Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Kyoto, Osaka & Tokyo by Train

Mark, one of our Japan rail fans, gives his suggestions of how to spend his time on a trip to Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo – feel free to speak to Mark to discuss your own travel plans.

“With two nights in Osaka, three nights in Kyoto and three nights in Tokyo and a rail pass included, this is how I’d spend my time in Japan!

Day 1 – UK to Osaka
Fly from Heathrow to Osaka Kansai Airport, arriving next day. Departures from Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and other UK airports are also available.

Day 2 – Osaka
On arrival in to Kansai airport, I would head straight for the Japan Railways (JR) Ticket Office, located just outside the main terminal building, in the station complex. Here, you can collect your JR Pass for your week’s train travel around Japan – don’t actually activate the Pass today, the helpful staff will arrange this to happen on day 4 as you will make the most of the 7 days this way (there’s no need to extend to a 14 day pass!) You’ll also be able to make seat reservations for your onward journeys throughout your time in Japan. Then buy a ticket separately and hop on a train to Osaka (approx. 60 minutes) and make your way to your hotel.

The JR Rail Passes are brilliant – they allow you to travel on the entire JR network, which covers a huge amount of Japan. Almost all trains are covered, including many of the Shinkansen ‘bullet’ trains, which are really comfortable and punctual. I’ve also used the JR Pass on local lines around Kyoto and Tokyo, plus they can also be used on many local JR buses, the Tokyo monorail and even the ferry to Miyajima!

This evening, head to the bright lights of Osaka’s Dotonbori District, and there’s no doubting you’ve arrived in Japan!

Day 3 - Osaka
I’d start off my sightseeing in Osaka at the wacky Umeda Sky Building, one of Japan’s landmark buildings and a fascinating piece of architecture - the viewing platform is accessed by a rather hairy escalator! Then head to Shinsaibashi and Amerika-Mura, two adjacent neighbourhoods but with different feels.

This evening I would return to Dotonbori for food, drinks and the atmosphere. Just on the south side of the canal across Mido Suji is a great little Yakitori serving grilled meats and fish with cold beer at low prices (unfortunately I don’t know the name, but look for the red & black sign, and the owner who looks like Shirley Bassey!)

Day 4 – Osaka to Kyoto
Use your JR Pass to hop on a train to Kyoto - it’s only a half hour ride, but the two cities are a world apart. I would start my sightseeing in Kyoto at the station itself, and at the Kyoto Tower, which gives you great views across the city. Close by is the Higashi Honganji Temple, which is definitely worth a look. Then head to your hotel, before finishing off the day by heading to one of the bars in Ponto Cho (Japanese beers are very good, but I’ve never got in to Sake!)

Day 5 – Kyoto
Today would be a full day sightseeing in Kyoto, and I would kick off at the incredible Fushimi Inari Taisha, a magical Shinto temple where thousands of wooden gates dot the hillside – this has to be one of my favourite places in the whole of Japan. From here, I would head to the Southern Higashiyama district, home to dozens of temples, shrines, gardens and streets that will leave you mesmerised – my favourites include the temple of Kiyomizu-Dera (keep an eye out for the entrance to Tainai Meguri, which is one of the oddest experiences in Kyoto!) and the traditional streets of the Sannen Zaka district – really pretty.

Day 6 – Kyoto
Continue exploring Kyoto’s amazing sights today – I’d head out to Arashiyama for the incredible bamboo groves and the beautiful gardens at the Tenryu Ji temple – as you come out of the station turn right and follow the path until you start to see bamboo! Don’t forget that your JR Pass can be used on all JR lines in the area, so I would then hop back on the train and head to central Kyoto. If you still have the energy return to your hotel via Nijo-jo Castle and Nishiki Market – I have no idea what half the foods for sale here are, but it looks fascinating! For me a stay in Kyoto is completed by taking in a traditional Geisha show – and probably a few more beers! Certain attractions require an entrance fee to be paid locally.

Day 7 – Kyoto to Tokyo
Make your way to Kyoto JR station for your Shinkansen ‘bullet’ train to Tokyo, a journey of around 2 hours 45 minutes – hopefully with great views of Mount Fuji, so when I’m making my seat reservations I would ask for a seat on the left hand side of the train. The station sells a huge range of bento boxes, so you won’t go hungry on board.

