Winter beckons! White, powdery snow; cool frosty air; and the cheer of Christmas. But here in Asia the celebration of winter is uniquely different, one that we are going to unearth in this issue of Unearthing Asia – the magic of Oriental Winters.
In this issue
+ Japan + China + Taiwan
+ Truly Malaysian Spa
+ Urban Living – Singapore
+ Siem Reap Top Attractions
+ Melbourne Arts Galore
+ 12 Things to do in Bali
+ Historic Duolun Road
+ New Zealand Food Trail
The oriental charms of Japan is one that is often expensive and pricy. The recent Cost of Living Survey listed Tokyo and Osaka as the top two most expensive cities to live in the world, but budget travelers need not fret. There are still ways to experience Japan on a budget, here’s some tips to extend your dollar.
You can minimize your travel expenses if you plan ahead and take advantage of the rail passes and cheap internal flights (using airpasses). Some of them are only available to foreigners, and often only available for purchase outside of Japan. You can also save a lot of money by planning and prioritizing the various attractions you want to check out (and some others you want to skip).
If you’re staying in Japan for up to three weeks and are looking to travel around a lot, the JR Pass is an excellent way to save money. Please note that you need to purchase an Exchange Order from an authorized sales office or agent before you come to Japan, so all this goes back to the first point, plan ahead!
There are also various Air Passes that can be especially useful if you wish to travel long distances inside Japan, for example, to visit the southern islands such as Okinawa. Each carriers have their own Air Passes with differing prices and routes, so be sure to research them thoroughly.
This is the other expensive necessity in Japan, so try out Couch Surfing if you’re very low on budget. If not, the cheapest accommodation in Japan ranges from youth hostels and dormitories. There are also cheap campsites all around Japan but some of them are not as accessible as the others, which leads me back to point #1, plan ahead!
For a memorable and truly Japanese experience, spend a night or two at the various traditional Japanese inns, usually called Minshuku or Ryokans. These aren’t always the cheapest option, but are truly worthwhile to experience oriental Japan.
The WWOOF in Japan is an excellent volunteer scheme that costs you just 5,500 Yen (around USD60) per year. It is one of the best way to experience the Japanese way of life and culture. A typical WWOOF arrangement sees you receive free room and board in return for a few hours work per day, typically 4-6 hours. The work you do varies from host to host, and can be a great opportunity to learn new skills. At the same time, you’ll get to experience the daily life and routine of your host, who may even arrange local tours and activities for you.
Eat Like A Local
Food in Japan is not as expensive as you may think, and fortunately, it is very easy to spot the cheaper establishments as restaurants usually display their menu along with prices outside the door. Try out the various stand-up ramen bars where a bowl of soba, udon or ramen starts at 250 yen. You can also head towards one of the many conveyor-belt sushi restaurants where a plate of sushi costs from 100 to 200 yens.
During the day, check out the best in temples, museums and other attractions. Plan ahead and you’ll find various free guided tours of numerous attractions. These are great ways to experience Japanese culture and history. You’ll do well also to check out if there are any cheap passes that allows you to save money, like the Tokyo Museums Grutt Pass which gives you access to 66 facilities over two months period.
If you are planning a visit to Asia, don’t forget to check out Unearthing Asia, the best Asia travel portal focusing on Lifestyle, Culture and Attractions all over Asia. We have got some of the bargain holidays ideas and inspirations in the region of Asia, such as this list of must-try Malaysian foods.
Who doesn’t like a great lake? No, not those great lakes, but any lake where you can see an amazing reflection or view that forces you to make your own reflection. Whether it’s a serene place or an amazing lake that has a story, these are great places to stop for a rest and think. Write in your journal. Or just relax – isn’t that what lakes are for?
Mirror Lake, New Zealand
Sunrise at the Mirror Lake in New Zealand, near Fox Village, is no mean feat. You must drive or bike a few miles from town, then trek in the darkness around the lake to get this view. But it is certainly a noteworthy goal, as a lake clear as glass and silent makes way for this surreal mirror image as light fills the sky. It is a must-see when seeing the glaciers in the area, and even during midday a walk around the entire lake is lovely.
If you’re looking for more reasons to visit New Zealand, look no further than our Dreaming of New Zealand photo blog.
Tonle Sap, Cambodia
The Tonle Sap is Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake, expanding many times its size during monsoon season. Because of the incredible change in landscape between dry and wet seasons, the people who live near here stay on floating villages – complete with televisions, petrol stations, and other typical amenities. It is a surreal sight to behold, especially since the far shore of the lake cannot be seen, leaving you feeling as if you are afloat at sea. It is possible to visit as a daytrip from Siem Reap.
There is more to this Asian country than sun-baked ruins and temples galore. Retreat to the south and experience Cambodia’s shore, full of beaches and off-beat sights to be explored.
Lake Biwa, Japan
Lakek Biwa is the largest freshwater lake in Japan; because of its location next to the historic capital of Japan, it is well known to Japanese historians, but the lake’s beaches are also popular to those not interested in history or literature. Other popular attractions include Ukimido, the floating temple, the Seta no Karahashi Bridge (especially at sunset!), and biwako Hana Funsui – the world’s largest water fountain.
