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First Asian Venture - South Korea, Japan, or somewhere else?

First Asian Venture - South Korea, Japan, or somewhere else?

Old Oct 31st, 2015, 11:08 AM
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First Asian Venture - South Korea, Japan, or somewhere else?

Frequent lurker popping in for a bit of feedback from the Fodorites. My husband has requested that we plan our next trip to Asia. We'll only have a week (approximately 7-8 days in; maximum of 10 days total), between beginning of December and end of April. (Dates are ours to manipulate; overall time is non-negotiable).

Our home airport has non-stop flights to Tokyo and Seoul, which make both Japan and South Korea attractive options. I'm also open to recommendations on shorter itineraries that see only a portion of a country... our goal is to experience more, even if it means we see less.

Our primary travel interests are food/wine/beer, history and architecture, parks and natural landmarks... our interests in major cities is limited to markets, museums, and proximity to day trips.

What's your recommendation for our first week in Asia? South Korea, Japan, or somewhere else entirely?
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Old Oct 31st, 2015, 01:00 PM
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My choices of places to visit have always been decided on the basis of feeling an affinity for a place, in various ways, rather than because there are non-stop flights. Liking the food of a country is important to many of us, along with other aspects of a county's "personality". You must have some sort of feeling about Asia and the countries there to want to go there at all. I suggest you read more and I often find photos help, as part of a place's personality has to do with esthetics.

I've spent quite a lot of time in Asia and the first place I visited, for the reasons I mention above, was Thailand. In addition to food and esthetics, it seemed it would be an easy place to be a stranger and to get around, and I found it was. It was a great "starter" country and I've been back a number of times since, combining it with other new countries. I'd also recommend a stop for a few days in Hong Kong, a very exciting and quite manageable city with lots of English-speakers which is helpful always.
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Old Oct 31st, 2015, 07:12 PM
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My first trip to Asia was to Japan -- a choice based on my specific interests. With 8 days, you could visit Kyoto (say 5 days) and Tokyo (say 3 days). See
http://www.japan-guide.com
for just about anything you would ever want to know about traveling in Japan. BTW, it is very easy for Westerners to visit Japan, IME.

I also spent a month in South Korea, and while Seoul is reasonably easy for Westerners to visit, must of the rest of the country could be a bit more of a challenge. With 8 days, you could, perhaps, visit Seoul (say 5 days) and Busan (say 3 days). You might want to check my trip report for more information about traveling in South Korea; just click on my name to find it.

Like MmePerdu, I wouldn't choose a destination based on airports alone. And for either of these destinations -- or any other you end up considering, make sure you consider the likely weather at the times you would visit.

Good luck!
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Old Nov 1st, 2015, 01:01 AM
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On a relatively short trip, an extra leg flying to somewhere else will eat into your on the ground time disproportionately, so I would be inclined to stick with Japan or South Korea and avoid the additional travelling. The difficulty is which one?

Having visited and enjoyed both immensely, based on the interests you outlined, I would be inclined to go for Japan and maybe split your time between Tokyo and Kyoto ( yes I know they are both large cities but there is a huge number of amazing sights to see in both places). Towards the end of April will be cherry blossom time so it should be a wonderful time to visit - if somewhat busy.
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Old Nov 1st, 2015, 02:46 AM
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My first trip to Asia was Indonesia, but my second trip was a 9 day trip to Japan, basing in Tokyo and Kyoto. Completely agree with Crellston that these places will really check your interest boxes. Japan is a safe, fascinating country and is food paradise on Earth as far as I'm concerned. And Tokyo will hit it out of the park for your market/museum/great day trips trio.

If you do want to visit in spring, I would start looking at hotels and ryokans now for stays during peak cherry blossom time in April: things can book up very quickly as it's high season for international and domestic tourists catching the sakura. I visited in mid March, so before peak blossom, but was lucky to have some early bloom and far thinner crowds.
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Old Nov 1st, 2015, 07:34 AM
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I also highly recommend Japan, based on your criteria. kja gave you the best resource with japan-guide.com, which I use extensively for both of my trips there. To help you focus on what 8 days there could look like, check out the two links below, which outline logical itineraries for both Tokyo and Kyoto, as well as the most popular day trips outside the cities. Pick what appeals to you and ignore what doesn't; you really can't make a bad choice from the areas they suggest. Have a great trip!

http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3051.html

http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3950.html
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Old Nov 1st, 2015, 04:35 PM
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I had wanted to go to Japan since I did a 6th grade social studies project on the country so, like MmePerdu says, it helps to choose a country one has an affinity for. With 8 days, I agree with the esteemed kja that I would give more time to Kyoto than Tokyo. I had not quite 4 days in Kyoto and could have used at least one more to visit Arashiyama and spend some time shopping in Gion. With 3 days in Tokyo (not counting the afternoon/evening day that you arrive), you could visit the highlights (Tsukiji, Asakusa, Kappabashi (if you're an enthusiastic home cook like me)) and then use one day for a day trip, whether to see Mt. Fuji or visit Kamakura or Nikko. Japan has been the highlight of my international travels to date, so much so that my current plans are to go back for sakura (cherry blossom time) in spring 2017.
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Old Nov 2nd, 2015, 12:04 AM
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Ah oh, lemiller -- you may be in for some squabbling among Fodor's Japan board posters!

