First Time in Japan – Travel Itinerary

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Ginza, Tokyo, Japan

There is a lot to do in Japan and planning your very first trip could seem daunting. For our own maiden trip to Japan, our initial thoughts were to cover Tokyo and nearby cities and then fly to Hokkaido and spend a few days there. Later though, we decided that for a 11 days trip it will be a lot of running around so we changed our plans and decided to soak in the places at a slower, more relaxed pace. Here is what we covered overall.

  • Tokyo (Day 1-4) – Explore this sprawling metropolis
  • Hakuba (Day 5-6) – Relax and enjoy some peace, quiet and natural beauty at this little ski village. We took our very first ski lessons ever 🙂
  • Hakone (Day 7-8) – Enjoy the slow pace in this small town and take a day tour to enjoy beautiful landscapes
  • Kyoto (Day 9-11) – Soak in the historic side of Japan in this former capital

Here is some useful information, before you start planning your own trips.

Getting to Japan – Wherever you are in the world, chances are that you will land in Tokyo most likely. There are two airports you can fly into – Narita and Haneda. Haneda is closer to the city and to get to the city you can take buses. Narita is further away and best option is to take the Narita Express that runs every 30 mins

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A boat cruise on Lake Ashi, Hakone, Japan

Getting around in Japan – Public transport is great and very efficient so just get subway passes in places like Tokyo and Kyoto. For intercity travel on the Shinkansen (bullet trains) invest in the Japan Rail Pass. Do note that the JR pass also works on certain lines in the city subways, so check before you plan your day. Make sure to collect your JR passes at the airport. We purchased the passes online and collected the passes at Narita.

To get to Hakuba, we boarded the Shinkansen from Tokyo station to Nagano. And from Nagano took a one hour bus ride to Hakuba. From Nagano to Hakone, we took the Shinkansen again first to Tokyo and from there to Hakone. From Hakone to Kyoto was another Shinkansen ride. And then to fly out, Shinkansen from Kyoto to Tokyo and then from Tokyo station to Narita by Narita Express. It may seem like a lot but the journeys are quite seamless and convenient in Japan

Understanding the Shinkansen? Read this very helpful guide, link here.

When to visit – We visited in late winter as it’s the non-peak season. It was a welcome change for us and we enjoyed the winter days. Cherry Blossom is obviously the peak tourist season but that also means loads of crowds, high prices and advance bookings for everything. The other popular season to visit is autumn. With the changing hues, the landscapes look beautiful

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Beautiful day in Hakuba, Japan

Where to stay – We stayed in Airbnbs in Tokyo and Kyoto which were cozy, clean and pocket friendly. In Hakuba and Hakone, we stayed in hostels. K’s House in Hakone was a great hostel stay where we slept on tatamis. And almost everywhere, you get the heated toilet seats which were so awesome in the winters! 😀

Get SGD $45 off (approx. USD $35) on your very first Airbnb stay using this link, click here.

Other things to note – As taxis are quite pricey you will be hauling your luggage quite a bit. So try to travel light. Other thing would be to download a translation app as english doesn’t take you too far. Labels in supermarkets and shops are often in Japanese

For things to do in each of these places, jump to our travel vlogs. Subscribe to Travel Keede on YouTube if you enjoyed them 🙂

  1. Things to do in Tokyovlog link
  2. Winter Wonderland in Hakubavlog link
  3. One day in Hakonevlog link
  4. Things to do in Kyotovlog link
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Fushimi Inari Shirine, Kyoto, Japan

Japan first impressions

Blossoms in Tokyo, Japan

There is the rest of the world and then there is Japan. More than the man-made structures and nature’s beauty, we were struck by the culture in this unique nation.

People are considerate and polite even during the mad rush. The entire country (not just one city) is squeaky clean even though there are hardly any dustbins in public spaces. There are designated areas for smoking and people actually go there for a smoke instead of indiscriminately lighting up anywhere in a public zone. It’s so safe, children are encouraged to commute to school all by themselves. The houses are neat despite the space crunch.

Ginza, Tokyo, Japan

Their Shinkansen (bullet trains) never run late, ever. They play bird chirping sounds at train stations, just before the escalators to forewarn those who cannot see. You hear ‘Arigatou gozaimashita’ (thank you so much) about 1000 times a day. And the best part, their toilet seats warm up which was great because in Feb when we visited it was still winters 😀

Shinkansen, Tokyo station, Japan

Only if they could maintain better work-life balance, people will not die of over-work!