Lake Baikal, Russia
Lake Baikal, just north of the Mongolian border in Russia, is a geological phenomenon. It is massive, containing 20% of the world’s surface freshwater and the deepest (and strangely, clearest) lakes in the world. Because of this and the hundreds of unique species that live here and nowhere else, Lake Baikal is actually a UNESCO World Heritage site. The resort of Listvyanka is also a UNESCO site and popular stopping point.
Not far from there, check out as well our exploration of Kamchatka, at the far eastern edge of Russia.
Lake Wuhua Hai, China
Wuhua Hai, meaning ‘five flower lake’ in Chinese, is one of several of the amazing lakes in the Jiuzhaigou Valley. The name is appropriate, because just in the span of a few meters the lake changes color, from blue to black to yellow to green and back again. It is surreal, spooky, and amazing. Don’t miss the other lakes here in the valley, such as China’s version of the Mirror Lake featured above.
Lake Issyk-Kul, Kyrgyzstan
Would you believe the above photo was shot in Kyrgyzstan? Lakes are a popular tourist attraction in the mountainous countryside of Kyrgyzstan, and Lake Issyk-Kul is no exception. It’s hidden inside a deep valley, giving you endless views of the snowy peaks of the Tian Shan mountains. It was a popular resort destination during Soviet times, and although those resorts fell into disrepair, they are making a resurgence with foreign tourists.
Inle Lake, Myanmar
Inle Lake in central Myanmar is the second largest lake in the country and one of its highest. An entire population of people, called the Intha, have built their lives and villages around this lake. Visit in September or October where you can experience Hpaung Daw U Festival, where Buddha images from the nearby Pagoda are paraded around the lake and there are dozens of boat races. This is followed by the Thadingyut festival of lights celebration.
Myanmar is also home to off-the-beaten-path Putao, a destination that is a veritable paradise on earth.
* Note: Some people seem to get held up with my definition of Asia. Asia = all of the destinations featured on Unearthing Asia, which includes places you might call “Australasia” or “Middle East.” Enjoy.
If you are planning a visit to Asia, don’t forget to check out Unearthing Asia, the best Asia travel portal focusing on Lifestyle, Culture and Attractions all over Asia. We have got some of the best Cheap Holiday Deal and inspirations in the region of Asia, such as this list of must-try Malaysian foods.
About the Author. Andy Hayes. Andy Hayes is a freelance travel writer and photographer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. When not crossing the world to have his next Asian travel adventures, he is hitting the walking trails near home. To get in touch or see Andy’s other travelogues, visit his website, Sharing Travel Experiences.
A popular place in Japan amongst tourists from all over the world, Hokkaido is the ideal place to experience a quaint getaway. From the subtle and peaceful way of life to its alluring and breath-taking sights and scenery, this paradise hidden at the northern-most part of Japan just one and a half hour flight from Tokyo oozes with charm and never fails to captivate.
Miso Ramen can’t get anymore authentic anywhere else than Sapporo, Hokkaido. As the birthplace of Ramen, Sapporo bustles with ramen stalls and restaurants all over the city. Two famous Ramen joints popular amongst tourists are Ramen Republic and Ramen Yokocho. A narrow lane tightly-lined with ramen shops serving the famous Sapporo ramen, Ramen Yokocho is 3-mins by foot from Susukino Subway Station.
The area is also a popular entertainment and red light district, coming alive with energy and zest as the sun sets. Two stations away from Susukino Station is a ramen theme park known as Ramen Republic located at the 10th floor of the Sapporo ESTA, a commercial complex just in front of the Sapporo Station. Unfortunately, these popular ramen havens have been much commercialized, targeting and pricing themselves mainly for tourists and visitors. But fret not, a good bowl of ramen is available anywhere in the city. All you need to do is look out for several important signs that spell a good ramen place – small, maybe a little bit run-down, but crowded with people queuing up even in the dead of winter.
One thing you can’t miss when experiencing Hokkaido – bottoms up! Other than sakes, Hokkaido is famed for their beers with numerous breweries all over the island. Be sure to hop into one and sample their beer freshly brewed. The top four breweries include Kirin, Sapporo, Suntory and Asahi. However, other microbreweries offer beers that are just as satisfying.
One recommendation is to try the Genghis-Khan dinner (BBQ lamb) with the special beer at Sapporo Beer Factory. A perfect blend of delicacy and booze – a sinful pleasure indeed!
Hokkaido’s range of seafood choices is a paradise for seafood-lovers. Crabmeat, salmon, scallop, sea-urchin, salmon roe, any of these underwater delicacies are fresh and supple for your enjoyment. Monstrously huge crabs are popular amongst locals and tourists alike. One place to catch seafood live in action is the morning market at Hakodate. Just a stone throw away from JR Hakodate Station, the Hakodate Asaichi (Hakodate Morning Fair) houses close to 360 shops, all of which are either vendors or restaurants selling seafood. Do get prepared to rise early and experience the market at its “freshest” between 6 to 7am.