One option I would consider is to split my train ride to Tokyo in to two – I would catch a fairly early train to Nagoya, one of Japan’s economic powerhouses and with quite a lot to see close to the station. Main Japanese stations are like small cities so you’ll find lockers to leave your luggage in while exploring, along with shops, restaurants and helpful staff. Just outside Nagoya station is the Midland Square Building with its observation deck, and a little further away is Nagoya Castle, so there’s plenty to see here.

On arrival in to Tokyo JR station make your way to your hotel – don’t forget that your JR Pass includes free travel on all of Tokyo’s JR lines (not the subway), including the very handy (but very busy) Chuo and Yamanote lines, and the Tokyo Monorail. Where possible I avoid travelling during rush hours in main Japanese cities, although you’ll always get on a train as there’s a queueing system in place. This evening I would head out to experience Tokyo’s zany nightlife in districts such as Shinjuku and Shibuya – there’s a real buzz in these areas once the masses of neon lights up, and personally I prefer Shinjuku with plenty of places to eat, drink and be entertained.

Day 8 – Tokyo
On my first full day in Tokyo I would head straight to the Tokyo Sky Tree, the tallest structure in Japan and with great views across the city – the queues can be a little long so try to avoid it at the weekend, or look out for the fast lane! From here it’s a short walk to the Asahi Beer Headquarters (there’s a great bar on the 22nd floor – definitely recommended!) and the more cultural Senso Ji Temple. From here I would head to the lively Akihabara district, with its colourful billboards and even more colourful characters – sensory overload! Continue to Shibuya to see the crazy Shibuya Crossing, where thousands of people cross at every change of the lights – as the evening starts the lights come on, and you can only be in Tokyo! Don’t forget that your JR Pass can be used on all JR lines in Tokyo, cutting the cost of getting around. Certain attractions require an entrance fee to be paid locally.

Day 9 – Tokyo
Today continue exploring Tokyo – I would start in the city centre, where you can catch a glimpse of the Imperial Palace (for me the best view is at the corner of Harumidori and Uchiboridori) and take in the upmarket Ginza district – if you get off the train at Tokyo’s main station to the west side all of this can be done on foot. Then head to Harajuka, where the beautiful Meiji Jingu Shinto shrine contrasts with the surrounding streets incredibly – the district is popular with Japan’s youth culture, so you’ll find lots of zaniness here. It’s then a short hop on the Yamanote line – included with your JR Pass – to Shinjuku, home to the world’s busiest station and Tokyo’s bright lights & buzzing nightlife. I’d take in a show at the renowned Robot Restaurant – it’s like nothing I’ve seen anywhere else, ever!

Day 10 – Tokyo to UK
Make your way to Tokyo’s Narita airport for your flight back to the UK – your JR Pass will cover selected trains to the airport (approx. 1 hour), so it couldn’t be easier. Depart Narita for your return journey to the UK.

All in all, this would combine the modern and ancient sides of this region of Japan – this is how I would spend 9 days in Japan!”

Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Escape Worldwide... our year of travel so far......

It’s been a crazy year of travel already this year for the Escape Worldwide team. The team has been far and wide looking at hotels, resorts, cities, checking out the beaches and of course testing the local beers! So far this year we have been to:

·         Sydney and most of New South Wales

·         Jamaica

·         Japan (Osaka, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Kyoto by bullet train)

·         Cuba (Havana, Vinales Valley, Santa Clara, Trinidad, Ceinfuegos, Remedios and Varadero)

·         Abu Dhabi
·         Ras Al Khaimah
·         Dubai
·         Orlando

All this before June, so what’s next for the rest of the year, well the team have lined up:

·         Kuala Lumpur
·         Bali
·         India (Agra, Delhi, Jaipur, Cohin, Kovalam and the backwaters)
·         Kenya (Masai Mara Safari and Mombasa)

As you can see we are pretty well travelled so if you are planning your next long-haul holiday then why not give us a bell or drop us an email and let us help you plan your next dream holiday.

