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Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok is a huge city with several district articles containing sightseeing, restaurant, nightlife and accommodation listings — consider printing them all.

Grand Palace, Bangkok
Grand Palace, Bangkok
Palace Grounds
Palace Grounds

Bangkok (Thai: กรุงเทพฯ Krung Thep) [1] is the capital of Thailand and by far its largest city with an estimated population of over 10 million.
[edit] Districts

Bangkok is a large city, rising vertically and growing horizontally. Administratively it is split up into 50 khet (districts), but these are rarely used in practice and the visitor will find the conceptual division below more useful.
Districts of Bangkok
Districts of Bangkok

1. Sukhumvit – The long Sukhumvit Road, changing name to Ploenchit Road and Rama I Road going west, is Bangkok's modern commercial core, full of glitzy malls and hotels. The Skytrain intersection at Siam Square is the closest thing Bangkok has to a center.
2. Silom – To the south of Sukhumvit, the area around Silom Road and Sathorn Road is Thailand's sober financial center by day, but Bangkok's primary party district by night when quarters like the infamous Patpong come alive.
3. Rattanakosin – Between the river and Sukhumvit lies the densely packed "Old Bangkok", home to Bangkok's best-known wats. Yaowarat (Chinatown) and sights around the Chao Phraya River are also included here. Bangkok's backpacker mecca Khao San Road and the surrounding district of Banglamphu are located on the northern part of Rattanakosin.
4. Thonburi – The quieter west bank of the Chao Phraya River, with many small canals and some offbeat attractions.
5. Phahonyothin – The area around Phahonyothin Road and Viphavadi Rangsit Road is best known for the Chatuchak Weekend Market and Don Muang Airport.
6. Ratchadaphisek – The district north of Sukhumvit centered around Ratchadaphisek Road (part of which is called Asoke) and reaching from Phetchaburi Road to Lat Phrao. This area has really opened up recently as the new metro line follows Ratchadaphisek Road.

[edit] Understand
The concrete jungle of central Bangkok
The concrete jungle of central Bangkok

Just under 14 degrees North of the Equator, Bangkok is a tropical metropolis that is also one of the most traveller-friendly cities in Asia. A furious assault on the senses, the first things that impress many visitors are the heat, the congestion both on streets and sidewalks, the pollution inherent to rapid development, the squalor that accompanies a gaping chasm between rich and poor, and the irrepressible smiles of the Thais. Bangkok now has the fastest rate for high-rise developments in the world. (sometimes dissapoint the new comers to see the ancient architecture and a total distinct world of Asia, however, as they wander around, will find their expectations lie deeply rooted). Despite the sensationalized international news reports and first impressions, the city is surprisingly safe, more organized than it initially appears, and full of hidden gems waiting to be discovered. The high relative humidity and warm temperature favor the growth of tropical plants — you'll find exotic orchids and delicious fruit everywhere. Thai cuisine is singular, justifiably famous, varied, and affordable. Bangkok, for many, represents the quintessential Asian capital. Saffron-robed monks, garish neon signs, graceful Thai architecture, spicy dishes, colourful markets, traffic jams, and the tropical climate come together in a happy coincidence. It is difficult to leave with lukewarm impressions of the city.
[edit] History

Bangkok (originally Bang Makok) was a small village on the banks of the Chao Phraya river, until a new capital was founded on the west bank (present-day Thonburi) after the fall of Ayutthaya. In 1782, King Rama I built a palace on the east bank (now Rattanakosin) and renamed the city as Krung Thep, as it is now known to Thais -- the City of Angels (and much more: the full name is listed as the world's longest place name by the Guinness Book of Records; an English rendering goes like this: "Krung thep mahanakhon amorn ratanakosin mahintharayutthaya mahadilok pop noparatratchathani burirom udomratchanivetmahasathan amornpiman avatarnsathit sakkathattiyavisnukarmprasit" -- "The city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city (of Ayutthaya) of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarn"). The original village has long since ceased to exist, but for some reason foreigners never caught on to the change.
[edit] Addresses & Navigation