Other than that, their architecture and buildings suggest a minimalistic way of life. The architecture did not ‘wow’ us but then isn’t minimalism better than over the top, jewel studded structures which costed a fortune. Only to be plundered and looted by power hungry men? I guess there is a reason why you can equate optimisation and efficiency to this country.

More on our Japan trip soon. To keep you busy till then, watch our Japan Vlogs at the YouTube link below:

Travel Keede’s Japan Travel Vlogs

The Year That Was – 2017

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Sunset over Agra, first time ever witnessing such a beautiful sunset in our own backyard

We’re at work, winding things down and even though it’s the end of the year, things still feel a bit crazy. Last working day before the holidays is finally over and we start feeling just a tinge of excitement. Back home, last minute packing and cleaning up the house has been accomplished. Next day early morning at 5:00am,  we are off in a Grab taxi to Changi airport. After the usual drill of checking in, immigration and security, we warm up at the sight of a beautiful sunrise while waiting at the gate. We take off and a couple of movies and a hot indian breakfast later, the plane has landed.

Every year for the last 5 years we have celebrated new year in India. It has become a custom of sorts. Every year we look forward to experiencing north indian winters and welcoming the next 365 days surrounded by family. The days between Christmas and New Year are spent meeting friends and family, gorging over home made meals, sipping endless cups of adrak chai, mom’s tomato soup and shelling peas.

2017 was no different. While, it takes a couple of days to get used to India and its ways, by the end of the trip we know we’ll be homesick.

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Mustard fields in bloom, a common sight during North Indian winters

What made this trip special? Well it was a lot of things, as it usually is. In the 10 days we were there, we managed :

  • 1 road trip – from Delhi – Agra – Delhi via the Yamuna Expressway
  • 5 family get togethers – 1 breakfast, 2 dinners, 1 evening tea and 1 BBQ on NYE. And oh the home made food was just so comforting. And there is just something special about BBQ-ing in winters that you’ll never experience in tropical weather
  • 2 friends get togethers – both on roop top terrace cafes. Winters and open air cafes? Add to the list of winter experiences we look forward to
  • 1 indian wedding – where we dressed up, clicked more than necessary amount of photographs, enjoyed the indian wedding scenes and needless to say – the food
  • 1 excursion to Wildlife SOS elephant sanctuary – an NGO which runs centers for rescued animals which you can visit, volunteer at and also make donations to. Check out their website here
  • Ate out on several occasions – from breaking the fast with Agra’s favourite breakfast, Bedhai Jalebi to enjoying South Indian food at Dasaprakash. From relishing north indian dhaba food to the popular indian street food … it was all a gastronomical adventure
  • Getting important stuff done – adult stuff like managing our finances and investment 😀
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Foggy morning in Agra, -8 degrees centigrade

We’ve come to realise how fortunate we have been – for friends, family and their love in our lives. Every time we leave from our house in India, we feel overwhelmed by how loving and selfless so many people around us are especially, our parents. Beyond that, we have travelled. As much as our working lives allowed us to. And it has been great!

Here is a recap of the Year That Was – 2017. Thanks for stopping by and hope you enjoyed the video

Happy Twenty Eighteen folks. Here’s wishing you the best of everything 🙂

Here is the Year That Was – 2016, just in case.

 

Things to do in Singapore for Nature Lovers

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Singapore Botanic Gardens

Singapore is a bustling metropolis with high rises? Sure it is but it’s not just that. You’ll be amazed to know the flora and fauna you can find here. Singapore’s vision as a “Garden City” or “City in a Garden’ was established some four decades ago when the then PM Lee Kuan Yew initiated the greening programme. At the moment the whole thing is managed by NParks.

We discovered the many parks in Singapore one at a time and each time we were super surprised to realize that these places exist right in the middle of a busy city. Here is the list of all the parks but below are our picks.
1. Singapore Botanic Gardens – landscaped and spread out, the botanic gardens were recently declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. They have different sections and with different tree and plant species, a swan lake with of course swans and also ducks, turtles and many different types of birds and fish. This place is great for picnics and you can even order your own picnics baskets. Fruit baskets are a healthy way to picnic and maybe go for the gourmet options to indulge 🙂
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Vibrant Orchids at National Orchid Garden, Singapore