Happy Travelling

Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays 

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

South Africa.... a great destination

South Africa is an amazing destination offering everything from wildlife, stunning scenery and amazing food and fine wines! We can offer plenty of holiday options and one of our favourite is combining vibrant Cape Town with the sheer beauty of the Garden Route and the thrill of safari in the Eastern Cape - one of the most popular South Africa fly-drive itineraries, taking in the best of the Rainbow Nation.


Day 1 - UK to Cape Town
Fly from London to Cape Town, arriving next day.

Days 2-4 - Cape Town
On arrival you'll be transferred to to your chosen hotel, for a three night stay - we have a range to choose from, and your length of stay in Cape Town is flexible. Spend the next few days exploring Cape Town. Perhaps pre-book a Discover Cape Town City Tour (from £23 per person) - a great introduction to this spectacular city, the Cape Town City Tour provides the perfect opportunity to sample some of its attractions and get your bearings.

Cape Town Fly Drive

We generally don’t suggest you have a car in Cape Town as the traffic can get a little busy, parking can be tricky and most things are easy to get to. If you’d prefer to collect a car when you arrive and have it for your full duration, however, just let us know and we can arrange this for you!

Day 5 -  Cape Town to the Winelands
Collect your car from the Cape Town depot - costs include a Toyota Corolla or similar, although there’s a good selection of options available. Leave Cape Town behind and drive to Stellenbosch - the direct drive can be done in an hour but we’d really recommend travelling via the beautiful Cape Peninsula, taking in Hout Bay, the Cape of Good Hope and the penguins at Boulder Beach - this should take around 3 hours, plus stops. On arrival, check in to your chosen hotel for a two night stay - this is flexible, of course!

Driving is fairly straightforward in South Africa, with well maintained roads which are generally fairly quiet outside of the main towns. Driving is on the left and most laws and customs are familiar to UK drivers. Do bear in mind that all drivers will need a valid drivers licence plus the DVLA online code and printout, along with a credit card in the name of the main driver for deposit purposes. Other T&C’s apply - just ask for details!

Day 6 - Winelands
Spend the day exploring the beautiful Winelands area. Explore the three towns of the Winelands area - Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl - or park up and try some of the world-renowned wine at one of the many wineries that are open for visitors.

South Africa Winelands

Day 7 -  Winelands to Knysna
It;s a fairly long drive today from the Winelands to Knysna (approx 5 hours), with plenty to see on the way - perhaps stop in Wilderness to see if you can spot any dolphins in the sea. Alternatively, start by heading inland via Montagu and the spectacular Cogman’s Kloof Gorge (approx 5.5 hours) for a more diverse route. On arrival, check in to your hotel for a three night stay.

Days 8-9 - Knysna
Consider taking a day off driving today and perhaps head to the water - Knysna Lagoon is a beautiful area and boat trips are popular here. Alternatively, sample some of Knysna’s renowned food in one of the numerous restaurants. Next day spend a little longer exploring the Garden Route around Knysna - perhaps drive up to Oudtshoorn, (approx 1.5 hours) the ostrich capital of the world!

Day 10 - Knysna to the Eastern Cape Game Reserves
From Knysna it’s around a 4 hour drive to  the game reserves of the Eastern Cape, but with lots to see and do on the way. Stop for coffee in pretty Plettenberg Bay before continuing to the beautiful Tsitsikamma area, perhaps taking in some of the magnificent forest and coastal scenery on a hike. Be sure to stop briefly at Bloukrans Bridge, a spectacular crossing of a deep river valley, with perhaps a final stop of the day in Port Elizabeth before arriving at your chosen game reserve for a three night stay. Be sure to arrive in good time as there’s an afternoon game drive arranged this afternoon!

South Africa Safari Holidaus

Days 11-12 - Eastern Cape Game Reserves
Spend the next few days on safari - park up your car as you’re in the hands of the experts, with morning and afternoon game drives in the reserve to see as much wildlife as possible. Many of the game reserves are home to the ‘big 5’, so expect superb wildlife sighting and a real thrill.

Day 13 - Return
Drive back to Port Elizabeth and the airport today (approx 1.5-2 hours), where you will drop off your vehicle and check in for your flight back to the UK.

Give us a call today or email us at info@escapeworldwide.co.uk for more prices and holiday options.

Escape Worldwide - Home of Long Haul Holidays