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

Day trips from Cape Town

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Beautiful day in Stellenbosch, South Africa

In the previous post, we shared things to do in Cape Town. While researching for our own trip, we realized there are quite a few things you could do around the city as well.

Here are some of the things we chose to do.

1.Wine Tour in Stellenbosch – this region has scores of vineyards from large commercial ones to family owned boutique ones. We booked a tour with Wine Flies tours and it turned out to be a really enjoyable experience. The tour guide will pick you up in the morning, then drive you up to the wine region. You will visit five vineyards, see bottling in progress, walk around wine casks, stop at a lovely farm for lunch and end the tour at an organic farm where you can buy eggs 🙂 And you get to cuddle dogs!

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Wine casks from one stop over with Wine Flies

2. Cape Point – we took the Cape Explorer tour with CitySightseeing. Cape Point is supposed to offer amazing ocean views however, the day we visited was overcast. You can also hike to the Cape of Good Hope with your guide, which we did despite the rain and although it wasn’t the best day the weather turned the hike into a bit of an adventure

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Hike to the Cape of Good Hope aka Cape of Storms

3. African Penguin Colony at Boulders Beach – Cape Explorer will also stop at Boulders Beach where you can get up close and see penguins in their natural habitat. Over the years the penguin colonies in South Africa have deteriorated but efforts are being made to restore the habitats. We really enjoyed it and the penguins are so cute!

 

Watch our vlog below on our day trips from Cape Town. Hope this was useful and thanks for stopping by 🙂

10 things to do in Cape Town

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Citysightseeing, Cape Town

South Africa was splendid! We didn’t expect our vacay to be so superlative but it just was.

Cape Town is a city you can easily fall in love with. It’s the right size, not too large and not too small. It has everything you can hope for, with mountain peaks you can trek to, to beautiful beaches you can relax at.

Here are 10 things to note when planning your vacay in Cape Town, South Africa:

1. Hop-on-hop-off bus tour – Really good tours here which provide an excellent overview of the city and the audio commentary is informative and fun. We went with Citysightseeing on a 24 hours pass

2. Table Mountain – If a trek is not for you, then take a cable car up there. For the more adventurous, you can also trek to Lion’s Head

3. V&A Food Market – Plenty of food vendors with several vegetarian options. Coffee, juices, desserts, organic nuts, snack bars … you name it

4. V&A Waterfront – Hang out at the waterfront, soak in capetonian vibes, grab a drink or a bite, visit the shopping mall and take a picture at the giant yellow photo frame 😀

5. The Watershed – for great local souvenirs, this is the place to go to

6. Boat ride at V&A Waterfront – Extend your hop-on-hop-off experience by taking a boat ride, soak in the views, ships at the harbor, hear the gulls and spot some sea lions if you are lucky

7. Free Walking Tours – Experience Cape Town, up close and personal on one or more walking tours with a local guide. Tours start at Green Market Square. The square is also good to shop for local souvenirs (be ready to bargain here)

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Chasing squirrels at The Company’s Garden, Cape Town

8. Company’s Garden – Yes the garden built by the Dutch East India Company back in the 1650s and is now a heritage site. Take a walk amongst numerous pigeons and squirrels with Table Mountain in the backdrop. Also meet the city’s oldest citizen here. Breakfast at the restaurant here or stop by at the museums

9. The Neighbourgoods Market at The Old Biscuit Mill – Happens every Saturday. You need to go and discover it for yourself

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Chasing the sunset at Camps Bay, Cape Town

10. Sunsets at Camps Bay – The best way to spend your evenings. Choose a sea facing cafe/restaurant/bar, order in the drinks and tapas and you are set for a few hours of bliss. All the while, you have the Twelve Apostles watching over you

Our Vlog below, brings everything above to life

Bonus to-dos:

Robben Island – We heard it gets really crowded. So choose the time wisely or take a private tour

Stop by for a color riot at Bo-Kaap (worthy instagrammable photo opportunity here) 😀

Getting around? Just Uber

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

Give Agra 2 days, at least

If you are travelling all the way to Agra, you should give the town at least 2 days. Visiting The Taj Mahal could be the top of your agenda and understandably so, but there are more things you can do which are so worth it.

