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Singapore, Seoul, and Japan. Oh, my! Itinerary Help, Please.

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Jan 24th, 2018, 04:08 AM
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Singapore, Seoul, and Japan. Oh, my! Itinerary Help, Please.

The Scene. DD earned a chair in the international honors orchestra annual concert, to be held this year in Singapore in March. DH and I are traveling to Singapore from Vienna to enjoy both the city and the concert; then I am continuing on to visit friends in Seoul and Tokyo. Our travel dates are set based on DDog’s sitter’s availability, flights, and other familial constraints, for travel in mid- to late-March.

Based on reading numerous trip reports (in particular, thank you, kja!), second-hand English language guide books from the charity shops in Vienna, blogs, and even a few, “Best of” lists on the Internet, I have hashed out a flexible itinerary for consideration and comment.

We are morning people; if there is something to be seen before the heat and humidity creeps in, we’re good with that. We’re not much into late nights; by midnight we turn into pumpkins. We eat pretty much anything, are active tourists, and love history; and our budget allows for a decent amount of wiggle room should the experience/purchase/meal rise to such level.

I welcome all comments, critiques, and suggestions as I move forward on this exciting holiday!

Singapore. Our time will include the arrival afternoon (+6 hours from Vienna); 2 full days; and 1 partial day before I will need to tame my humid mane ahead of the evening concert on the last day. Our lodging is The Vagabond Club in the Kallang District.

Definite Activities:
Night Safari
Peranakan Museum
Exploring the various neighborhoods (Chinatown, Little India, Tiong Bahru, and so forth.) and their cultural offerings.

Eating is a high priority for this holiday. I have compiled a carefully culled list of the foods we hope to sample as a general guide, but regarding chili crabs, any recommendations or places to avoid?

Decisions:
Gardens by The Bay OR Botanic Gardens?
Tree Top Walk. Any comments from those with experience?

Nor for consideration:
Orchard Road. I am not much of a (clothing) shopper.

Seoul. From the concert I head to the airport for a 0105 flight to Seoul, arriving at 0830. (+2 hours from Singapore). I will have the arrival day; 4 full days; and 1 partial day. I will be staying with friends.

Definite Activities:
Gyeongbokgung Palace and National Folk Museum
Changdeokgung Palace. Question: will the Secret Garden be worth touring in late March?
Myeong-dong
National Museum. While I am in Seoul there will be a French Impressionism exhibit including works from the Hermitage at the museum. Plus, I love calligraphy.
Cheongdo Light Festival
Jogyesa
Korean Folk Village
Suwon/Hwaseong Fortress
Several Markets: Namdaemun, Noryangjin Fish Market, Dongdaemun Market

Once again food will be a priority; though, our friends in Seoul will make certain I enjoy my culinary experiences!

Perhaps:
Dongdaemun Design Plaza
Bukchon. I have read wide-ranging experiences, and am waffling on this.
DMZ/JSA Tour. It appears that my first choice (JSA) is not offering tours for the two weeks I will be in Asia; this was the tour I had hoped to take. Other DMZ tours are available, but not one of them has piqued my interest yet. Any thoughts from those who have taken the non-JSA tours?

Japan
I arrive at dinner time into Tokyo proper and will once again be staying with friends. I will have 4 full days and a small partial day before I begin my westward trek home to Vienna. We have visited Tokyo and Kyoto previously as a family and enjoyed just about everything on the first-time-visitor list, so I am seeking a return-visitor itinerary (though I would not mind seeing the city’s beautiful temples and palaces again.)

Of course food will be a priority, and our friends will see that I never go hungry.

The Wish List. What might you add or subtract?
Rikugien Cherry Blossom Lightup
Hills Marche Farmer's Market
Sagamiko Illumillion
Kabuki Theater
Ameyoko Market
Tokyo Food Show
Heiwajima Antique Fair
Chagohan Tokyo (Japanese Cooking Classes)
Gotokuji (Cat Temple)
Nikko
Mt. Oyama, Kanagawa Prefecture
Yokohama (Chinatown and Ramen Museum)
Nagano (Snow Monkeys)

In advance, I thank you.

Last edited by fourfortravel; Jan 24th, 2018 at 04:11 AM.
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Jan 24th, 2018, 07:00 AM
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That looks pretty comprehensive.

I can remember enjoying an exceptionally lavish afternoon tea at the Singapore Raffles, with both eastern and western offerings.

Do you have any interest in temples? If so, Kamakura is just beyond Yokohama.
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Jan 24th, 2018, 07:41 AM
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I get Jane's Tours e-mails. I'm presently in Singapore, for a week, but the tours that I'm interested in I have already missed by some days or will miss by a day or so. The timing isn't right for me. But, I still keep her information. Her specialized tours might coincide better with your dates in Singapore. Plus, she starts in the early morning. I'm not a morning person, but I would get up for one of her tours.