Addresses in Bangkok use the Thai addressing system, which may be a little confusing to the uninitiated. Large roads such as Silom or Sukhumvit are thanon (ถนน), often abbreviated Th or glossed "Road/Avenue", while the side streets branching off from them are called soi (ซอย). Sois are numbered, with even numbers on one side and odd ones on the other. Thus, an address like "25 Soi Sukhumvit 3" means the 25th building on the 3rd soi of Sukhumvit Road. While the soi numbers on each side will always advance upward, the numbers often do not advance evenly between sides - for example, Soi 55 could be across from soi 36. Many well-known sois have an additional name, which can be used instead of the number. Soi 3 is also known as "Soi Nana", so the address above might thus also be expressed as "25 Soi Nana". The extension /x is used for new streets created between existing streets, as seen in Sukhumvit's soi pattern 7, 7/1, 7/2, 9, 11. Note that some short alleys are called trok (ตรอก) instead of soi.

To make things a little more complex, some large sois like Soi Ekamai (Sukhumvit Soi 63) and Soi Ari (Phahonyothin Soi 7) have their own sois. In these cases an address like "Soi Ari 3" means "the 3rd soi off Soi Ari", and you may even spot addresses like "68/2 Soi Ekamai 4, 63 Sukhumvit Road", meaning "2nd house beside house 68, 4th soi off Ekamai, the 63rd soi of Sukhumvit". In many sois the house numbers are not simply increasing, but may spread around.

To further bewilder the tourist who doesn't read Thai, the renderings of Thai street names in the Latin alphabet are not consistent. The road running towards the (former) airport from the Victory Monument may be spelled Phahon Yothin or Pahon Yothin or Phahonyothin or Phaholyothin depending on which street sign or map you consult. It's all the same in Thai, of course -- only the romanisation varies.

And if that's not confusing enough, most of the larger streets tend to change names altogether every few kilometers. Sukhumvit is called Sukhumvit on one side of the tollway (roughly east), but it becomes Ploenchit just before you cross Thanon Witthayu (aka Wireless) going towards the river. Keep going just a few more streets and it becomes Thanon Rama I (usually said as just Rama I) after you pass Thanon Ratchadamri. But if you were to turn right onto Ratchadamri, in just a few blocks you'll find yourself on Thanon Ratchaprarop (past Petchaburi, aka New Phetburi, which is called Phitsanulok closer to the river). Got it?

But wait, there's logic to these name changes: most of them are neighborhoods. It wouldn't make sense to call the road Sukhumvit if it's no longer running through the Sukhumvit area, would it? Thus, Sukhumvit becomes Ploenchit where it runs though the Ploenchit area. It's when you're able to grasp the city in terms of its neighborhoods that it both becomes more navigable and more charming. Likewise, Pratunam and Chatuchak are much more than just markets; they're boroughs, each with its own distinct character.

Related to this last point, compass directions are not widely used by Thais to navigate in Bangkok. That's probably because they aren't very useful: the city's darwinistic layout, the changing street names, the winding river, and the lack of obvious landmarks all conspire to confuse your internal compass. Thus, asking for directions in terms of "is that west from here?" will probably earn you little more than a confused look from a local. You're better off to familiarize yourself with the neighborhoods and navigate to and from them. "How do I get to Thonglor?" will get you there faster than asking for directions to Sukhumvit Soi 55.

One exception: the Chao Phyra River is THE landmark in Bangkok, and many directional references can be made as "toward the river" or "away from the river". If you aren't TOO close, that is: since the river winds around the most popular tourist areas, river references tend to be most helpful when you're wandering farther afield than Banglamphoo or Sanam Luang or Rattana. And wander you should.
[edit] Get in
[edit] By plane

Bangkok now two airports operating. Allow at least three hours to connect between them.
[edit] Suvarnabhumi Airport

Departure tax

Bangkok charges a departure tax (called the "Passenger Service Charge") of 700 baht for international flights. This was payable in cash after check-in; however, it is now supposed to be included in airline tickets. If you purchased the tickets prior to Dec 2006, this may not be the case. Check your tickets!