Here is our suggested itinerary.

Day 1: The Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Mohabbat the Taj show

The Taj Mahal on a december afternoon

The best time to visit the Taj is early morning as there are less crowds. It’s open from sunrise to sunset and there is no limit to the time you want to spend there once inside. See more info here

A lot has been said about this monument of love so we won’t elaborate but it is a beautiful structure so do queue up, go up-to the main platform and visit the tombs inside.

The Taj Mahal, up close

Once you’ve visited the taj, have your breakfast/lunch depending on the time you visit. Then head to Agra Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage site. This fort was built by Mughal ruler Akbar in red sandstone. It served as the royal residence as well as a military strategic base. The fort is well maintained so you will be able to admire the structure. You also get views of the taj from the fort. More info here

Inside Agra Fort

In the evening, catch a song and dance show called Mohabbat The Taj at Kalakriti Cultural and Convention Center. A retelling of the story of emperor Shah Jahan and the love for his queen Mumtaz Mahal leading up to the construction of the Taj Mahal.

Kalakriti Cultural and Convention Center

Day 2: Fatehpur Sikri and Mehtab Bagh

Head to Fatehpur Sikri, the first planned city built by the Mughals and a UNESCO World Heritage site as well. It was also built by emperor Akbar and served as the Mughal capital for 10 years. It houses different buidings within the compounds so give the place at least 2 hours. It’s an hour drive away from Agra so plan accordingly. More info here

One of the buildings at Fatehpur Sikri

If you are yearning to get another unobstructed view of the Taj without the hassle of queuing up and getting inside the main compound, head to Mehtab Bagh where you get clear views of the monument. Best time to go would be the sunset which also gives a great photo opportunity.

Taj Mahal in the backdrop from Mehtab Bagh

If you have an appetite for more architectural marvels, here are our suggestions:

Sikandra – the mausoleum of Akbar

Itmad-ut-Daula – a beautiful mausoleum made entirely of marble

A few other things to note:

  • When to visit: Best time to visit the town is in the months of Nov – Feb while Oct and Mar are passable. Besides, do not to visit on a Friday as most monuments are closed for public viewing
  • Getting around: Public transport is not great, best is to hire your own car rental with a driver. Trust us when we tell you, you don’t want to drive yourself in Agra if you are a foreigner.
  • Accommodation: Agra offers all types of accommodation – from 5-star hotels, airbnbs to budget stays. Look for a stay around Fatehabad Road as it’s closer to the monuments
  • Food is great in Agra, especially the north indian mughlai food. Think tikkas, kebabs and garlic naan.

And lastly, this city has been long neglected by the authorities even though it is rich in history and culture. So go with an open mindset, ignore some inconveniences and admire it for what it does offer.

Have a happy journey! 🙂

Taj Mahal compounds

 

4 Days in Singapore? Here are the to-dos

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A traditional bum boat in the backdrop of Marina Bay Sands

Friends, family and acquaintances have often called us up and asked us about things to do in Singapore when planning to visit.

Typically, the length of the visit is 3-4 days as a visit to Singapore is often coupled with another south east asian destination, most notably Malaysia.

So here are a couple of itineraries we suggest to help you plan:

Itinerary 1: Fast paced, lots to do

Day 1: Sentosa

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Sentosa Island view from the cable car

Plan an entire day at Sentosa. You can get there by taking the monorail from Vivo City Mall or take a cab directly from whereever you are. Alternatively,  take a cable car from Harbour Front but that’s a bit pricey.

There are several options at Sentosa but we recommend Universal Studios if you are keen on amusement parks. Other suggestions would the the S.E.A Aquarium, Luge and Images of Singapore museum.

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SEA Aquarium, Sentosa

Day 2: Chinatown, Lau Pa Sat Hawker Center, Marina Bay, Clarke Quay

Start the day by visiting the Chinatown Pagoda Street Market. Visit the Buddha Tooth relic temple nearby.

