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filmwill Jan 8th, 2015 07:18 PM

India conquered! Need help planning the next big adventure...
So we're back from our marathon 3-week journey into India. I'm putting together (rather than a trip report) a list of things we learned on the trip in the hopes it can help future Fodorites in their planning. We certainly learned a lot on this trip. I can't say that India was all I had dreamed it would be. It was certainly more 'travel' than 'vacation'...but it was eye-opening and there were moments that I'll truly carry with me for the rest of my life.

In grand tradition, it wouldn't be me if I wasn't planning the next trip whilst still in the paralyzing haze of jetlag from the previous trip. Hey, if nothing else, I'm consistent.

David and I spoke a lot about our plans for the next trip (in December, again) -- and narrowing this list down has been a challenge, as always. We went through the gamut when brainstorming: Bhutan & Nepal, central and southern Vietnam and the Philippines beaches, Borneo, Sri Lanka, any many other candidates.

But because we need a trip that's less work than usual (either we're getting old or work is getting more stressful), I think we've netted out on what I'm now calling our Hot & Cold trip. At first I thought this idea was nuts (packing for 2 climates) but our good friend lcuy helped alleviate my fears.

As some of you know, we absolutely fell in love with Japan last year when we went (in the same way we fell in love with Thailand the first time we went there--and all our subsequent visits there). So it's only fitting that we want to return to our two most favorite places. We're currently planning on a 14-17 day trip over Christmas/New Years again. We'll head to Japan first for about 10 days and then finish the trip in Thailand. When we head to Thailand we'll want to try to do something we haven't before: thinking of maybe the FS Tented Camp or Anantara. We thought a beach initially, but my DH isn't as wild on beaches as I, so Chiang Rai seemed a nice alternative -- we both have not been before.

Now to the main purpose of my post: Japan. How to do this in the winter? And where to go we haven't before (Tokyo, Kyoto, Hakone, Hiroshima, Miyajima and Osaka)?

Thanks again must go to lcuy for her advance planning advice (off the forums) and because of her help I've narrowed down slightly our options in Japan. It seems to me that Hokkaido--where we wanted to go--will just be too snowy in December for practical travel. We are skiiers but I don't think I want a skiing vacation (that doesn't seem particularly unique in Japan anyway) but we do want to experience the magic of winter in Japan in a way that's practical for travel.

Here's a short list of things and places we're interested in on this trip (not that they all have to make sense for this winter trip, just places we've talked about wanting to go):
*Snow monkeys
*Experiencing onsen outside in the snow
*southern Japan (Okinawa, etc.)

So in 10 days, what's a good itinerary? Should we fly into Osaka and use that as a base as opposed to Tokyo? I'm fine doing either, but I guess it depends on what mileage tickets we end up getting.

We can't afford to (or would want to) only do ryokans, so where is best to do hotels vs. ryokans?

Thanks for the patience if you've made it this far in the thread. I appreciate any help in advance narrowing down our choices for what hopefully will be another massively memorable experience thanks to our dear Fodorite friends.

mrwunrfl Jan 8th, 2015 09:12 PM

Consider expanding your Japan arrival location options. Given your list of destinations I would first look into flying into Komatsu (KMQ) for Kanazawa. Then train down to Fukuoka. Then an open-jaw award FUK-Naha-Tokyo then on to Thailand. For your locations of interest I think that "basing" is not the way to go.

I visited Japan on the way back from Thailand. I left a bag with the warm weather clothing at NRT and then traveled with a bag of cold weather clothing. Flew to ICN for a weekend and then from there to Toyama (TOY) and then train to Kanazawa. After visiting Kanazawa took the bus to Shirakawago. This was in January. There was "only" about 4 feet of snow on the ground in S-go. Stayed at a gassho zukuri as the only guest (the family and I went out for dinner and a soak, which was fun). They had loaner boots available to guests for getting around in the snow. A boy and his mother also showed me great kindness as I was out and exploring the village.

I had to train to Takaoka to get the bus to S-go. But there is a new road from Kanazawa to S-go that should make it quite a bit easier.

Anyway, if you are going to visit Kanazawa then I highly recommend a winter visit to Shirakawago.

mrwunrfl Jan 8th, 2015 09:21 PM

Osaka, not as a <u>base</u>, but as a jumping off point makes sense. But I would look at KMQ and TOY first - likely find connections to both from Narita. For sure if you took LAX-HND. Toyama airport to Kanazawa is 68 min by bus and train according to hyperdia.

filmwill Jan 8th, 2015 09:23 PM

How funny. I had literally just found Shirakawa-go in a post on Japan winter experiences and did some digging and saw that it looked like a fairytale / snowglobe experience -- staying in a farm house seems like it would be right up our alley. So I guess you've just validated that as a choice. ;)

As for flying in, I don't know how many options we'll have. We'll be using FF points on UA...and I think we'll need to use the open-jaw part to fly into Japan and then out of Bangkok. I don't think (unless I'm mistaken) that i can add another city in there on the same itinerary.