Located 30 kilometers (19 miles) to the east of Bangkok, space-age Suvarnabhumi Airport (สุวรรณภูมิ, pronounced "soo-wanna-poom", (IATA: BKK) (ICAO: VTBS), [2] started operations in September 2006 and is now Bangkok's main airport, used by all international flights as well as all Air Asia and some Thai Airways domestic flights. There is only one terminal building, which covers both domestic and international flights, but it's huge (by some measures the world's largest) so allow time for getting around.
Suvarnabhumi Airport
Suvarnabhumi Airport

All the facilities you'd expect are available (transit hotel, ATMs, money exchange). The cheapest place to eat is the Magic food court on the 1st floor, while perhaps the most comfortable and relaxing of the airport's restaurants and cafes is the Sky Lounge on the 5th floor. Here you can have your latte while sitting in plush leather sofas and enjoying a panoramic view over the runways - prices are also quite reasonable with coffee around 70 baht a cup. There are a few stores in the check-in area including a convenience store and a post office; however, the real shopping experience awaits travelers on the other side of immigration in the departure lounge area where the number of shops and duty free outlets leaves you wondering if you are in a mall or an airport. Beware, though, that past security in the gate waiting area there is practically nothing except steel chairs.


Limousine taxis (which charge by distance, e.g. around 800 baht to central Sukhumvit) can be reserved at the limousine hire counter on the 2nd floor (just outside Arrivals), and a limited number of ordinary metered taxis are available outside the exit on the 1st floor (take the escalator downstairs). If there is a huge taxi queue, consider taking a free shuttle bus to the satellite terminal, which has more taxis. There is a 50 baht surcharge on the meter, meaning that trips to the city will cost 300-400 baht (plus 65 baht highway tolls) and take 40-60 minutes depending on traffic.

There is also a stop outside the 1st floor exit for airport express buses [3], which charge a flat 150 baht and operate hourly until midnight, covering four routes, each taking about 60 to 90 minutes:

* AE1: Suvarnabhumi-Silom
* AE2: Suvarnabhumi-Khao San Road
* AE3: Suvarnabhumi-Sukhumvit
* AE4: Suvarnahhumi-Victory Monument-Hua Lamphong (train station)

Local (Bangkok) public buses to/from Suvarnabhumi charge a flat 35 baht. To take a public bus, you must first take a free shuttle bus ride (from the outside 2nd floor) to the separate terminal. The lines are:

* 549: Suvarnabhumi-Bangkapi
* 550: Suvarnabhumi-Happy Land
* 551: Suvarnabhumi-Victory Monument (BTS)
* 552: Suvarnabhumi-On Nut (BTS)-Klong Toei
* 552A: Suvarnabhumi - Sam Rong
* 553: Suvarnabhumi-Samut Phrakan
* 554: Suvarnabhumi-Don Muang Airport
* 555: Suvarnabhumi-Rangsit (Expressway)
* 556: Suvarnabhumi-Southern Bus Terminal
* 557: merged with 558
* 558: Suvarnabhumi-Central Rama II-Wong Wien Yai
* 559: Suvarnabhumi-Rangsit (Outer Ring Road)

These services take about 1 hour to 2 hours depending on Bangkok traffic and frequency is usually every 20 mins during daytime and night time ranges from 20 mins to 1 hour depending on route. Long-distance 1st class bus services connect Suvarnabhumi directly with Chachoengsao, Hua Hin, Nong Khai, Pattaya, Rayong, and Trat.

An airport express train to the future City Air Terminal at Makkasan (connecting to MRT Phetchaburi) and onward to Phaya Thai (connecting to BTS Phaya Thai) is under construction, but is not expected to be ready before the end of 2007 at the earliest. Die-hard rail fans with lots of time to kill can take bus 517 to Hua Takhe station (15 baht), a few km from the airport, and continue on any 3rd class train to Asok or Hualamphong (7 baht).


At present, there are only a few hotels located near Suvarnabhumi Airport, though with huge construction projects planned for the area this will change over the next few years. Day room facilities for transit passengers are now available at the 'Miracle Grand Louis Tavern' on floor 4, section G (Tel+66 6 317-2211, 2000 baht per 4-hour block, no reservations accepted). Cheapskate travelers looking for a free quiet place to doze undisturbed at night should head for the prayer rooms.

The Tourist Authority of Thailand and other hotel and tourist agencies have counters on the second floor of the main terminal. These agencies offer hotel reservation service. Check for special promotions and also whether the hotel offers airport pick up and drop off service - especially useful for late night arrivals and early morning departures.