2. National Orchid Garden – within Botanic Gardens, we highly recommend the orchid gardens. The gardens house vibrant Orchids of many different kinds. There are even dedicated ones named after celebrities and public figures from all over the world. We had never seen so many orchids anywhere else before, from pinks, yellows, orange, creams to whites and purples. They were just so beautiful and we wanted to take them all home. Of course you can’t but if you are looking for some flower delivery options here is a complication – best flower delivery in Singapore.
3. MacRitchie Reservoir Park – we really enjoy the calm and peaceful walk by the reservoir but when we want some muscles moving we do the tree top walk. The tree top walk is something we prefer when we need a good exercise and work out an appetite. This hike takes you upto the suspension bride and then endless flights of stairs back down. Along the way you can spot many type of plants, birds and monkeys too! And don’t be surprised if you spot a monitor lizard!
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Suspension bridge at MacRitchie Park

4. Gardens by the bay – again these are just too beautiful and our favourite spot is the supertree grove especially at night. When the Garden Rhapsody plays at night you feel like you are on the sets of the movie Avataar. It feels quite surreal and the OCBC walkway or just simply under the tree grove is where we’ve often seen guys proposing! It’s quite sweet really with the crowd cheering and congratulating the happy couple.
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Surreal Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

5. Labrador Park – we love sea-facing parks! This park is suitable for walking, jogging, cycling, BBQ-ing and picnics. You can even explore the remnants of what used to be a British military battlement which we happened to come across by accident. And when the sun goes down, sit back, relax and enjoy the sunset.
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Battlement remnants at Labrador Park, Singapore

6. East Coast Park – lovely park with sea views. We especially enjoy renting cycles here and riding upto Bedok jetty, catching a few breaths there, cycling back and then unwinding at a sea facing restaurant. The park is also great for families to cycle, skate, picnic or BBQ together. There are several restaurants and even food courts so there is no lacking for F&B options.
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Family friendly East Coast Park, Singapore

We hope this was useful, so folks get going, go green! 😀

Things to do in Phuket, Thailand

Earlier this August was our second visit to Phuket, the beautiful island destination in Thailand. It was an incredible feeling to realize that Phuket was the first international destination travel keede visited together. Since then in 2012 to now in 2017, we have traveled to so many places together and been on such incredible journeys. When we revisited after 5 years it was almost like celebrating 5 years of wanderlust.

We thoroughly enjoyed Phuket on this second visit. Here are our suggested things to do on this wonderful island.

1. Explore the beaches – there is a beach for everyone in Phuket. From busy ones like to Patong to laid back ones like Paradise beach only a few minutes away from Patong, to a long sprawling one like Karon. Moreover, these beaches are lined with F&B joints across the road so that chilled beer or fresh coconut water is not far away

2. Sunsets ❤ – for sure you don’t want to miss the sunsets. We surely didn’t at Patong beach. We chose the area away from the hustle and bustle where a few shacks are set-up right on the beach. We selected one selling thai spring rolls and settled in with the finger food and drinks. You take your shoes off, dig your feet into the sand and enjoy the waves and if you are lucky … an incredible sunset 🙂

Sunst at Patong beach

3. Visit The Big Buddha – driving upto the Big Buddha takes you through some hills, valleys and lush greenery. On a good day, you will be able to catch beautiful views from above. The site is still under construction so there is not a lot to do there but the drive and views are what makes up for it

4. Beautiful temple architecture – there are several temples in Phuket, each one depicting the unique architectural style. If you have only time for one, stop by at The Wat Chalong. It’s only a few mins from Big Buddha and you can cover it on the same day you visit the site

Wat Chalong, Phuket

5. Bangla Walking Street – this is one of the most touristy things you can do here. However, we suggest to go at least once. The street is choc a bloc with drinking holes and place to have a quick bite. There is music blaring every few steps and locals are peddling all sorts of souvenirs and knick knacks. It’s an interesting vibe with an extremely generous dose of mental stimulation

6. Natural limestone karst formations at Phi Phi islands – a day cruise to Phi Phi is highly recommended. The limestone formations looming in the middle of the seas is a really pretty sight. There are all sorts of cruises that go there – from large ones to private ones on smaller boats. You can even choose to spend a day or more at the islands as well

Lastly, of course thai food! Being vegetarian did not deter us from our culinary explorations. More on it in a subsequent post.

How to commute, you ask? Well, if you are comfortable on a two-wheeler then rent your own scooter. It works out really cheap and gives you the freedom to go around. Renting one is very easy from the many bike rentals.

We rented a stable Honda from ‘Cheap as Chips’. Take note that you should carry your passport and driving license when renting one but should never leave them with the shop owner. Providing a copy of both should suffice. At the same time, always keep your helmets on and your DL on you as there can be random police checks here and there.

