Monday, May 19, 2014

Images of Kansai Region

Since it has been a while since I blogged, lemme just post some of the best pics that I had when I went to Osaka last spring =)

Getting a Surutto Kansai 3-Day Pass vs. SUICA/ICOCA Card and JR Pass Card

If you have finally decided to visit Kansai for 3 to 4 days, then read on because I will be discussing exhaustively my itinerary when I visited and toured Kansai just last spring.

I am quite sure you must be at a loss on how to figure things out when you tour Osaka without availing of a package tour. A lot has done it and frankly, Osaka tranport system is very user-friendly although I must admit, it is daunting at first. So, as far as my itinerary is concerned, this is how I did my Osaka tour.

Day 0: Arrival at Osaka Kansai International Airport (night time if Cebu Pacific, early morning if Jetstar. And yes, Jetstar flies to Osaka from Thursday to Monday)

Day 1: Himeji Castle, Akashi Kaikyo Bridge (entire day)

Day 2: Nara (Todaiji Temple, Nara Deer Park)

Day 3: Kyoto (whole day), visit Gion, Kinkakuji Temple, Kiyomizudera Temple, Fushimi Inari Shrine

Day 4: Kobe and Osaka (Osaka Castle, Dotonbori shops, Glico Man, etc), shop at Rinku Town Outlet Shops before proceeding to Kansai International Airport departure at night (via Cebu Pacific)

Now, given the itinerary above, you will see that you will be moving around the Kansai Region. Given that, you will have to decide which way to go: is it via the JR West Rail Pass? Surutto Kansai Pass? or will it be more advantageous for you to just buy a pre-loaded SUICA card and simply top up when your credits run out?

The questions above are quite easy to answer. True, JR Pass gives you access to all JR lines in the west/Kansai region BUT you cannot use the pass on subways or any other train except those marked as JR. The SUICA card may be good if you will be just selecting some of the spots. However, (and this is my recommendation), if you intend to go to all the places specified in my itinerary, the runaway winner is the Surutto Kansai 3-day pass. The reason is because it gives you access to all lines in Kansai region except those from JR. It is even accepted in the subways in Kyoto. To illustrate, this is a summary of expenses to complete a 3-whole day tour:

Nankai Limited Express to Namba 920
Namba to Umeda
Umeda to Sanyo Himeji 1490
Himeji to Akashi
Akashi to Umeda
Umeda to Namba
Kintetsu Nara 
Nara Kintetsu to Namba 560
Namba to Yodoyabashi 240
Keihan Yodoyobashi to Gion 410
Gion to Fushimi Inari 210
Fushimi Inari to Gion Shijo 210
Gion to Yodoyabashi 410
Yodoyabashi to Namba 240
Namba to Kobe
Kobe to Namba
Namba to Tanimachiyonchome 240
Tanimachiyonchome to Namba 240
Namba to Kansai 

9, 540

 Note that all figures are in Japanese Yen. The total cost, if you will opt to buy the SUICA and just pay for every destination, is JPY 9540. If you will buy the Surutto Kansai Pass, it will only cost JPY 5000 so that is almost 50% savings. Note also that if you will be staying at a hotel not situated at Namba, you will again have to add more or less JPY 240 per train travel from Namba to your hotel. Also remember that JR Pass does not cover subways so that's an additional expense everytime you will be taking the subway.

I have not tried using the JR West Rail Pass since, as I said before, it is not honored in subways so it is a bit restrictive for me. 

So where will you buy the Surutto Kansai Pass? From Kansai Airport Arrivals, just look for the Travel Desk and ask for a 3-day Surutto Kansai Pass.

Picture above is taken from Travel Desk's Official Twitter Account =).

You will need to present your passport to get the Surutto Kansai Thru Pass.

I hope this helps people who are still undecided on which pass to take.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Osaka, Japan Trip 2014 - Preflight Concerns: Osaka or Tokyo or both?