* Novotel Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel, Suvarnabhumi Airport. Tel:+66 2 131-1111 res@novotelsuvarnabhumi.com [4]. The only hotel in the airport itself, connected to the main airport terminal by a pedestrian bridge. (As of Mar 2007, the pedestrian bridge is still not ready for use and passengers are taken to the hotel via a free shuttle bus service which takes less than 5 mins.) Rooms: 3,500+ baht.

* Queen's Garden Resort, 9-11 Soi 38, Suvarnabhumi, Lat Krabang. Tel:+66 2327 4118. Fax: 327 4004. The hotel is just 5-10 minutes from Suvarnabhumi Airport. Rooms 900+ Baht. info@queensgardenresort.net. www.queensgardenresort.net.

* Royal Princess Srinakarin, 905 Moo 6, Srinakarin Road, Nongbon, Pravet. Tel:+66 2 728-400. Fax:721- 8432 - a 20-30 minute drive from airport. Rooms 3,500+ baht.

* Sananwan Palace, 18/11 moo 11. Sukapibarn Road 5 , Bangpli Yai. Tel:+66 2 752-1658 ,(Mobile) +66 818644615. Family-owned budget accomodation with swimming pool, TV and high speed internet about 20 minutes drive from the airport. Rooms with A/C: 600 baht.

* Grand Inn Come Hotel, 99 Moo 6, Kingkaew Road, Rachataeva, Bangplee, Samutprakan. Tel:+66 2 738 8191-3 - about a 15-20 minute drive from the airport. Bus 553 stops here. Rooms between 1,200 - 2,000 baht.

* Avana Hotel, 23/1 Moo 12 Soi 14/1, Bangna-Trad Road. Tel:+66 2 763-2900. 3-star hotel about 30 minutes drive from the airport. Rooms 1,200 to 3,000 baht.

* Nasa Vegas Hotel[5]. 44 Ramkhamhaeng Road. Tel :+66 2 719-9888 Fax:+66 2 719-9899 - about 15 mins drive from the new airport. Rooms from 590 + baht.

* Ratchana Place[6]. 199 Moo 4, Soi Wat Sirisaothong, Bangna Trad Highway KM 26, Bangbo, Samutprakan 10540 Tel:+66 2 313-4480~9 booking@ratchanaplace.com - about 15-20 mins drive from the airport. Rooms between 350 - 700 baht.

[edit] Don Muang Airport

Don Muang Airport (IATA: DMK) (or Don Mueang), 20 km north of downtown, was Bangkok's main airport until 2006. The airport handles Nok Air, PB Air and most Thai Airways domestic flights, but the former international terminal is now limited to charters and general aviation.

The public taxi stand is located on the sidewalk outside the arrivals area (don't be fooled by all the taxi service booths in the main hall), and is probably your best bet for getting into town — it's also your only option after 11 PM. Give your destination (English is understood) and you will receive a two-part ticket at the booth. The charge into town will be the meter + 50 baht + toll if you take the expressway (recommended, 30-70 baht), for a usual total of 200-300 baht. The small part is for your driver, the large part is for you. This ticket is for complaints and is how the system is enforced: hold on to it to help avoid arguments later. The trip into town takes 30 minutes and up depending on traffic conditions.

If the line at the taxi stand is long or you need a more spacious car, you may want to book a (so-called) limousine from the desks in the terminal. This will get you a slightly nicer car at about twice the price (500-600 baht). Ignore any touts outside and do not get into any car with white license plates, as these are not licensed to carry passengers.

Across a covered overpass from the airport is the train station. Tickets to Hualamphong station cost 5 baht at the ticket booth. While taking the train is the cheapest way to get from the airport to Bangkok, it is not for the faint-of-heart: schedules are erratic, the run-down passenger cars often have beggars roaming through them, and are relatively empty late at night.

There are also a number of public transport buses going by the airport. Just take a overpass to the real road bypassing the airport and stop the bus of your choice. For example the air-con bus 504 will take you to the World Trade Center, from where you'll have access to the Skytrain as well as many other buses, or Lumpini Park, from where you get access to the subway, for 20 Baht. Note that large baggage is not allowed.