Out of curiosity, what would your recommended order of destinations be?

filmwill Jan 8th, 2015 09:51 PM

Also--any specific recommendations for onsen/ryokan near Nagano and/or snow monkey viewing? It seems that Shirakawa, whilst magical, does not offer any onsen. That's fine but want to ensure we still try and get in our 'onsen in the snow' experience.

FromDC Jan 9th, 2015 01:32 AM

Will, we leave for India in a couple of really hoping to get some tips from you before we go.
We understand about the return to Japan, after our brief stay in June, we can't wait to return (seems like we have been "following" you on our recent trips). I thought the Anatara in Chiang Rai was great, we were stayed for 5 nights and the timing was perfect. We had a great guide and if you do decide to go there, I will dig up his name. We really enjoyed the gardens at Doi Tung and our wanderings around the area.

cokesmith Jan 9th, 2015 02:59 AM

Have you thought about Hokkaido? We've traveled virtually every inch of Japan over the years and Hokkaido is without a doubt our favorite region - especially in the winter. Here is our trip report:

Hope it is useful!

Craig Jan 9th, 2015 05:29 AM

Billy, I look forward to hearing your take on India. I agree that traveling there requires extra effort and can relate to wanting to take an actual vacation on your next trip. That said, if you really want to do "easy", instead of doing Japan for your "cold" part, consider Bhutan. Because you would be accompanied by a guide and driver for the whole time, there's not much to think about once you've decided where you want to go and what you want to do/see at each location. Plan your trip around a festival - I don't know if there are any taking place in December. Just my 2 cents :-)

Assuming you've already made up your mind on Japan and Thailand:

Keep in mind that evenings in northern Thailand can be chilly in December, although it will be quite pleasant during the day. If you plan on using an outdoor pool, the water will probably be cold.

We looked at Shirakawa-go when planning our first trip to Japan but decided to pass. The idea of staying in a farm house sounded nice, but the idea of sharing a bath with others (which seemed to be the case no matter where we would have stayed) did not.

If you decide to do Kanazawa, be sure to look at the Machiya where we stayed and consider having a geisha perform there for you one evening. KimJapan lives in Kanazawa and can help you with this. Let me know if you need her contact info.

Smeagol Jan 9th, 2015 07:44 AM

ooohI like the idea of Bhutan too....mmmm i need to add that to my maybe list for November
yes looking forward to your take on India, I really cannot persuade Muffin to go at all........

Kathie Jan 9th, 2015 08:12 AM

I'm looking forward to reading about your adventures in India!

dgunbug Jan 9th, 2015 09:04 AM

Another one anxious to hear about your adventures. Isn't it fun planning the next adventure too!

filmwill Jan 9th, 2015 06:54 PM

cokesmith, thanks for the suggestion -- and if you see my OP, you'll see that Hokkaido is somewhere in Japan we are eager to explore (and even considered for this trip). But my fear, and I fear your amazing blog validates it, is that traversing the north of Japan in the winter can be work in itself...and we're really trying to have a much less labor-intense trip than the one we just had. Potential closed roads and serious amounts of snow, while something I love, can make for unanticipated challenges/change of plans on a vacation. So I'd rather explore the north at a different time of year...or when we're more open to 'travel' again rather than a straight-up vacation.

filmwill Jan 9th, 2015 07:01 PM

craig, Bhutan definitely was on the short list. But you too have validated one concern (not really a concern, but something that ruled it out this time) about Bhutan. We just came from a completely guided, driver-based trip...and that, honestly, felt so limiting to us. We really didn't enjoy feeling like we had this regimented (and yes I know you can change guided tours whenever you want) 'see this/then go see that/visit places with white people everywhere' kind of tours. It removed the free-wheeling, feet on the ground, being immersed with locals kind of exploration aspect that means so much to us on our trips.

When we've been in Thailand and the rest of SE Asia (and even Japan last year) we really loved that we could get around on our own, get lost (in both good and bad ways) and really just BE in the environment opposed to being walked through someone else's version of it. I know Bhutan and India are not the same and I'm not sure if that'll make sense to everyone (and maybe it's just a symptom of our India trip) but we really wanted to do something completely on our own and at our own pace next time.

I hear you on the joint bathroom situation. I'm telling myself if it's only a night or two, I can survive.

filmwill Jan 9th, 2015 07:04 PM

So Kanazawa sounds like it's in, as could be Shirakawa-go. Also sounds like Naoshima isn't completely crazy in December. So there's potentially 3 destinations that could be in.

