We learned many travel lessons as our trip was planned and we lived it lived day to day using resources mainly from the internet. Supplemented by some second-hand, out of date travel books. With local resources being the hotel we stayed in as well as the city tourist department.
Apart from a one-day tour in to the Great Wall in Beijing. A 2-day cruise in Halong Bay, Vietnam and the odd city hop-on-hop-off bus we arranged all the sightseeing ourselves.
It went well. There were hiccups but these were overcome without any serious consequences. We underestimated the average daily costs in both China and Japan. Mainly due to the cost of sightseeing and admission fees into sightseeing attractions.
China is milking tourism. Whereas Japan is quite reasonably priced and even sometimes free.
Click here to visit our site get the details of the places we visited and our impressions and views. Also included are the main resources and sites we used
Travelling apps are essential.
The best solution is to buy a data SIM in each country. It’s no hassle swapping SIM’s in and out and they offer the best deal.
Many apps require data outside of a WiFi zone so you need a local data SIM to get online. Carry a separate phone with your country SIM as at times you need to verify information or use it to access your home bank account.
There are a number of sites offering multi-country SIM solutions but they are expensive. Roaming from your home country can be ridiculously expensive.
The data only SIM’s we used were: China Mobile in China, Freetel in Japan, Digi in Malaysia, Viettel in Vietnam, Cellcard in Cambodia, Unitel in Laos and Ooredoo in Myanmar. Some gave one a limited number of call minutes and SMS’s but they were never significant. These were all bought from the official outlets as if you buy them off the “street” you are likely to be ripped off.
Looking for deals and options is a time consuming, arduous and sometimes frustrating process. Flight specials, hotel specials, best areas, reviews and advertisements all have their own challenge.
Be aware of school holidays national holidays (long weekends), school half-term holidays, annual vacations as well as the “tourist seasons” as these can have a big impact on availability and price.
These have been hard to keep - easy to underestimate. Using the Trail Wallet app I recorded expenses as they occurred and did them by country and type of expense.
These will be on the site as soon as I find some time to sort them out!
The apps we used included Skyscanner, Google Flights and in Asia Trip.com (also covers accommodation and we used it for train bookings in China).
My go-to is Google Maps but was referred to Maps.me as another good resource.
On occasions Foursquare and Yelp have found us a place to eat or have coffee.
The train systems in China and Japan are fantastic. The bullet trains (I used times on these to try and keep my writing up to date) are comfortable, reliable, fast and reasonably priced.
Our longest trip in China was from Hangzhou to Guilin (about 8 hours) and our longest in Japan from Tokyo to Hiroshima. Even with stops and changing train lines the average speed for this journey was over 200kph … with one section nearly 250kph.
In China the train system is newer, more direct and easy to understand. In Japan although JR is the biggest and most widespread there are many private railway lines. This can be challenging to the first time traveller ... actually any traveller and also many Japanese!!
One aspect that can be confusing in both countries is that the kanji’s are hard to read, the station names are hard to pronounce and some names are similar. One solution is to take a photograph of the rail network and follow it on your phone.
Our main transport through Japan was using a JR Rail pass. These are available for 7, 14 or 21 days and can be used on most JR Trains (the essential app with this pass is Hyperdia). As we were in Japan for 26 days we also bought a PASMO card which can be used in most metros, some buses and various other train lines like the Kintetsu in Kyoto.
In Kyoto we used a one-day bus pass from the Tourist Office. It was very good value and the routes covered all the main sites and attractions.
In China they are new and are easy to work out.
Japan’s systems are far older, owned by multiple operators and more complicated. But the Hyperdia app will sort out any confusion regarding which train, which time and which platform. Both China's and Japan's services have announcements and signs in English.
If you are not part of a packaged tour … be selective and take it slowly! There is no pleasure in rushing from place to place just racking up the pictures. It is probable that at some stage you get “templed out” or “shrined out” as there are so many – this seems to be a common malaise with many western tourists we’ve met.
Depending on your trip and the weather don’t try and do too much in a day. It is tiring and getting around often takes longer than planned.
We were scammed in Beijing when we drew money from an ATM in the airport (10 fake Y100 notes). After taking money from an ATM check the notes and immediately report any suspicions.
Generally, the level of crime published by western embassies is over dramatized. Be careful and aware in China in many ways it’s a 3rd world country with lots of scams and petty crime.
Personal security is not a concern in Japan.
For example on a train in Japan my wife dropped her phone on a eat as we were transferring coaches. Within minutes of arriving at our destination she realised that she didn’t have her phone. She then went into the lost property office and the agent was holding her phone. It had been picked up and handed in within minutes!!
After just over 2 months we had learned a lot of travel lessons but I'm sure that as we continue our journey there's still more school fees to be paid.
So much to see and do so little time! Following a dream. Who knows where it’ll end? Passionate about learning, about embracing the changing world, adventurous, skeptical but optimistic. My glass is half full and I’m grateful for my life.