As for eating in Singapore, since you will be going to the Peranakan Museum, which I happen to really enjoy, you might as well also try some Peranakan food, which I also love. There's a well-known Peranakan Restaurant up in Dempsey area that I'm really going to try to get to this year. My hotel concierge has mentioned that the hotel can make arrangements for me.

http://comodempsey.sg/restaurant/candlenut

https://janestours.sg

Happy Travels!
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Jan 24th, 2018, 08:05 AM
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thursdaysd, thank you for the Kamakura suggestion. I neglected to note that we toured Kamakura as part of our previous holiday. The Buddha is impressive!

Guenmai, thank you for the tour suggestion; unfortunately there are no tours of interest offered during our time in Singapore. We (well, really, I) are looking at Candlenut for one of the few meals we will enjoy in Singapore. Hopefully you will find time on your holiday to enjoy the restaurant and report back.
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Jan 24th, 2018, 01:26 PM
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Four4 - I spotted your thread when I was browsing through posts in the Asia forum, and was intrigued to see that you are off to the Orient. How wonderful to be following your DD's musical career like this. I can offer no specialist input save to wish you a very good trip, and say that I look forward to reading about it when you come back!
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Jan 24th, 2018, 04:43 PM
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Focusing on the Japan side of your question, there are a number of places you might consider. If you are interested in food, then one of the best databases to browse is Bento. You should find quite a number of places to consider dining at. One other place you might like is Kappabashi - it sells cooking items but even better is that it's the place to pick up the plastic or wax models of food and drinks that you often see in front of restaurants. They have it down to a real art and often you'll have trouble telling the models from the real thing.

If you are hoping to see the cherry blossoms, you'll likely have better luck at the end of March and the first part of April - so perhaps towards the end of your trip - earlier in March if you are lucky - but don't hold your breath. There is a good list of places to see here - although in Tokyo there is also an ocean of people to swim through. You might consider getting out of the city to see them, unless you're idea of enjoying them is like this:



Ueno Park Sakura

You might want to check the forecasts for the blossoms from time to time such as on the JNTO site or here starting around mid-February. You might have better luck viewing the plum blossoms, which typically come out from late February to mid-March. Some people mistake them for the cherry blossoms and they do look similar, but they are their own special treat. Going to Mito to the Kairakuen Garden is a joy to see them - and makes a great visit along with the Hitachi Seaside Park.

If your travels don't make a Tokyo Wide Pass pay off, then for Nikko look at getting a Tobu Nikko Free Pass. But if you really want to go to see the snow monkeys, then the JR East Nagano Niigata Area Pass might be better for you overall. Even with that though, you'll need to pay for the Nagaden train from Nagano to go the rest of the way.
And if you go to Yokohama, don't miss the Sankeien Garden - it's rated as one of the best in Japan.

Now it's up to you to find what you want and make a schedule. Don't forget travel time as well - Hyperdia can help you a lot with that.
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Jan 24th, 2018, 08:39 PM
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I’m glad you found my trip reports helpful! Thanks for letting me know.

For Singapore: The orchid garden of the Botanic Gardens is stunning, but open air – expect heat and humidity. The Gardens by the Bay are enclosed. I don't think either is a bad choice.

For Seoul: If it helps, the Secret Garden is, I think, less a “garden” than a park-like area in which several pavillions are located. Although I’m not sure what it would be like in late March, I suspect it would still be enjoyable.

Re: the DMZ: I think the choice of whether to go to the DMZ is a VERY personal one. The more I thought about it, the ONLY real reason I could identify for me to visit it would be that it is a border between two sides of an ongoing civil war. I have, over the years, felt the importance of paying my respects to those who fought or died in various wars -- including visits to Auschwitz / Birkenau, Hiroshima, etc. Those visits were, for me, ways to honor those who had lived or died and ways to pay homage to the lessons we can learn about the atrocities of war and the need to find peaceful solutions to even the most intractable of dilemmas. I couldn't find a way to imagine that a visit to the DMZ would engender those feelings for me. Instead, it seemed to me like honoring a war, and it seemed voyeuristic, and it even seemed disrespectful to ask those who guard the DMZ to have to worry about tourists when they have such heavy responsibilities. I just couldn't bring myself to go. It really came down to a gut reaction for me -- it just did NOT feel right to ME. That said, I can understand that others might find value in visiting the DMZ because their reasons might be VERY different from mine or might fit within a VERY different context. These are all (I think) really personal interpretations and perspectives. I made a choice for myself; I am not making a choice for, or judging, any one else.