Head to Law Pa Sat Hawker Center for lunch. Hawker Centers are a way of life in Singapore and this one is one of the oldest. Plenty of local and vegetarian options are available here.

Early evening head to Marina Bay area. Here you get to view the Merlion and the Marina Bay Sands hotel. If you have time at hand, visit the Marina Bay shoppe or take a ride on the Singapore Flyer nearby. As evening descends, come back out outside the shoppe and enjoy a beautiful sunset, weather permitting.

Later catch the free sound and light show at Marina Bay right outside Shoppe, called Wonder Full.

Take a bumboat river cruise and get down at Clarke Quay for drinks and food.

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Sunset from Marina Bay

Day 3: Little India, Arab Street, Gardens by the bay

Start with strolling around in Little India, catch the sounds and smells from the Indian subcontinent and glimpse temples along the way. Then head to Arab Street or the muslim/middle-eastern quarters. Stroll around Haji Lane and check out boutique stores and wall art, then complete the circle by going up to Sultan mosque. Or you can reverse the order and rest for lunch – indian or middle eastern depending on what you choose to visit second.

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Street art at Haji Lane

In the evening head to Gardens By the Bay and catch the free Garden Rhapsody show. Later, visit one of the night haunts in Singapore – Club Street or Holland Village.  Level 33 is another suggested bar with a view. For an amazing rooftop bar experience, we recommend 1-Altitude.

Day 4: Zoo, Bird Park/Museums, Orchard Road, Casino or Parks

Visit Singapore Zoo and Jurong Bird Park esp. if you are with kids. Else head to one of the museums. Our suggestion would be the National museum or Art Science museum.

Head to Orchard Road, the shopping mecca where you can find everything from a Zara to a Louis Vuitton.

In the evening, you may visit the Casino at Marina Bay Sands which is free to enter for foreigners. Then go to the terrace bar at Marina Bay Sands called CE LA VI. If you just want to enjoy the view, you can goto upto the hotel sky deck for a fee.

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View from top of Marina Bay Sands

If Casino doesn’t interest you, picnic at one of the many parks. Our picks will be – East Coast Park, Labrador Park or Singapore Botanic Gardens.

Itinerary 2: More relaxed

Day 1: Hop on Hop off, Marina Bay

Start the day with taking a hop on hop off bus tour. This will give you a good overview and you can decide where you want to get down or what you’d like to revisit.

Spend the evening in the Marina Bay area – enjoy a coffee/drinks as the sun sets and watch the city skyline as it grows dark. Also, catch the free sound and light show at Marina Bay right outside Marina Bay Shoppe, called Wonder Full.

Day 2: Parks, Little India/Chinatown or Arab Street, Gardens by the bay

You can picnic at one of the many parks in Singapore. Our top picks are – East Coast Park, Labrador Park and Singapore Botanic Gardens.

Next visit Little India, Chinatown or Arab Street depending on which area you prefer or do all. Later in the evening, visit Gardens by the bay and catch the  free Garden Rhapsody show in the super tree grove.

End the day with food and drinks at Club Street or Holland Village.

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Super tree grove, Gardens by the bay

Day 3: Museums, Law Pa Sat, Clarke Quay

Start the day with visiting one of the museums. We suggest the National Museum. Some also prefer Art Science museum or you can do both.

Lunch at a hawker center to get a flavor of local way of life. We suggest Lau Pa Sat Hawker Center, one of the oldest in town.

In the evening take a bumboat river cruise and enjoy food and drinks at Clarke Quay. You can also enjoy views from Singapore Flyer, the ferris wheel near Marina Bay

Day 4: Sentosa, Orchard Road

Head to Sentosa, visit the SEA Aquarium, try the Luge or relax at a beach side cafe. Also pop by the Images of Singapore museum.

Stroll/Shop at Orchard Road, the shopping hub in Singapore.

