December 24, 2017

Kyoto, Japan – Itinerary and planning (3 days) – part 1 of 3

Just came back from a ~2 weeks Japan travel covering Kyoto, Kawaguchiko and Tokyo, thought of sharing my super awesome itinerary in this blog. The actual plan was an elaborate one, including an arrangement for a 24 hour stopover at Bangkok prior flying into Japan via KIX (and exit via NRT) and up to which day to do laundry. But for the sake of convenience, I’m going to write this in simplified form, and span it with days instead of the actual one whole itinerary. So, shit is going to get break up into the following:
– 3 days itinerary for Kyoto
– 2 days (0.5 + 1 + 0.5) itinerary for Kawaguchiko (one of the Fuji Five lakes, for Mt. Fuji appreciation) (link)
– 3.5 days itinerary for Tokyo (sans Disney Resort), 2 days itinerary for Disney Resort (Disneyland and DisneySea) (link)

That way, you can just use whatever that suits your travel needs, like, you can do Tokyo first, then the lake or even, use one of the itineraries as an excursion for your existing boring itinerary. You get the idea. This post features the itinerary for Kyoto. I’ll do separate posts for Kawaguchiko and Tokyo as part 2 and 3 respectively. But before I begin the Kyoto itinerary, please read through the disclaimer:

– Since I’d traveled all the locations above in the same trip, my actual itinerary took longer than just 10 days. It was close to like, 13 days (1 day for Bangkok, 1 day for traveling between areas in Japan, 1 day for inbound/outbound flight and misc time loss). If you’d like to follow the exact itinerary listed above for all the areas, you might want to account an extra 2 – 3 days to the 10 days.
– In December, Japan has a relatively short daylight (like Taiwan). It starts to get dark at about 4pm, so naturally, I shifted the daylight loss by starting earlier in the morning.
– It’s also getting very cold in December (although not the coldest yet). If you have a fear of cold, you might want to just go to somewhere hotter instead.
– This is an itinerary post, I’ll do a separate post for what I think about the places I’ve visited.
– This was planned based on 3 pax – my wife, my 11-yo daughter, and myself. I managed to hit > 95% of what I’ve planned, with almost perfect timing accuracy. If you’re planning for a group of more than 4, this probably won’t work as well for you.
– The main objective is sightseeing and to experience Japan (with the final 2 days in Disney Resort). The itineraries involve a lot of walking, averaging about 20,000 steps each day. That’s roughly about 16km of walking per day. If you’re not into walking or has a fat ass, this is probably not your kind of shit. (Go find one of those gay tours)
– The itinerary hinges on the assumption that you’d do your own planning/research on the public transportation. You can choose to splurge on taxi or go smart by subway/bus. Doesn’t matter. Just Google around for info.
– If your religion prohibits you from visiting buildings or monuments of other religious faith, this won’t work for you too. (Japan has a lot of temples, shrines and pig related obsession from its culture to food).
– The day to day planning can be shuffled around, depending on your dates of travel, as some of the places might be closed on certain day of the week. So, check your schedule vs the places of interests during your planning.
– This is just my own planning. It may not be as good as others’. If you think there are flaws with my planning, that’s probably because I’m an amateur.

Prep (general)
Winter clothing – It’s about 5 – 10 degrees in December. You might want to get something that is able to warm you up. Innerwear, winter jacket, beanie hats, gloves. Personally for me, 5 – 10 deg C is just like my lab on an average day – so I survived with just a waterproof windbreaker with a pair of gloves on standby. On days that dipped to near zero, I had my gloves on.

Lodging – One gripe I have about Japanese lodging choices is, the rooms can be too small if it’s something I deem as ‘affordably average’ kind of room (this is especially true in Tokyo). A lot of people would opt for AirBnB but, it’s only worth it if you have a company of more than 3 or 4 (an AirBnB lodging would have saved you the cost of an extra room). So, depending on your needs, I’d recommend to go for upper average range – ~MYR 400 bucks per night (go for Uruyasu area for Disney itinerary, which should set you back of about MYR 700 – 900 bucks per night).