Check out our travel vlog from Phuket below. For more videos hop-on or subscribe to our YouTube channel, link here

Ha Long Bay with Orchid Cruise

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Orchid Cruise, Ha Long Bay

When we made our plan to visit Vietnam earlier this May, Ha Long Bay had to be in the itinerary. After watching some vlogs and talking to friends who had been there, we decided that a cruise was the best way to enjoy this natural wonder.

We shortlisted Orchid Cruise for 3D2N Ha Long Bay Cruise. Though the prices are on the higher side, everything is included when you choose this option. And by this we mean the stay, all meals and even the activities.

The stay on it was superb and the hospitality from the crew simply amazing. The rooms were quite spacious with a comfortable bed, a private balcony and even a bathtub. Breakfast, lunch and dinner was included and a couple of dinners were quite impressive 5 course meals.

In terms of activities, here is what was included:

  1. Kayaking and swimming on two days
  2. Cycling and village tour at Cat ba island
  3. Cave tour on bamboo boats
  4. Tai chi every morning
  5. Spring roll making on two evenings
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Local selling drinks and snacks to cruises

Below is what you can additionally purchase:

  1. Drinks and snacks. Happy hour every evening!
  2. Massages. There is a spa!

Another advantage of taking this cruise was that the drive from Hanoi to the port was only 1.5 hours as they have a special permit. For all other cruises the drive is 4 hours from Hanoi.

We really enjoyed the tour with amazing views from the windows and the sun deck, even from the dining room. It was surreal to wake up to views in the bay and goto bed with the moonlight shining in the middle of nowhere. Even though a short one, it was one of our best luxurious relaxed vacay.

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Goodnight from Ha Long Bay

Here is our vlog from Ha Long Bay. Enjoy the views! 😀

One thing really saddened us though. While most of the bay was clean, we did see junk floating about at places. Especially in areas where cruises anchored. We never saw anyone litter at least from our cruise but here’s a shout out to everyone. Let’s be responsible and not litter. If we see anyone litter we must stop them. Let’s do our bit and keep the bay clean and beautiful for everyone to enjoy.

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Littering in Ha Long Bay 😦

5 things in Hanoi we most enjoyed

We were in Hanoi for just 2 days but even those two days were just great.

Here are 5 things we most enjoyed:

1. Our hotel, La Siesta Trendy – this hotel was in the old quarter and the service is simply amazing. The reception itself exceeded our expectations. We were welcomed with cocktails as welcome drinks, fresh cut fruits and cold towels. The room was quite spacious and comfortable with a balcony looking down over Hanoi. And the hospitality? Superb!

Hanoi from La Siesta Trendy

2. Hanoi, old quarter – as the hotel was in the old quarter, it was very easy to walk around on foot exploring the streets, bars, cafes and restaurants which are in abundance in this part of Hanoi. On one instance, after walking around for a bit, we were quite tired to walk back so we hailed a trishaw/rickshaw and that turned out to be very enjoyable as we could see the sights relaxed in the seat, shaded from the sun with the vehicle moving at a leisurely pace. French architecture from colonial times can be often seen entrenched between newer structures

Somewhere in Hanoi old quarter

3.Chilling at Hoan Kiem Lake – although Hanoi is quite crowded the area around the lake is very well maintained with neat pavements, benches, beautiful flower beds and street lamps installed. This is where you see local life in action. Families with kids and their pets mucking around in the grass. People jogging, playing traditional games, chilling on the benches by the water, local peddlers selling cut fruits and street snacks. On the weekend, the roads were cordoned off and the traffic diverted. It felt like the whole town had congregated around the lake. There were lights, music, stalls and street performances and the whole place had an amazing festive vibe to it

Hoan Kiem Lake at night

4.Trying local food and the vietnamese coffee – we are vegetarians but that didn’t stop us from trying out the local food. We discovered plenty of places with vegetarian options. Had amazing baguette sandwiches at Banh Mi 25, rice spring rolls at Banh Cuon Ba Hanh and Pho (traditional noodle soup) and fried mushroom spring rolls at Aubergine Cafe. And the coffee! To die for! We had the hot version with condensed milk and the iced latte as well. And we wished we could have taken a gallon home, of each!

Rice spring rolls platter

Vietnamese brew

5.Shopping at the street shops – there are scores of street shops in the old town area. We bought fridge magnets as usual but also a couple of souvenirs. Hanoi also has many street shops selling clothes, bags, shoes and accessories. The quality is not the best but it didn’t look too bad either. It’s bargain shopping at the end of the day

Beautiful lamps at a street vendor

Next up Ha Long Bay. Till then check out our Hanoi vlog below! 😀