Some FAQs

Q What are the options for airport transfers? A Taxi from the taxi stand is the fastest way. Just queue and hop onto one and you should be at the city center in 30 mins, costs around 30-35 S$. The other cheaper option is the MRT (metro/subway) which costs around 3 S$ and should take about an hour to the city center. But you still need to get to your accommodation from MRT station which could be a walk if it’s close by or a short cab ride

Q How to get around within the city? A Singapore has a very good public transport system of buses and MRT and that’s the cheapest way. While you can purchase tickets on the spot, a good idea is to purchase a EZ Link card from a MRT station or a 7-Eleven store. Start with 15-20 S$ and top it up as needed. Other more convenient option is cabs – Uber, Grab and local taxi services like Comfort, TransCab, Premier, CityCab etc.

Q Which is a good weather to visit? A The weather in Singapore does not differ much throughout the year. It’s usually hot and humid but it can rain anytime of the year giving some respite from the heat. As such, this is ‘anytime of the year’ destination

Q What type of clothing is best suited for Singapore? A Wear light comfortable clothing for outdoor touring – shorts/skirts/summer dresses for women, t-shirts, cotton shirts and shorts for men. If you intend to go clubbing/partying/fine-dining just go with whatever you wear anywhere else in the world

And you are all set!

Road Trip Itinerary – New Zealand South Island

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On the way to Mt. Cook, New Zealand

In the last post, we shared the amazing views and places we covered on our New Zealand road trip in a video.

This post is to share more information on the path we took and the places we covered along the way. Hopefully, it will help you get a better idea of what to cover.

The map below shows black markers and blue circles (A-G) to mark our base locations and orange markers to denote places we took day trips to from the base location or stopped at on our way between bases.

The whole trip was 10 days from Christchurch to Christchurch so we stayed in:

  • Christchurch for 2 days – 1 day of arrival, 1 day before departure
  • Spent 2  days at Franz Josef glacier and around
  • 1.5 days in Te Anau and around
  • 3 days in Queenstown and around
  • Covered Mount Cook on the way from Queenstown to Tekapo with a short detour
  • 1 day in Tekapo

The only thing we regret was not spending more time at Mt. Cook. There is a Hooker Valley hike that we could have also done instead of only the Tasman Glacier climb.

In terms of the weather, we choose March as it’s autumn so neither too hot, nor too cold. We did get a couple of cloudy/rainy days though. On the whole, 70% of the time the weather was excellent. Blue skies and cool breezes.

So go on then, plan your trips! 😀

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Q. How did we get around in New Zealand? A. Self-drive
  • Q. Where did we rent a car from and which car was it? A. From Go Rentals, a Toyota Corolla Compact
  • Q. How much did it cost? A. Approx. 600 NZ$ for 10 days with excess insurance
  • Q. Is it safe to drive around A. Yes very safe
  • Q. How easy or difficult is the drive A. The drive is moderately difficult in patches. There are a few routes that are hilly and you need to have a good grip on the handle for these
  • Q. Where did we stay? A. We stayed in YHA hostels and AirBnBs
    • Get SGD $45 off (approx. USD $35) on your very first Airbnb stay using this link, click here.

PS: a few call outs

All lakes are beautiful, from Lake Pukaki to Wakatipu to Hayes to Wanaka to Hawea to Moke to Tekapo! Choose anyone on a nice and bright day and it will be stunning! Moke Lake seemed to be a great site for camping and star gazing.

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Lake Hayes, New Zealand

Spend 1-2 days at Mt. Cook and do the Hooker valley track and Tasman Glacier viewpoint.

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Tasman Glacier viewpoint, New Zealand

Milford Sound is so worth it but check the weather before going. The place is prone to rainfall so there are very few days its sunny. It’s just unbelievable on a clear day.

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Milford Sound, New Zealand

Franz Josef/ Fox Glacier heli hike is perhaps the best thing you could do there. Again the weather can play a spoil sport as it did in our case so keep your schedule flexible.

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On top of Fox Glacier

Queenstown and around is great for adrenaline junkies with all sorts of adventure sports options.

On the road, you won’t find stores, eateries and fuel pumps for long distances so stock up on food and water and keep fuel tanks full.

Finally, New Zealand is too beautiful to miss so please go! 😀

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Somewhere near Queenstown, New Zealand