Transit arrangements – On top of regular flight arrangements, if you’re traveling between cities or prefectures when you’re in Japan, you need to pre-arrange your transit, or at least plan it well. Most highway buses services allow online bookings. For Shinkansen (bullet trains), especially between Kyoto – Tokyo route (Tokaido-Sanyo), online booking is not available and you’ll have to print out the schedule to purchase it at the Japan Rail (JR) office. So, plan accordingly. (Forget about Japan Rail pass. That shit is expensive. You’ll only get back your money’s worth if you’re visiting more than 4 cities in the same trip – which is inefficient in my opinion). Go Google for JR trains, there are shitloads of websites explaining how the intricate Japanese rail network works, and it isn’t very hard to figure them out.

Meal budget: Japan is an expensive place for food. Expect to budget around MYR150 on average per person per day for lunch+dinner. This is a very economic figure with expectations on occasional bread-on-the-go kind of meal. If you’re into 100% dine-in restaurants, you’d need to double the amount.

IC payment – It’s like HK’s Octopus card, or Taiwan’s Easycard, or Oyster in England, or our TnG card. It’s convenient payment system that lets you board public transport without the hassles and also groceries without needing to worry about loose change. Except that the Japanese doesn’t have just 1 type. They have shitloads of types. Each region has its own card types. But all IC cards can be used anywhere, although the refund system isn’t as flexible. You can only redeem back your card’s value in its own region. Eg. if you buy ICOCA card in Kyoto’s Japan Rail (JR) West office, you can’t redeem its value back at Tokyo because in Tokyo, it’s under JR East jurisdiction. Depending on where you end up leaving, you might want to consider buying your type of IC card there, so that you can redeem back your balance when you fly out from your last destination. I only used SUICA in Tokyo, and did not use any at Kyoto (for Kyoto, the card would have been ICOCA).

Offline map – While Google Maps is very dependable for figuring out public transportation needs, it sucks for navigating streets or off road footpath on foot. For this need, get yourself an offline map app like OsmAnd, which uses Openstreetmap and allows you to navigate without having an active internet/data connection, just plain old GPS. I use this app 80% of the time, including navigating Disneyland and Disneysea. Make sure you tag the places you want to visit prior the trip.

Google translate – It has this little camera icon under the text translation page that allows you to translate Japanese characters in real time. This will come in handy figuring out if it’s beef or chicken you’re trying to buy…

Moisturizers – You need something strong that allows you to hydrate your skin. Get something like petroleum jelly or anything that sticks to you like an industrial grade grease… otherwise, you risk of getting winter itch or eczema which can inverse your holiday with woes and suffering from the dry winter weather. Oh, don’t forget the lip balm too.

Umbrella – It’s not likely to rain in December (weather check) at Japan, but get yourself a couple of travel umbrellas for fuck’s sake.

Day 1: Northwest Kyoto + Arashiyama + Downtown + Gion

I actually had an arrival day prior Day 1 at KIX (my trip was to enter via KIX, and exit NRT). It was in the afternoon, so I used the time to get myself sorted out on the tickets. I had to take the Tokaido Shinkansen from Kyoto to Mishima station on Day 4, and then a bus from Mishima Station to Kawaguchiko on the same day, but only the bus ticket booking could be done online. The Tokaido Shinkansen can’t be booked online, so I had to purchase the tickets at the JR office at KIX. Then I used the remaining time to buy myself a data SIM card (this one) at Bic Camera shop at Kyoto Station, and the bus passes for the 3 days at Kyoto from the tourist information counter. The 1 day bus pass (1 for each day) is all you need for Kyoto commute. Each pass costs only JPY 500, and it allows you to use it unlimited times within the city limit for 1 day (which is big and extensive – use Google Maps to navigate). First time of usage of this bus pass, just need to slot it into the machine inside the bus when you exit, it will print a date on the card. Once a date is printed, it’ll be good for the day itself. For subsequent uses after first use, you just need to show the date on the card to the bus driver and you’re good. I also used about an hour of the arrival day to get myself familiarize with the Kyoto Station layout (where to board trains/bus etc) and also get all the maps/pamphlets/brochures that could be handy in times of need. Then settle the day off with a meal and rest at the hotel early, and start the next day as Day 1.