FWIW, I think you’ve planned a LOT for your time in Seoul. You might want to have in my some places to skip if you are running short on time.

Re: Japan. Many people visit Nikko as a day trip. I spent overnight there, as I also wanted to visit Kegon-no-Taki and a bit of Lake Chuzenji and walk a bit of the Kanmangafuchi Abyss. I think it would be difficult to see the highlights of Nikko AND see these other sites in a single day-trip. Whether you visit as a day trip or not, if you have any interest in Japanese screens and sliding doors, consider making time for the stunning collection at the Nikko Toshogu Museum of Art.

Hope that helps!
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Jan 25th, 2018, 03:54 AM
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Thank you, annhig, for your kind words. I expect I might have just a few words to write about this as-of-yet-untitled adventure when I return. I also have 5 hours each way to kill in the Dubai airport; that alone might make for some interesting reporting.

Adasta2200, thank you! However did I not discover Kappabashi? I knew about the artisans in Gujo and ruled out a visit owing to the distance, but it did not occur to me that I might find a wax food store in Tokyo! One more item for the Wish List…

I know I’ll probably not see the cherry blossoms in Japan, sadly. But, we did see flowering plum blossoms on the Kyoto portion of our previous visit! Also, when we lived in D.C. we endured tourist throngs to see the cherry blossoms; and here in Vienna I am near to a Japanese garden, so I can drop in daily if I wish to catch the blooms at peak with nary a tourist in sight. Not quite the same, I know, but I am not complaining.

kja, thank you, as always. I am pretty certain my Seoul (and Japan) agendas are too much for my time, as well. The Toshogu Museum of Art and the limestone formation caught my attention, so weather depending I might flip a coin on Nikko versus Nagano (with an overnight). Thankfully there remains plenty of time to research and refine, and to prioritize, my itineraries!

Last edited by fourfortravel; Jan 25th, 2018 at 04:23 AM. Reason: clarification
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Jan 25th, 2018, 05:11 AM
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Originally Posted by fourfortravel View Post
thursdaysd, thank you for the Kamakura suggestion. I neglected to note that we toured Kamakura as part of our previous holiday. The Buddha is impressive!

Guenmai, thank you for the tour suggestion; unfortunately there are no tours of interest offered during our time in Singapore. We (well, really, I) are looking at Candlenut for one of the few meals we will enjoy in Singapore. Hopefully you will find time on your holiday to enjoy the restaurant and report back.
I'll let you know how Candlenut was as the concierge has made a reservation for me.
Happy Travels!
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Jan 25th, 2018, 08:27 PM
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In Singapore, if you can only choose one, I'd give the Botanic Gardens the edge over Gardens by the Bay. They open at 5:00 AM making an extraordinary pre-dawn excursion especially if you're already awake due to jetlag. At first you're enveloped by mysterious tropical foliage and jungle-y night sounds. Then, as the sky lightens, you realize that you're surrounds by scores of Singaporeans jogging, doing tai chi and generally enjoying the fresh dawn air. The orchid gardens are incomparable.

I'm a fan of the Night Safari and also Jurong Bird Park (the penguins are a great way to beat the heat!). I agree, give Orchard Road a miss, but try to add The Museum of Asian Civilizations. I would also suggest scheduling a midday massage and body scrub at one of the Southeast Asian (Bali, Thailand) inspired spas.
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Jan 26th, 2018, 12:00 AM
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Originally Posted by Guenmai View Post
I'll let you know how Candlenut was as the concierge has made a reservation for me.
Happy Travels!
OK. I went for lunch at Candlenut and really liked it. While there, I made a reservation to return as there are some other items on the menu that I would also like to try. The barramundi fish in curry sauce was delicious and I had it with brown rice. They also did a stir fry vegetable for me.

As soon as I walked in, they knew who I was and addressed me by name. My hotel concierge had contacted them and had someone talk to the chef about my food allergies and then get back to her. When the waiter came to my table, he had them memorized and pointed out which dishes for me to avoid. The staff was great.

Happy Travels!

It's great to see how Dempsey Road has taken on a new life as the Como Dempsey complexes are really nice. Candlenut Restaurant is at Block 17A. It's a bit difficult to see as it's hidden a bit behind greenery. But, just have the taxi drop you off at Como Cuisine as it's easily noticeable and then Candlenut is right there to the right and then another right. Below is Como Cuisine. I was standing there to get out of the pouring rain to wait for my taxi to arrive. Candlenut will call a taxi for you which will arrive in the circle in front of both Blocks 17 and 18. I remember a friend and I going up to Dempsey Hill back in 2001 and spending quite a bit of time there looking at Indonesian, wooden furniture. And we didn't take a taxi, but walked up that hill. I'm glad I was in a taxi this time. LOL!

https://ordinarypatrons.com/2017/08/...sey-singapore/
https://ordinarypatrons.com/2017/03/...on-at-dempsey/

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Jan 26th, 2018, 10:08 AM
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Thanks Guenmai, for the link to Jane's tours. They look great. I will have to bookend my next trip to Cambodia with a stay in S'pore! And Candlenut menus look awesome!