If you're flying Thai Airways, you can do a city check-in at Lad Phrao MRT station, from where free shuttle buses leave 1:50 before each Thai flight. The same buses also run in the reverse direction from the airport.
[edit] By bus

Bangkok's three official long haul bus terminals are:

* Eastern Bus Terminal - also known as Ekamai, this relatively compact terminal is located right next to Ekamai BTS station on Sukhumvit (E7). Ekamai serves Eastern Thailand destinations, including Pattaya, Rayong, Ban Phe, Chanthaburi and Trat.

* North & North Eastern Bus Terminal - also known as Moh Chit (or Mor Chit or Morchit), this is the largest, busiest, and most modern terminal. The upper floor serves the North-East (Isaan); the ground floor serves the North, as well as sharing some destinations with Ekamai (including Pattaya, Rayong, Chanthaburi and Trat). It's a 30-baht moto hop (or a lengthy hike across Chatuchak Park) from BTS Moh Chit/Metro Chatuchak stations (N8/18), or take the 77 bus and pay the 7-baht flat fare on board.

See the Phahonyothin District guide for more details.

* Southern Bus Terminal - also known as Sai Tai Mai, this older and relatively chaotic sprawling terminal serves all points west and south from its somewhat inconvenient location on the "wrong" side of the river. The terminal is scheduled to move to a new, even more remote location in Phutthamonthon Sai 1 in July 2007 — enquire locally.

See the Thonburi District guide for more details.

when arriving in Bangkok...

...late at night, the easiest way from Northern or Southern terminal to your final destination will be by meter taxi.

...by tourist bus you may find yourself delivered to their favorite hotel or guest-house, otherwise you'll probably be dropped off in the vicinity of one of the long haul terminals, or if it's a service catering primarily for backpackers, somewhere near Khao San Road.

[edit] By train

The three main stations in Bangkok are:
[edit] Hualamphong Train Station
Inside view of Hualampong train station, looking towards the platform
Inside view of Hualampong train station, looking towards the platform

The main station and the terminus of the Bangkok Metro line. Located right in the middle of downtown Bangkok, it is a huge and surprisingly nice station, built during the reign of King Rama VI and spared bombing in world War II at the request of the Free Thai underground. The station has a good tourist office. (Only listen to the people at the Info desk - anyone walking around offering to help you 'find' a hotel or taxi is just a tout, even if they are wearing very official looking badges).

Tickets for trains leaving the same or next day can be bought on the counters under the red/orange/green screens (see photo). The Advance Booking Office is located to the right of the platforms as you walk towards them and is quite well organised. You can select your seat/berth from a plan of the train, and payments by credit card are accepted.

The taxi pick up and drop off point is to the left of the platforms as you walk towards them, and is generally chaotic at busy periods with scant regard for any queue.

The left luggage facility is at the opposite end of the concourse, on the far right as you walk away from the platforms.

WARNING: The TAT Authorized Tourism Information offices in the second floor sell you a private "VIP bus" ticket if there is no place in first and second class trains. They offer a direct trip to the destination with a VIP bus faster than the train. Although the trip starts with a VIP bus, it ends up with a "surprise" transfer to a minibus and extremely long journeys. Just refuse the offered private bus ticket and buy public bus tickets from the main bus terminals if you cannot find ticket for train.

[edit] Bang Sue Train Station

If coming from the north or north-east, connecting to the Metro here can shave the last half-hour off your train trip. This is not a very good place to board trains though, as there is practically no information or signage in English. However, this situation will doubtless improve as more and more long-distance departures are switched to here from Hualamphong.

See Phahonyothin District for more details.
[edit] Thonburi Train Station

Also known as Bangkok Noi, this station is located on the "wrong" side of the river in Thonburi District and is the starting point for services to Kanchanaburi (via Nakhon Pathom), River Kwai Bridge and Nam Tok.

There are two daily 3rd class trains: [7]

* depart Thonburi 07:45, arrive Nom Tok 12:20, return 13:00, terminate Thonburi at 17:36
* depart Nam Tok 05:25, arrive Thonburi 10:05, return 13:50, terminate Nam Tok at 18:20

Note that the weekend-only 2nd class air-con Kanchanaburi/Nam Tok "tourist" trains depart from Hualamphong. [8]
[edit] By ship

Cruise ships visiting Bangkok arrive at Laem Chabang, about 90 minutes south-east of Bangkok and about 30 minutes north of Pattaya.