0700 – 0800: Breakfast at your own or hotel. My hotel had breakfast included so, it was convenient for me. If not included, it’s easy to get some bread/sandwiches from a convenience store around. Then take a bus to Kinkaku-ji temple 金閣寺. Include some buffer time to figure out the bus station location near your hotel. Read signs at the stop, if the bus number you wanted to board isn’t listed there, then it is likely the bus you’re planning to take is at a different stop. Google Maps is only able to show you which bus to take at what time, but doesn’t pin point the exact location of the bus station/stop. Got to use some time to figure out the bus direction and its possible stop location.

0900: Kinkaku-ji temple 金閣寺 (location). Admission JPY 400 per pax (cheaper for kids). See cover pic for day 1. Famous temple with gold exterior (gold leaf). It also has a small garden with a hillock that allows you to do a little hike and walkaround. Requires about 30 – 45 mins for an adequate walk around to appreciate the views. (wiki link).
Once you’re done, take a bus to Ryōan-ji Temple 龍安寺.

1000: Ryōan-ji Temple 龍安寺 (location). Admission JPY 500 per pax (cheaper for kids). Temple with a zen rock garden and a walkaround in its interior. Relatively small temple, unless you’re really into zen rock gardens, expect to spend less than 40 mins here. (wiki link)
Once you’re done, take a bus to Ninna-ji Temple 仁和寺.

1045: Ninna-ji Temple 仁和寺 (location). I think there’s an admission fee to some of the buildings but, the best parts are all in the compound. There’s a picturesque pagoda and a huge courtyard with several gardens. Allow 45 mins to 1 hr to loiter around. (wiki link)
Then take a bus to Arashiyama. This ride covers quite a distance, requires 30 – 45 mins that involves 1 transfer at a depot so, buffer accordingly.

1215: Lunch at Arashiyama. Either patronize one of the many restaurants (pricey) there, or you can do it economically like me – grab a sandwich from Lawson (ubiquitous convenience store around Japan), plus some of the street snacks for lunch. Now the saved $ can be rolled into the next meal. (wiki link)

1215 – 1300: While eating the on-the-go lunch, opt to roam around the happening street at Arashiyama, checking out souvenirs/sights and absorbing the atmosphere around the area. Your walk should end at Togetsukyō Bridge 渡月橋 near the river.

1200: Togetsukyō Bridge 渡月橋 (location). Just a scenic location for the view and photo op. There’s also a national park with hot springs opposite side of the bridge, famous for its red faced macaques having a spa or orgy or something. Didn’t visit because of the crowd, but feel free to walk across the bridge to check it out. Once done, head back towards Tenryu-ji temple 天龍寺.

1230: Tenryu-ji temple 天龍寺 (location). Admission JPY 500 per pax (cheaper for kids) to roam the garden, more to enter the temple building + roam the garden. I’d recommend to go for the cheaper option – garden only. The garden itself is picturesque and one of the path heads towards the ‘north exit’, this ultimately brings you to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove 嵯峨野 竹林の道. A relaxed paced walk should take about 20 – 25 mins to reach the north exit. (wiki link)

1250: Arashiyama Bamboo Grove 嵯峨野 竹林の道 (location). Famous for its postcard view of bamboo forest that’s plastered all over visit Kyoto promotional posters. You’d be amazed by its sight. A typical stroll along the road in this bamboo grove would take you anytime from 30 mins up to an hour, depending how deep is your selfie fetish. (wiki link)
Once you’re done for the day at Arashiyama here, take a bus to Shijo Dori 四条通 (back to the city center) for some shopping. It’s fucking far from Arashiyama so, allow about 50 – 60 mins of journey time.

1445: Shijo Dori 四条通 (location). The road in front of Daimaru, is basically teeming with shopping life, just like Orchard in Singapore, or Zeil at Frankfurt. From here, you’re free to roam the Shijo Dori street. Places of interests include Daimaru shopping center 大丸京都店 (location), Nishiki Market 京都錦市場商店街振興組合 (location), or the Pontocho Alley 先斗町 (location). If you have female travelers in the group, they would turn half mad by the first hour of the roam. Spend time till it’s dark enough to be hungry again (should be around 5 – 6pm). (wiki link)

1730 – 1800: Grab an early lunch at one of the restaurants nearby, or if you’re planning to save the dinner, you can grab another sandwich from the convenience store. There’s an Ippudo outlet behind the Daimaru, which serves pretty decent ramen.

