, Dewi Danu. Lake Bratan is known as the Lake of Holy Mountain because the surrounding area is blessed with high fertility, The lake is also the main source of irrigation for many farms and rice paddies in Central Bali. 

Ulun Danu is composed of four different temples - the Lingga Petak Temple, the Penataran Pucak Mangu Temple, the Terate Bang Temple and the Dalem Purwa Temple. Among the four, the three main temples are tiered shrines - 11-tiered, 7-tiered and three-tiered, dedicated to the worship of god Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva.

Ulun Danu Bratan Temple is built on a low lying side of the lake, which will appear to float on the water when the water level rises, thus it is also known as "The Floating Temple".


Set against the backdrop of misty peaked mountains, the temple is a favorite sightseeing site for both locals and foreigners. The water is very calm and the landscape is absolutely stunning. It is truly a beautiful sight.


Ulun Danu Bratan Temple is perhaps the most photographed temple on the island after Tanah Lot and Uluwatu. The temple is also one of the nine Kahyangan Jagat (directional temples) in Bali, which protects the island from evil spirits.

Just like any other temples in Bali, Ulun Danu Bratan Temple is off limits to non-hindu worshippers. However, visitors can still see most of the temple through the gate and over the walls.


The temple compound is small, but it is still worth for a short visit. For most visitors, I believe an hour will be enough for a visit to the Ulun Danu Bratan Temple. Stroll along the shoreline and take in magnificent view of the lake while enjoying the cool climate and fresh air. Just perfect for people who are seeking for peace and tranquility. I would definitely recommend anyone to include Ulun Danu Bratan Temple in your itinerary if you are visiting Central Bali.

If you are interested to know more about our trip, you may want to check out our 6D5N Bali Trip Itinerary + Overview for the list of attractions that we had visited during our 6 days in Bali. Be sure to follow me on Facebook or Twitter  for the latest updates on my 6 days adventures in Bali! You might also want to check My Wanderlust page for some of my other travel adventures.