Last edited by lcuy; Jan 26th, 2018 at 10:12 AM.
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Jan 26th, 2018, 07:48 PM
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@ Guenmai: I'm glad you enjoyed and reported on Candlenut -- and I'm so jealous! I had planned to go there on my last night in Singapore, and my plans got thrown awry and I wasn't able to make it. Sigh.
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Jan 27th, 2018, 05:03 AM
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Guenmai, thank you for reporting back, and for the taxi tip. I started scrolling through the menu and the Curry Crab (dinner menu) caught my attention. Now I have to wait until next month to make a reservation, as they can only be made one month out.

marmot, very good to know about the early opening at the Botanic Garden. We are (early) morning people, so this might get the nod over the Gardens. And I think a visit early on the Museum of Asian Civilizations might help us in our struggle for context.

Shifting to Japan, any comments on Kawagoe? Our friends have suggested it as an outing from Tokyo. The other long day outing will be to Nagano unless weather interferes significantly in late March. Yokohama may have to wait for a return unless I am overly ambitious with my sightseeing.

Thank you, everyone.
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Jan 27th, 2018, 05:18 AM
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Originally Posted by lcuy View Post
Thanks Guenmai, for the link to Jane's tours. They look great. I will have to bookend my next trip to Cambodia with a stay in S'pore! And Candlenut menus look awesome!
You're welcome, Lucy. Smiles.

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Jan 27th, 2018, 05:22 AM
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"Guenmai, thank you for reporting back, and for the taxi tip. I started scrolling through the menu and the Curry Crab (dinner menu) caught my attention. Now I have to wait until next month to make a reservation, as they can only be made one month out."

The concierge at my hotel here called Candlenut the day before I went. I was there at the concierge desk while she was on the phone with them. Then while there the other day, I made a new reservation right there on the spot. I went for lunch which is a nice time to go as then one can walk around and look at what's in the other Block barracks. It gets very dark up there on Dempsey Hill at night.

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Jan 27th, 2018, 03:03 PM
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Originally Posted by thursdaysd View Post
That looks pretty comprehensive.

I can remember enjoying an exceptionally lavish afternoon tea at the Singapore Raffles, with both eastern and western offerings.

Do you have any interest in temples? If so, Kamakura is just beyond Yokohama.
Raffles Hotel is closed down at present. It's going through major renovation as it hasn't had a renovation since the late 1980s. They need to get the hotel more technologically advanced and they're also adding some suites and rooms. So, the renovation won't be finished until around 6 months from now. It was strange seeing boards all around it yesterday, as I took the MRT to City Hall and then went to Raffles City Mall to both get something to eat and go to the huge Muji store inside and which also has a nice eatery.



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Jan 27th, 2018, 11:42 PM
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Just had another great lunch at Candlenut. This time I had the red snapper, an octopus dish and brown rice. Staff was great again and greeted me by name and with a warm welcome back and Sharlene, the receptionist, was really great and went out of her way and got me an Uber back to my hotel and even walked me out to the car to see me off. They really tried to get through to the taxi companies, but being a Sunday afternoon the taxi phone lines were really busy. Day before yesterday, they got through right away. Next year, I plan to be back for some more meals.

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Jan 27th, 2018, 11:57 PM
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@ Guenmai: Thanks for the follow up! If I am ever fortunate enough to return to Singapore, I won't let the opportunity to dine at Candlenut slip by again.
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Jan 28th, 2018, 08:44 AM
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Yes, curious to see how Raffles will look when it re-opens. We stayed there in Feb of 2017 and had a chat with the manager about the renovations. The overall decor will remain about the same, but they badly need to upgrade the plumbing, electrical systems, air conditioning, etc and also will be renovating the bathrooms. I hope the expansion/renovation of the Writers' Bar doesn't change it too much -- it was one of my favorite places in Singapore. The pool and spa area do need major upgrading.

When we were there we stayed in a Palm Court Suite and hope to stay in one again for our return trip to Singapore next year.

Getting back to the OP's question about Botanic Gardens v Gardens by the Bay, personally, we'd do the Botanic Gardens early in the morning and the Gardens by the Bay at sunset/evening. In between we'd recommend either the Chinatown Heritage Centre (fabulous) or the Asian Civilisations Museum (also fabulous).
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