1800 onwards: Gion 祇園 area (location). Walk along Shijo Dori 四条通 (location) eastwards, until you’ve crossed the river. Then take a left up north Kawabata Dori 川端通 (location), and turn right into Shirakawa-Minami-Dori 祇園白川 (location). Stroll along this historical street, and enjoy the view. Then turn right at the small bridge into Kiritōshi 切り通し (location), go all the way south to Hanami-Koji Dori 花見小路通 (location) for a nice evening stroll or a cup of hot tea at one of the many tea houses. (wiki link)

Take a bus back to your hotel once you’re tired of all the walking, unless you plan to do more shopping. One of the many perks of retiring early – it allows some buffer time for you to do some laundry.

Day 2: Fushimi-Inari-Taisha hike + Northern Higayashima

0700 – 0800: Breakfast. Breakfasts are important, don’t goddamn miss it you idiot.

0800: By now, you should be familiar with the bus station near your hotel. Take a bus to Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine 伏見稲荷大社, a popular location known for its thousands of reddish/orangey arches called ‘torii’ up a hill. Might need a couple of bus exchange. If there’s no direct bus from your place, you can go to Kyoto Station instead. There’s a bus number 市営 81 from Kyoto Station bus station, and it’ll drop you at Kanjin-bashi 勧進橋 stop (location) – then you can walk to Inari from there. If you go before 9am before the tourists come, you’ll get to enjoy the place in tranquility.

0830: Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine 伏見稲荷大社 (location). See cover pic for day 2. Most people would just congregate here for some pictures etc. You can do that but, there’s much more at this place than just photo op. There’s footpath that allows you to hike all the way up to the summit of the hill, there a point halfway during the hike, you’ll get to enjoy some spectacular views of Kyoto district. The hike to the summit and back takes about 2 – 3 hours, and it’s kind of easy to do. My family and I spent about 30 mins around the shrine itself, before starting the hike (when the tourists started to arrive by the loads). (wiki link)

0900: Hike up to the Inari trails (location). Just follow the signs on the trail, it’s pretty easy to follow. It’s like a loop up counter clock wise, up one way, down on the other. I plotted a GPX on my map, but had very little use of it as the signs were very clear.
Once you’ve made it back to base camp, take a bus back to Kyoto Station. That place allows you to conveniently take a bus to your next destination.

1145 – 1300: Lunch at Kyoto Station. There are many restaurants at the top floor at Kyoto Station. Once you’re done, take a bus to Nanzenji Eikandō michi 南禅寺・永観堂道 bus stop (location).

1320: Walk to Philosopher’s Path 哲学の道 (location) from the Nanzenji Eikandō michi 南禅寺・永観堂道 bus stop (location).

1330: Philosopher’s Path/Walk 哲学の道 (location). Now you’re at the start of the Philosopher’s Path, which you can stroll all the way to the end, and also opt to visit the several temples/shrines along the way. The path is a scenic pedestrian walk lined with shitloads of cherry trees. When it’s in cherry blossom season, this place is going to be crowded like mad. On any non-blossom dates, it’s a path less taken, but it’ll still be beautiful for a stroll anytime of the year. The stroll is not a long one, but take your time. Allow up up to 90 mins for this walk to absorb the beauty. (wiki link)

1415: Honen-In temple 法然院 (location). If you want, you can take a small detour to this temple somewhere 3/4 of the way of Philosopher’s Path. Note that at certain times of the year, you’ve got to pay to enter the place. But we did not have to pay to roam around its beautiful compound (wiki link)

1500: Ginkaku-Ji temple 銀閣寺 (location). Your walk down Philosopher’s Path ends at Ginkaku-Ji temple. This temple features a huge garden with awesome landscaping and a wooden ancient temple that looks sublime to the eye (but it’s not covered in silver like that golden pavilion, its gold counterpart in name). (wiki link)

1600 onwards: From here, you can either go back to your lodging for a rest before heading out to some watering hole, or you can straight go to downtown Shijo Dori again for some window shopping. We went back to Shijo Dori to hunt for food, which we experienced some really odd funny shit that would be a story for another day. We hung out till late around 8 – 9pm before walking back to the hotel (it was nearby).