I definitely need some additional recommendations on onsen/ryokans that would allow us to fulfill that 'onsen in the snow' fantasy (without going to Hokkaido). Could this be somewhere near/around Nagano? That would at least allow access to snow monkeys, right?

Not sure about Fukuoka. Is it worth visiting?

Is there anywhere else we should be considering as part of this 10 day itinerary in Japan?

cokesmith Jan 9th, 2015 07:39 PM

I hear you about the snow issues in Hokkaido. Road closures however are an issue pretty much anywhere in hilly Japan during the winter months. Nagano and the area is awesome as well
(our trip report here:

but there were roads being closed as well. Perhaps all part of the adventure? Hokkaido is the #1 winterland destination for the expats living in China - skiiing, snowboarding, wildlife....All great stuff. Nagano will have intense crowds and traffic but is still absolutely wonderful. But I guess it depends on what one wants out of a vacation.

mrwunrfl Jan 9th, 2015 09:43 PM

You are mistaken about that open-jaw plan. You are permitted one stopover and one open-jaw. Your stopover will be Japan.

The one-stopover itin would be LAX-NRT- stopover for as long as you want - NRT BKK destination, return from BKK to LAX. You can probably make a stopover at KIX.

I think you can use the open-jaw in Japan. I have read about it at flyertalk - I'll call it a mid-trip open-jaw. Normally think of the open jaw being at the either the origin or destination ends of the trip, Your mid-trip o-j could be between NRT and KIX, for example. That is, fly LAX-NRT and KIX-BKK-LAX on one round trip award. The flyertalkers say this can be done. You would not be able to book this online. You'd have to search for availability on each leg and then call to book it. They should waive the phone fee.

Your departure point from Japan to Thailand would not need to be from NRT or KIX. Asiana serves several cities in western Japan to ICN and then go on to BKK from there. Hiroshima (HIJ) or FUKuoaka for sure. Also TOYama but not KMQ. Or you can skip the open-jaw in Japan idea and just fly back to NRT from wherever to continue your awward trip on to BKK. Keep in mind that a UA award for domestic Japan travel is cheap, like 6000 miles for a one-way with NO tax.

After thinking about it, NRT might be your best place to arrive in Japan. The new shinkansen route goes Tokyo- Nagano- Toyama- Kanazawa.

Good question about Fukuoka. I would want a visit there to be during baseball season or in November for Kyushu Bassho (sumo tourney). But I am sure you can amuse yourselves there. It has an advantage of nonstop flights to Naha, Okinawa, if that is part of the plan. From Okayama (airport for Naoshima) you would have to connect to get to Naha. Even if Hiroshima had nonstops to Naha I think I might rather depart from FUK because it is so easy to get to. It is a large city. If you don't stop in Tokyo/Osaka/Kyoto then it would offer the most diversity of any of the places that you are currently considering. (according to the www it is 9th largest city in Japan and at 5 million is 10 times the pop of Kanazawa). Plenty of schedule for flying FUK-NRT to go on to BKK, if you skipped Okinawa. Or FUK-ICN-BKK should have good connections.

Am pretty sure that you can find the rotenburo in the snow that you are interested in at Nagano or nearby (like at the snow-monkey place).

There is an onsen area near Toyama that I want to visit. Can't think of the name right now. It has a scenic train ride.

I am of the understanding that there are onsen towns south of Kanazawa but haven't researched that area. Like around Fukui? Further south is Arima Onsen (though hawaiiantraveler preferred another town in that area).

So ONE good start to your itin would be fly to NRT and head straight to Nagano, then Kanazawa and Shirakawago, then south. Fly from western Japan to BKK and from there back home. OR fly back to NRT to continue your LAX-BKK-LAX award.

Craig Jan 10th, 2015 11:06 AM

Save Bhutan for another trip. It is not what you are looking for right now. We were up early and on the road many days on that trip, due to scheduling. It was fine for us but not where you are at right now.

Not sure if onsen in the snow is what it is about, but we did stay at a great place outside of Kanazawa. And while the surrounding town is nothing to write home about, the setting amongst the trees was idyllic and the food was spectacular. The place is Beniya Mukayu and we also arranged this though KimJapan, at a significant discount. This may be one of the towns south of Kanazawa that MrW was referring to. Don't know about snow monkeys, however...

filmwill Jan 10th, 2015 11:45 AM

Thanks, Craig!

I'm hoping Kim is somewhere out there and can chime in.

Craig Jan 10th, 2015 12:21 PM

I sent Kim an e-mail to alert her to your thread...

Kathie Jan 10th, 2015 12:22 PM

Filmwill, I completely understand your need to do something truly independent after India. The guide with you every minute has been what has prevented us from going to Bhutan.

If you need Kim's email address it is: [email protected]

She was very helpful to us. We stared in the machiya house that Craig and Jeane stayed in. I recommend it.

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