Writing about a possible trip to Japan, russ_in_la wrote, "kja gave you the best resource with japan-guide.com, ..., check out the two links below, which outline logical itineraries for both Tokyo and Kyoto" --

Thanks, russ, but I think we also agreed that the one place that japan-guide errs is in its estimates of time for the Kyoto walks? I think we both thought they took about twice as long as suggested? But maybe that wasn't you. It certainly was me!

So, lemiller: Think about your options for the Kyoto walks that japan-guide (and the excellent JNTO guides for the area) outline for the area; plan a route that emphasizes the things that are highest priority for you and fit in your other interests as possible.

I can't disagree with any suggestion about the order in which to visit Japan and South Korea -- as I said upthread, it really depends on your interests. But FWIW, I think Japan would more closely fit more Westerners' "image" of the Orient than Seoul, and I think Japan would offer a grater contrast to western culture the other areas -- JMO.

And enjoy!
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Old Nov 2nd, 2015, 06:26 AM
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Hi kja, yes, I agree that the Japan-guide itineraries under estimate the time needed to complete them, especially in Kyoto; however, they are still excellent for outlining the most popular things to do and see, which is how I used them.

So OP, be forewarned to use Japan-guide to help you narrow down what you might want to do, but not for how long it takes to see or do them.
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Old Nov 2nd, 2015, 02:04 PM
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Six nights Kyoto, three in Tokyo.

Kyoto is different from most cities - it has its usual glass/steel/girder cluster but there's a lot of ruralness to it (yeah, I can do better at some other point). There are about 7000 temples, shrines, palaces, the Gion district, the Arashiyama district and the Castle (which is a sprawling compound) that make it a city with countrysides within it and of course will fit your architecture requirements. And it's close to Nara and not far from Himeji and this just scrapes some snowflakes off the iceberg.

You want history? Kyoto was the capital of Japan during the Tokugawa shogunate, during which Japan became one nation albeit a bit of a confederation instead of a union. Until the 1860s, Kyoto was the capital of Japan. At that point some swampy backwater called Edo became the new capital during the Meiji Restoration (named for the Meiji Emperor, aka Mutsuhito, the great-grandfather of The Emperor) when power in Japan moved from the shogun back to the emperor. You may know Edo by its newer name: Tokyo.

Day trip to Nikko from Tokyo because: history, art, architecture, etc.
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Old Nov 2nd, 2015, 02:06 PM
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ACH. Correction, Kyoto was the capital of Japan but during the Tokugawa shogunate the shogun took up residence in Edo (the "Edo Period"), even though Kyoto was the residence of the emperor.
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Old Nov 2nd, 2015, 06:33 PM
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And Nara, near Kyoto, was the capital before Kyoto.
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Old Nov 9th, 2015, 07:09 PM
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Since you mentioned food first among your interests, don't you already have an idea of which cuisine you might want to explore?

I like Korea for the striking juxtaposition between First World amenities and traditional lifestyle. In Korea there are still traditional markets where people sell things from the ground. There are very traditional villages that, although they are visited by tourist, people still live there - by choice. Even in Seoul most people live in neighborhoods which are a maze of alleys off from the main boulevards. Almost all hotels and restaurants offer at least one room of ondol seating.

Korea is almost entirely mountainous; where the cities end, the mountains begin, and the peninsula has some dramatic coastline. It is also easier and less expensive to get around by car.

If you go to Korea, you should get out of the cities and see the countryside for at least three days and nights.

Also, Korean motels have their own crazy, trippy themes, so I advise in staying in those places rather than American-style hotels.
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Old Nov 9th, 2015, 07:32 PM
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@ shelemm -- When you wrote, "It is also easier and less expensive to get around by car," did you mean that it is easier to do that in South Korea than in Japan, or easier and less expensive to get around in South Korea by car than by other means? FWIW, I'm inclined to agree with the former interpretation, but not necessarily with the second. And for either meaning, I suspect it ultimately depends on how many people are traveling together and where, exactly one goes.
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Old Nov 11th, 2015, 08:30 AM
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@kja -- Easier and cheaper than renting a car in Japan. Sorry if I did not make that clear. Buses, trains, or walking are all cheaper than car rental!
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