Day 3: Kiyomizu-Dera, Southern Higayashima, Nijo Castle

0700 – 0800: Breakfast. You should be able to tell by now that this is a routine already. Once you’re done with your most important meal of the day, haul ass to the bus stop and head to Kiyomizu-dera Temple 清水寺. There’s no bus stop directly in front of the temple so, you may have to walk a little.

0900: Kiyomizu-dera Temple 清水寺 (location). Admission JPY 300 per pax (cheaper for kids). See cover pic for day 3. Place is huge with a couple of beautiful pagodas and some breathtaking landscapes with city view. What more could you ask for? Spend as long as you want here. We spent a total of 2 hours here. (wiki link)
Once you’re done with the place, exit through the main entrance, and walk towards Sannen-zaka 三年坂. It’s just a short walk away

1100: Sannen-zaka 三年坂 (location). An alley which termed as ‘shopping street’, but more of a souvenir street, selling ice creams, trinkets, Japanese theme gifts etc. Walk along down the road till you reach the junction to Ninnen-zaka 二年坂, then turn into it.

1120: Ninnen-zaka 二年坂 (location). Another street similar to Sannen-zaka 三年坂. Walk along the steet towards Maruyama-koen 円山公園, stopping along as you like for photo ops etc. During your walk, grab something from the convenience store for lunch at Maruyama-koen 円山公園.

1200: Maruyama-koen 円山公園 (location). Park gets really beautiful in the cherry blossom season, but gets eerily peaceful during winter season. I enjoyed my time strolling along in the cold at the park here. Have your lunch in the park, and then after that, from the park, walk towards Chion-in Temple 知恩院 (quite a walk). (wiki link)

1230: Chion-in Temple 知恩院 (location). Huge Buddhist temple with great landscape. The time we went there, the main building was covered with scaffolding, being refurbished I reckon. Anyway, we had a great time checking out the awesome trees and giant arches at its compound. (wiki link)
Once done, take a bus to Nijo Castle 元離宮二条城. The walk to the bus stop usually takes you through some residential alleys etc. Feel free to stop for photos or a rest at a bench etc.

1330: Nijo Castle 元離宮二条城 (location). Admission JPY 600 per pax, closed on Tuesdays (in December), kids cheaper. Wears a UNESCO badge so, it’s a big deal. Beautiful castle formerly owned by a famous Shogun. In it, visitors are required to walk through the reception hall building via a route (guided with signs), and you get to read what each room was for back in the medieval Japan days. I had a blast learning about the custom and deco there. Place is as amazing as the Forbidden City of Beijing. It is a huge place to wander so, allow up to 2 hours or more here. (wiki link)

1500 – 1600: Leave back to hotel. Your legs should be about to break now from all the walking (and it’s starting to get dark after 4pm). We retired as early as 4pm that day, and holed up in the hotel eating instant ramen.
Also, because we’re making an excursion to one of the Fuji Five Lakes (Kawaguchiko) on Day 4, we arranged to have our luggage to be sent to Tokyo via TA-Q-BIN (a popular Japanese courier service), scheduled for arrival on Day 6. Just need to provide an address to the hotel concierge, they’d be happy to help send your bags for you. For JPY 3.5k, this would have saved us the troubles to lug our bags in/out the train/bus, all the way to Kawaguchiko and to Tokyo after that. For the excursion, all we needed was a backpack with enough clothes to last a couple of days at Kawaguchiko, and off we’d go to Tokyo after that. As we had an early Shinkansen to catch on Day 4, we had to send out the bags on Day 3 evening. The early retirement was a boon for this purpose. If you still have your energy left, feel free to arrange for a night’s out to the nearby happening place.

I’ll be writing separate itineraries for Kawaguchiko / Tokyo as Part 2 and 3.

michaelooi  | places  | 

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