I have been browsing Pinoyexchange and with the easing up of Japan visa application, coupled with the additional flights that go to Japan daily, a lot of people are thinking of going to Japan. But before hitting the BOOK button of your favorite airline, you gotta make up your mind. If Tokyo has Disneyland, Osaka has Universal Studios. Tokyo has Imperial Palace but Osaka has so much castles and palace on top of the Osaka Castle sitting in the middle of Osaka Business district. Tokyo has Mt. Fuji (or at least near Tokyo) and admittedly, Osaka has nothing to match with the beauty of Mt fuji.

If you intend to visit both Osaka and Tokyo, you will need a minimum of 7 days. And a whole lot of money. There are pros and cons of doing this but if you will ask me, both cities have different appeal. In Tokyo, the biggest plus in going there is to see Mt Fuji which is just an hour away by train or bus from Tokyo (note: see my earlier entry on going to Mt Fuji by bus). However, if Tokyo has Mt Fuji, Osaka or Kansai region has Kyoto and Himeji: two awesome places that is so difficult to have a counterpart in Tokyo.

Note that Tokyo is far from Osaka but if you have the time and money, you can take a Willer overnight bus from Osaka to Tokyo. Your other choices include plane (this is expensive and you gotta consider the distance of the airport from the city) and the shinkansen.

Plane travel from Osaka to Tokyo, especially if you will land in Narita, is really not an option because for one, Osaka-Kansai airport is far from Osaka (unless you are leaving from Osaka-Itami Airport since this is nearer Osaka). Even worse, if you land at Narita, it is very far from Tokyo and you will end up taking more than an hour on the train just to get to Tokyo.

This leaves you to the last option: the shinkansen. The shinkansen departs from Shin-Osaka Station (DIFFERENT from Namba station as this is the final stop of the Nankai Limited Airport Express and Rapit and Osakanamba for the JR line). Last I checked, a one-way ticket from Osaka to Tokyo is JPY 14,500 for a 153-minute ride and a distance of roughly 600 kilometers.

So here's a very important piece of advice: if you intend to do both Tokyo and Kyoto, make sure to get a split ticket: Manila-Tokyo-Osaka-Manila or Manila-Osaka-Tokyo-Manila so you need not return to your port of entry just to get home. Also, make sure you buy the JR 7-day pass. The shinkansen fares alone between Japanese cities are so expensive that you are almost sure to get more out of your pass than to individually buy your ticket without the pass. 

Now, if you will ask my opinion, I would say one city at a time. You will be overwhelmed with what you will be seeing to the point that you will not appreciate the place. Take a 4-day trip to Osaka and then schedule a separate 3 or 4-day trip to Tokyo so that you will not bombard your senses too much.

Hongkong 2014 - Harbour City Resort Plaza

I have been going back to Hongkong for quite sometime now. However, unlike before where we stayed at hostels or any cheap place near Mongkok/Tsim Sha Tsui, this is the first time that I stayed at New Territories so here's my trip report.

This is our plan:

Day 1: Checkin at NAIA I for CX 918 flight. Checkin at Harbour City Resort Plaza in Tin Shui Wai, New Territories, Hongkong.

Day 2: Whole Day Disneyland.

Day 3: Whole Day Ocean Park then visit Avenue of Stars/Symphony of Lights.

Day 4: Shopping at Mongkok.

I think now is really a bad time if you have a flight departing at NAIA I since the place is an oven! It was so hot from the entrance, to the checkin counters, immigration (I think this has the worst and most unbearable heat in the entire NAIA 1 Complex), and waiting area. I am a regular Cebu Pacific flier but for a change (and for a ridiculously low price of Php 5800 for a RT ticket) we decided to get the Cathay Pacific ticket).

Now, I have taken the Manila-Hongkong for quite some time but my trip last week is the bumpiest plane ride I ever had. It took us more than 2 hours just to land at Hongkong International Airport due to thunderstorm in the area.

