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

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! 😀

Best Road Trips – New Zealand, Scotland, India

In the more recent years of our adulthood, we have done quite a few road trips. But if we were to choose the most epic ones so far, there are three that come to mind. What’s amazing to realize is that the three were in three different parts of the world and completely different from one another! Here they are …

1. Road Tripping across New Zealand, South Island

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Fiordland National Park, New Zealand

New Zealand felt like Scotland on steroids mainly because of the sunny weather. It’s the most picturesque place on earth we’ve been to, ever! It’s true when people say you really have to concentrate to stay focused on the road because the landscapes are so breathtaking.

We covered multiple destinations, stayed in all types of accommodation ranging from hostels, airbnbs to a camping site in the middle of nowhere, cooked our own meals, gorged at restaurants and ate at food carts.

See our NZ road trip itinerary – click here and you can watch our vlog here.

2. Road trip from Leeds to the Scottish Highlands (Fort William, Isle of Skye)

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Somewhere in the Scottish Highlands

The highlands felt like a dream, the clouds and mist around adding to the surrealism. The English countryside along the way, sheep farms, lochs and snow covered peaks so close to the beautiful road was a first for us.

The best part was staying in a camping pod at this campsite called Bunroy park at Fort William. Sleeping snug and warm in sleeping bags, trudging to the common bathroom in the cold and making breakfast at the camp turned out to be an amazing adventure. Whisky Distillery tour at Dalwhinnie, stop over at the Iain Burnett Highland Chocolatier for the most amazing mug of hot chocolate and stop over at the lookout at Laggan Dam were other highlights.

Read our post on the road trip, click here and see time-lapses captured from our action cam here.

3. Road trip from Mumbai to Agra via Udaipur & Ranthambore National Park, India

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Jeep Safari at Ranthambore National Park

There was so much diversity to our experiences on this one. We started from Mumbai and first stop was Udaipur, a lovely lake city in the state of Rajasthan. Next was open jeep safaris chasing Bengal tigers at Ranthambore and final stop was Agra, a historic town and the world renowned Taj Mahal.

Read more about this trip at these posts – Part 1 and Part 2.

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

Kruger National Park – Self-drive vs. Open jeep safari

African elephant, Kruger Park

Whether to drive on your own or book a safari is perhaps the biggest question people ask when going on their very first african safari.

We actually did not hesitate in booking a safari on our recent, first visit ever to Kruger National Park in South Africa. We booked with Africa Spears and it turned out to be a great choice. Here are 10 reasons why we think a guided open jeep safari is a good idea:

  1. We landed in Johannesburg and from there, Kruger Park is a good 400 km. As we needed to get to Kruger the same day we were glad they had arranged a pick-up for us
  2. We did not have to make bookings inside the park rest camp ourselves. It was all done by them
  3. The guide knew his way around in the jungle for things like where to stop for breakfast/lunch or a loo break
  4. We were in an open jeep at a slight elevation rather than inside a low closed vehicle. An open jeep is far more exciting than a regular car and it’s easier to spot animals
  5. It’s not easy to spot animals in the park, esp when it’s your first time. Our guide was very good in spotting animals otherwise easily missed by the untrained eye
  6. The guide also shares information on animal behavior, bird and plant species and so on. It’s quite educational this way
  7. The guide knows what to do in case of an animal attack (at least you would hope so ;-))
  8. They will also drop you off at the airport
  9. Often you won’t find a network inside the park while your guide will have his radio
  10. There is someone to take your pictures 😀

White Rhino, Kruger Park

Quick tip: After exiting Kruger, we took a flight out to Cape Town from Nelspruit in place of Johannesburg. And it saved us from an unnecessary long drive and a good few hours. Do note that there are no daily flights from Nelspruit though, so plan accordingly.

Our experience in Kruger you ask? Watching our vlogs below might just inspire you to book that ticket to Africa! Tell us what you you spot at 3:50 mins in part 1.

For more videos, you can hop-on to YouTube here.

Happy spotting the Big 5 folks!!! Waka waka! 🙂