*Please note that the information below is accurate as of the date of the post and includes opinions and observations based on first-hand experience as of December 2015.
Looking for things to do in Japan? See here.
If you’re in Japan or planning to visit there, there is a wonderful program for temporary visitors called Japan Tax-Free that will save you the VAT/sales tax at many popular retailers.
The biggest confusion and questions seem to arise from the exit (leaving Japan) procedure of the Japan Tax-Free program so I will start with this first. If the below doesn’t make sense, it will as you read further.
The Thai Islands. The magical land of iconic longboats, crystal clear waters and Leonardo DiCaprio’s first movie The Beach. With its vibrant nightlife and great selection of snorkeling, diving, and rock climbing spots, it is not only a great place to retire, but a land that should be experienced while still young. It is an area where you will discover new shades of blue and where your collection of selfies will easily triple.
So where do you begin? How can you get the best value for your money, while meeting new like-minded people and not have to bootstrap it on accommodations?
If you’re considering Cambodia for your next trip, G Adventures’ Cambodia Experience tour is a great option. There are many advantages to using G Adventures, including smooth border crossings from Vietnam to Cambodia and Cambodia to Thailand, which can be very intimidating if you were to do it on your own.
As for what you will see and experience, see below for a small taste of what to expect.
Day 1 – Ho Chi Minh City
Arrive at your starting hotel and meet your group around 6pm. This meeting is not mandatory if you are arriving late. Just be sure to look for the G Adventures leaflet at the hotel lobby for details on when you leave the next day.
If you’ve ever been part of a discussion on Vietnam, at some point the conversation will touch on the custom tailoring industry. Vietnam, among its many marvels, and Hoi An specifically is known for its Tailor Tourism where foreigners will flock in to get highly discounted tailored suits, dresses, jeans, and silk products.
The discounts are so great that the on-going joke among travel professionals is that you’re better off travelling to Vietnam once a year to stock up on clothes as the savings will offset the cost of travel. This joke isn’t too far off as it is known that some parents go to Vietnam to purchase prom dresses/suits for their children, while making a vacation out of it.
In general, the pricing is per below in USD (and includes all measuring and taxes):
Dresses – $10 – $25 (Depends on the length and material)
Suits – $60 – $200 (Both pants and jacket)
Dress shirts – $10 – $40
Jeans – $25 – $50 (Depends on the material)
Silk dresses – $200+
*Note that silk dresses are still relatively a great price, especially given the quality of the silk they use (usually from Vietnam)
Most items can be made in a few hours. Some items might take up to 24 hours.
So how do you make the most of your experience?
Japan is a VERY safe country that is highly efficient and organized (they have to be because of the dense population). Visitors will note right away that the streets are very clean and the people are very polite. Radiation levels and its dangers (from Fukushima) are exaggerated and the main tourist areas are far from ‘ground zero’.
There are two main airports around Tokyo – Haneda (HND) which is in Tokyo and Narita (NRT) which is larger, but slightly outside Tokyo. Haneda connects to the Tokyo subway system so it tends to be more affordable after you land. Narita offers various ways to get to Tokyo, including Narita Express (train) and T-Cat (bus) that go to dozens of places in and around Tokyo quite regularly (sometimes 10 minutes apart).
Places to go:
Other than the main Kyoto, Hiroshima, Osaka areas (which are highly recommended) there are other activities that are worthwhile to check out.
Around Tokyo – About 1.5 hours outside Tokyo you’ll find Hakone which is world-famous for its hotsprings (see hot spring etiquette below). For those of you looking to stay in the city, a bike tour operated by a local couple is a great way to see the city. It is a very casual and easy-going bike-tour through different parts of Tokyo (including the fish market) depending on the tour you take.
What is Japanese Hot Spring Etiquette?
The idea of the public hot springs is that users enter the bath portion clean. Meaning you shampoo, soap and rinse before entering the hot bath. For those worried about bacteria and germs, because most hot springs are quite hot (you’ll have to enter slowly to let your body adjust), not much can survive in there. Also, the water changes regularly (since it’s coming naturally from the mountain) so it’s fresh and clean.
Outside Tokyo – Japan has many tropical islands, including the islands of Okinawa. Here you will find white sand beaches and areas that are barely touched. Although slightly out of the way, if you’re already making the trip to Japan an extra 2-hour flight to what is arguably one of the most beautiful places in the world seems worth it (one or two nights is all you need). If sticking to the main island of Okinawa (Naha area), be sure to check out Manza beach hotel.
Japan is known for its culinary expertise. Everything just seems to taste better in Japan. Must tries include ramen, okonomiyaki, and izakaya (Japanese bar) food. If you need to give in to fast-food, their versions of McDonald’s is called Mos Burger.
Japan is a tip-less society. You are not required to tip anywhere for anything (some places will see it as an insult if you do). The price you see is the price you get. How wonderful!