When we landed, we immediately proceeded to the bus where bus E34 is to Tin Shui Wai Town Center. The nearest stop of E34 to the Harbour City Resort Plaza is the last stop, which is the Tin Shui Wai Town Center. From the last stop, it's like 15-20 meters away/3 minute walk from the  bus station.

Here's the picture of the hotel:

 This is the 21st floor lobby.

Room picture...they even have cooking facility and's like a condo unit.

It took less than a minute to check in and soon enough, we were shown our rooms and I was surprised with the room size because it was big! The info sheet says the room is 36 square meters which is just a fraction of the room size had we opted to stay in Mongkok or TST. For the Php 3500 price per night, I am not complaining =) We slept soundly since we were all tired with the rough flight.

When Day 2 came, our group was split because some would like to go to Disneyland while the rest would go to Citygate and at Ngongping 360 to check out the Big Buddha there. So from the hotel, we took the Light Rail Ginza Station (which is just right in front of the Hotel) to go to Tin Shui Wai MTR Station to Mei Foo, then transfer to Lai King, then transfer to Sunny Bay and from there, Disneyland already. It just took as a little less than an hour to get to Disneyland from there.

However, while most of the gang decided to go to Disneyland, I opted to go to the Nanlian Garden and Chi lin Nunnery. I did not regret going there. I took the train to Laiking, and from there transferred to the red line to Mongkok, and from there to the green line to Diamond Hill. From Diamond Hill, I took exit C2 and when I arrived at the street level, there were arrows that lead to the Nanlian Garden. Though it was raining, the garden is still beautiful.

The Nanlian Garden was like Beijing in Hongkong and I recommend all visitors to go here. Entrance is free!

From there, I rode the train back to go back to Mongkok (just 6 stops away from Diamond Hill) to eat at Eat Together. Although now I think they changed their name to Eat to New. Here's the price list for those doing the budgeting so you will have an idea how much a meal costs in hongkong. Note though that prices increase dramatically if you find yourself hungry and you are either in Disneyland or Ocean Park =(

From Mongkok, I road the MTR to Tsim Sha Tsui and since it was pretty late and it was raining hard, I opted to take the bus back to Harbour City Resort Plaza. From Tsim Sha Tsui, the bus 269B goes straight to Tin Shui Wai and the trip is 40 minutes. It stops at Tin Shui Wai Town Center, the last stop and very near the hotel=)

The following day is Ocean Park Day. Since we are at  Tin Shui Wai, we opted to take the bus to Central instead of taking the train which involves a lot of transfer. So from the bus stop right in front of the hotel, we took 969 to Admiralty. We alighted at Central Station (in front of World Wide Center) and from there, we went to Central Bus Terminus to go to Ocean Park by taking the bus 629. I saw the Ocean Park MTR station still being constructed but it is almost at its final stages. Perhaps before the year ends, this station will be opened to the public so no need to take the bus =)

We bought the Ocean Park tickets via Asiatravel since it is cheaper as compared to other ticket sellers. Here are some pictures of the Ocean Park:

I think the gloomy weather helped because there was practically no lines for all rides and shows, unlike before where we had to wait for 40 minutes just to ride Hair Raiser or Raging River or The Rapids.

 After the rides, we took the 629 bus back to Admiralty and went to Avenue of Stars via Tsim Sha Tsui. I forgot that there was a long walk from TST to Avenue of Stars but we  were able to get there just in time for the Symphony of Lights, although it looks weird due to the strong wind and rains.

For the last day, we decided not to leave our luggage at the hotel. Since Cathay Pacific checkin counters are open even 12 hours before the departure, we checked in our luggage and went to shop at Central. We were able to buy cheap clothes at the alleys in Central, as well as in Mongkok. Of course, we also went to ParknShop to buy food items as pasalubong (I gotta say they got the cheapest food items).

