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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Planning of 17D Japan trip

Since many people out there like to do their own traveling in Japan, I decided to share my experience in planning this trip and try to give out as much details as possible especially about the transportation which usually contributes the biggest chunk in the cost. Not anymore!

This trip took me entirely 3 weeks and average of 10 hours per day to plan. As usual I am the trip planner and hubby is the GPS. So after I do all my homework, I'll prepare all the details and map of each city and he will take over once we start the tour. He's the one who will read the map and lead us to all the places that we plan to go. Hence, the GPS. :P

The first week I spent studying the Japan attractions in general, deciding on which cities to visit, the cost of traveling from one city to another, the confusing rail network in Japan and the even more confusing rail passes that are available. I relied heavily on for the rail cost and route and for the rest of information.

Second week I started to study the city attractions in detail, mode of transport within the city and the duration required so that I could plan the accommodation later. The initial plan was to visit 12 cities but I decided to remove some and ended with 9 cities. The reason was because they were too far out from the rest.

After the plan was more or less finalized, I booked the air tickets using our Qatar mileage since it claimed that Asiana and ANA are their "partner airlines". But after many submissions, it only came back with a 'copy and paste' reply of no available seats for whatever questions I asked.

Of course it wasn't true, because I did check to Asiana and ANA and they still had so many empty seats! I was wondering whether it's only the Qatar side that claimed that they are their partner airlines and not vice versa (Asiana and ANA never mentioned anything about Qatar on their website). So the backup plan was to redeem it using our Krisflyer mileage. The SQ customer service officer were so efficient that we received reply within an hour. So tickets were booked and the best thing is we could do open jaw, fly in to Osaka and fly out from Tokyo. And the tax was only SGD 80. Great!

Third week were spent to book the accommodation in each cities. I chose to stay in Toyoko Inn, the biggest hotel chain in Japan with its hotel location always within walking distance from the railway station. To break the monotone, I included a night stay in Japanese ryokan (traditional inn). The hotel booking task was supposed to be quick and easy but not for Kyoto. Our arrival in Kyoto was during the peak season of autumn foliage and all the hotel rooms were wiped out except those that cost above SGD 500 per night. So in the end we had to stay in Osaka for the last night. And to enjoy a bit of luxury, we are going to stay one night in Sheraton Yokohama Bay. Paid partially using some points and USD 60 cash. What a good deal. :D

I decided not to use JR pass and only buy regional rail passes whenever required. I had calculated that JR pass is never worth to buy even if I have to do a return trip of Osaka - Tokyo. The 17 days of rail + highway bus + local subway and buses using my plan is only about SGD 550 per person, compared that to SGD 450 of 7-day JR Pass (rail only).

So after countless iterations, here's the final itinerary:

17D Japan trip

Day 1: Seoul - Kansai Airport -Osaka (Toyoko Inn Shin Osaka Chuo-guchi Honkan)
Fly with Asiana Airlines
Buy one way Nankai Airport Express to Namba station.
Buy subway pass

Day 2: Osaka - Minoh - Osaka (Toyoko Inn Shin Osaka Chuo-guchi Honkan)
Buy subway pass
Buy return Hankyu ticket from Umeda - Mino

Day 3: Osaka - Himeji - Nara - Kyoto (Toyoko Inn Gojo Karasuma)
Buy JR West 1 day pass before flying in to Japan

Day 4: Kyoto (Toyoko Inn Gojo Karasuma)
Buy subway pass
A guided tour of Kyoto Imperial Palace

Day 5: Kyoto (Toyoko Inn Gojo Karasuma)
Buy bus pass

Day 6: Kyoto (Matsubaya Ryokan)
Buy bus pass

Day 7: Kyoto - Osaka (Toyoko Inn Shin Osaka Chuo-guchi Honkan)
Buy bus pass
Buy one way Kyoto - Shin Osaka by JR

Day 8: Osaka - Yokohama (Sheraton Yokohama Bay)
Buy Puratto Kodama rail ticket (the cheapest shinkansen), get it early from JR Central (Tokai) Tour, JTB or JTB Traveland after you arrive in Japan. We almost couldn't get ours!
Buy Yokohama Minato Burari wide pass to cover Shin Yokohama to Yokohama. If not, just buy Minato Burari pass.

Day 9: Yokohama - Kamakura - Tokyo (Toyoko Inn Otsuka-eki Kitaguchi no. 1)
Buy one way Yokohama - Kamakura
Buy one way Kamakura - any Tokyo station. Both by JR.

Day 10: Tokyo (Toyoko Inn Otsuka-eki Kitaguchi no. 1)
Buy individual subway tickets

Day 11: Tokyo (Toyoko Inn Otsuka-eki Kitaguchi no. 1)
Buy Tokyo metro pass

Day 12: Tokyo - Nikko (Viva Nikko)
Buy All Nikko pass (Nikko bus pass is included) from Tobu Travel Agency in Asakusa station or JTB.
Departs from Asakusa station to Tobu Nikko station.

Day 13: Nikko - Tokyo (Toyoko Inn Asakusabashi Kosaten)
Included in All Nikko pass

Day 14: Tokyo (Toyoko Inn Asakusabashi Kosaten)
Buy individual subway tickets
A guided tour of Tokyo Imperial Palace

Day 15: Tokyo - Lake Kawaguchi - Tokyo (Toyoko Inn Asakusabashi Kosaten)
Buy individual subway tickets

Day 16: Tokyo (Toyoko Inn Asakusabashi Kosaten)
Buy return Keio highway bus ticket from Keio office or Odakyu, both in Shinjuku station.
Departs from Shinjuku station to Lake Kawaguchi Station.
Buy retro bus pass of Lake Kawaguchi.

Day 17: Tokyo - Haneda Airport - Seoul
Buy Keikyu rail ticket to Haneda Airport
Fly with Asiana Airlines

Post trip note: the trip is completed with this itinerary up to 98%.

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