One word – heavenly. You can never leave Hokkaido without bringing home a box of Shiroi Koibito or Royce products. These chocolates are set to sensationalize your palettes with its rich and tantalizing coco aroma, evoking every sinful desire in you for sheer chocolate indulgence.
Make a trip down to Shiroi Koibito Park – Ishiya’s chocolate factory where the Shiroi Koibito chocolates are made. Costing only 600 yen, entering the factory feels like walking into the world of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Road Dahl (thanks Adam for pointing this out!). Besides watching the production process live, there is a gallery featuring chocolate packaging, tins, a display of hundreds of hot chocolate cups and tea cups, and even a galore of old toys played by kids all over the world. Certainly brings us down memory lane with much nostalgia.
Winter is when all the action begins. Despite harsh frosty conditions in February, Odori Park is all fired up with people geared up for the biggest snow event of the year. The world famous “Sapporo Snow Festival” lures 2 million visitors to Hokaiddo each year, attracting snow-builders from all over the world to congregate and compete.
Snow sculptures of all kinds are erected along the streets, crafting a magical kingdom out of snow. Ice structures as huge as three-story high buildings, life-size cartoon characters, famous monuments and icons, all of which, made out of sheer ice, are an absolute delight to marvel at. Night time would be the best time to enjoy these works of art as the street will be prettily decorated with lights, illuminating the whole vicinity and turning it into one bright, giant fairyland.
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Kyushu offers something for everyone, from urban buzz to natural escapes, ranging from great shopping experiences at Fukuoka’s Canal City Hakata to the indulgent hot springs baths at Beppu.
Japan’s third-largest island, Kyushu is an early centre of Japanese civilization and offers many historic treasures, modern cities and natural beauty. Tourists are drawn to Nagasaki because it was the city which suffered an atomic bomb attack during World War II on Aug 9, 1945. There is the Atomic Bomb Museum located in the Peace Garden, which is well worth a visit. The exhibition shows the damage caused by the blast, the ruins of Urakami Cathedral and the rescue and relief activities. A Statue of Peace stands in the middle of the garden to commemorate the atomic blast.
Another interesting place to visit is Huis Ten Bosch, which gives you a taste of Europe in Asia. One of the highlights of the Dutch theme park is the replica of Queen Beatrix of the Netherland’s official residence. Located in the palace is an art museum which hosts exhibitions of works by Japanese and international artists.
There is a massive mural within the palace painted by renowned Dutch painter Rob Scholte, which took four years to complete. You might be tired after visiting the museum, so take a trip to Shimabara and check into an onsen hotel to enjoy a hot spring bath. There is so much natural spring water in Shimabara, both hot and cold, that it runs through the streets. One picturesque spot, the Carp Street, has colourful koi swimming in the canals.
You’ll also want to visit one of the jewels of Kumamoto, the 300-year-old Suizenji Park. At the east of the park, there is Horaitsukiyama, which is made to look like Mt Fuji. Three islands float in the lake and beautifully trimmed pine trees enhance the exquisite scene.
After visiting the lake, tourists can head to one of the most famous castles in Japan, Kumamoto Castle. Most of the present castle buildings, including the large and small castle tower, are reconstructions dating from the 1960s. The interior of the castle is a modern museum. After visiting these historic sites, take a break to indulge your shopping fantasies by going to Kami Tori and Shimo Tori – the main shopping belt in downtown Kumamoto.
City within a City
Another excellent place for shopping is Canal City Hakata in Fukuoka. Calling itself a “city within a city”, attractions here include numerous shops, cafes, restaurants, a theatre, game centre, cinemas, two hotels and a canal, which runs through the complex. Hawks Town is also a good place to go on a shopping spree. It’s a two-storey mall with a cinema, the giant game centre, Namco Wonderpark, Hard Rock Cafe and 28 shops including Gap Clothing and Nike.
Kyushu is also a popular tourist destination because of the Mount Aso National Park. The park boasts the world’s largest volcanic crater. Close to Mount Aso is Beppu, which is famous for its hot springs. It has nine jigoku or “hells”, which are nine spectacular hot springs for viewing, rather than bathing. Beppu’s most famous site is the bright-red Boiling Blood Pond, Chi-no-ike Jigoku.
Hello Kitty Fever
And finally, after you tire yourself of all this natural beauty, you may want to visit Hello Kitty Land. Also known as Harmonyland, the place is an outdoor theme park nestled in the natural splendour of Oita prefecture. It offers attractions with state-of-the-art technology, a schedule of fun events, and a chance to meet the Sanrio characters. Harmonyland teaches visitors about Oita’s natural environment and cultural heritage while celebrating the joy of friendship and caring.
About the Author. Wolfgang Jaegel. Chan Brothers Travel provides business travels, meetings, incentives, conventions and educational travel, also air tickets, cruises, accommodation, car rental, insurance travel gift vouchers and world-wide online hotel bookings for discount prices.