So to those going to Hongkong, try to stay in a good hotel like Harbour City Resort Plaza. It is less than an hour away by bus and it is well connected so instead of trying to squeeze in one of those TST/Mirador/Chungking-based hostels, I guess it is sometimes alright to try to stay in a good hotel, albeit far from the City but has good big rooms. And hey, it's Hongkong where transpo is very efficient. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Going to Mt Fuji By Bus

One of the items on my bucket list when I went to Tokyo is I need to go and see Mt Fuji first hand.

Perhaps like anyone out there, I have seen so many pictures and movies that feature Mt. Fuji in the background and it has always amazed me. However, little did I know that even the best photographers in the world, using the most advanced state of the art DSLR cameras will not do justice to the beauty of Mt. Fuji. It really looks undescribably beautiful if you see it yourself and somehow, that "thing", feeling, or sensation of seeing it up close is lost when you just look at it in picture.

So that begs the question: how do you exactly go to Mt. Fuji? There are many tips online but most of them recommend taking the JR train from Tokyo. I find that expensive since for a solo traveller like me, that is really not an option. So here's a detailed instruction on how to go to Mt Fuji for only JPY 3,000 / Php 1,500.

First, you gotta find your way to Shinjuku Station. Based on wikipedia, this is the world's busiest train station, with I think 2 million people using this station daily. Sounds like a lot of people but it is right in the middle of Tokyo and being a major transport hub, you just cannot miss it.

From there, you have to follow the signs that lead to Keio Highway Bus. Just go to the Keio Bus Ticketing Office and buy a roundtrip ticket to Kawaguchiko Station (not to be confused with Mt. Fuji since if you say Mt Fuji, the Keio staff might think you intend to climb Mt Fuji itself and you will end up paying more; unless of course you really plan to climb the mountain). Once you are issued tickets, you will be asked to wait in the assigned platform number for the bus to Kawaguchiko Station. You can also request for a roundtrip ticket. Just estimate the time that you intend to return to Shinjuku from Kawaguchiko Station and they will gladly issue the return ticket.

Once you got the tckets, just wait for the bus at the assigned platform. Here's how the bus looks like:

The bus is very comfortable and it has an electronic monitor and billboard where the stops are flashed so there is no chance for you to miss the Kawaguchiko station (the last stop of the bus). It takes more than 1 hour from Shinjuku to Kawaguchiko Station (about 1 hour and 20 minutes).

For the best view, take the window seat on the left side of the bus. You will see Mt Fuji after 1 hour of travel and from there on, if the weather (and the gods) are with you, then you will have a majestic view of Mt Fuji =)

^^This is the Bus Stop of Keio Bus from Shinjuku: Kawaguchiko Stop. And yes, that is Mt Fuji in all its glory during early spring...not a cloud in sight.

If you will be taking the train to Kawaguchiko Station, this is the stop just beside the bus stop of Mt. Kawaguchiko.

So, from Kawaguchiko Station, how do you go to Lake Kawaguchiko? If you happen to go there during the cold months (autumn, winter, early spring), then walking is the way to go. There are prominently marked directions on how to go to Lake Kawaguchiko. But if you find yourself here at the middle of a sweltering summer heat, then take the Kawaguchiko Sightseeing Bus. You just buy the ticket at Kawaguchiko Station for JPY 500 for the unlimited ride of the bus. The bus is a vintage type bus and it looks like this:

^^The Kawaguchiko Sightseeing bus at Kawaguchiko Station.

Now, if you take this bus, you will be treated with a breathtaking view of Mt Fuji being reflected by the still waters of Lake Kawaguchiko. Something like this:

now, if you want a view from the top, there is a cable car that takes you to the top of one of the hills near lake Kawaguchiko that offers a somewhat different view. I recall the cable car was not that expensive so I rode it. Again, very good views.

So to those planning to go to Mt. Fuji, it need not be expensive and unless you intend to stay for 14 days in Japan and you have a JR pass, then I will always recommend taking the bus. =)