A taxi service desk is available on the wharf, but charges extortionate prices - a whopping 2600 baht to charter a taxi (4 passengers), or about 5000 baht to charter a minibus (usually 11 passenger seats), for a trip into Bangkok. Slightly lower prices can be found by walking out to the main road (about 4000 baht for a minibus), however even these rates are almost double the typical rate in the opposite direction. Better deals may be possible for round trips (even if returning the following day).

Frequent first and second class bus services directly connect Laem Chabang with Ekamai (Bangkok's Eastern Bus Terminal, on Sukhumvit); less frequent direct services run to Moh Chit (Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal). A first class air-con bus (blue and white) to either will usually take 90 minutes or less; the fare is around 100 baht. A good way to make the most of a quick visit is to board an Ekamai bus and then disembark early at the On Nut Skytrain Station on Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok (the bus will always pause here provided a passenger requests it); in the opposite direction, use the Ekamai Skytrain Station and board the bus at the terminus. To get to or return from the Chatuchak Weekend Market, use the Moh Chit bus instead.

Buses en route to Pattaya (southbound) can be boarded at the traffic lights on Sukhumvit Road in Laem Chabang, are extremely frequent (at least 10 per hour), and charge less than 50 baht.
[edit] Get around

Bangkok has the full spectrum of public transportation methods. Buses and taxis operate everywhere in the city. The Sky Train (BTS) and metro are available only in the city centre. And vans generally operate only in more out-lying areas.

Metro BTS Sukhumvit BTS Silom
1 Hualamphong N8 Mo Chit
2 Sam Yan N7 Saphan Khwai
3 Si Lom N6
4 Lumphini N5 Ari
5 Khlong Toei N4 Sanam Pao
6 Queen Sirikit NCC N3 Victory Monument
7 Sukhumvit N2 Phaya Thai
8 Phetchaburi N1 Ratchathewi W1 National Stadium
9 Phra Ram 9 CEN Siam CEN Siam
10 Thai Cultural Center E1 Chit Lom S1 Ratchadamri
11 Huai Khwang E2 Phloen Chit S2 Sala Daeng
12 Sutthisan E3 Nana S3 Chong Nonsi
13 Ratchadaphisek E4 Asok S4
14 Lat Phrao E5 Phrom Phong S5 Surasak
15 Phahon Yothin E6 Thong Lo S6 Saphan Taksin
16 Chatuchak Park E7 Ekamai
17 Kamphaeng Phet E8 Phra Khanong
18 Bang Sue E9 On Nut
[edit] By train
[edit] Skytrain

The Bangkok Skytrain (BTS, pronunced bee-tee-et in Thai but also rót fai fáa or just skytrain) deserves a visit simply for the Disneyland space-ageness of it. Built in a desperate effort to ease Bangkok's insane traffic and pollution, the Skytrain covers most of downtown and is especially convenient for visiting the Siam Square area. There are two lines: the light green Sukhumvit line which travels along Sukhumvit road and then goes up Phayonyothin to northern Bangkok, where it terminates near the Chatuchak Weekend Market (N8), and the dark green Silom line, which travels from the Silom area, interchanges with the Sukhumvit line at Siam Square (C) and ends at National Stadium, right next to MBK. There isn't, unfortunately, a station near Banglampu District (aka the Khao San Road area), but the river ferry connects between Tha Banglampu and Tha Sathorn, which is under the Silom line terminus at Saphan Taksin (S6).

You must have 5 or 10 baht coins to purchase Skytrain tickets from the vending machines near the entrance, so hold on to them. Fares range from 10 to 45 baht depending upon how many zones you are travelling. Consult the map (in English) near each ticket machine. If you do not have coins, queue for change from the staff at the booth. If you are in town for several days, weigh your options and consider a rechargable stored-value card (from 100 baht, with a 30-baht refundable deposit), a "ride all you like" tourist pass (from 100 baht/day) or a multiple ride pass of 10 trips or more. They will certainly save you time, scrambling for coins, and maybe even money. Check for information with the English speaking staff.

Bangkok Metro finally opened in July 2004. The Blue Line connects the central Hualamphong railway station (1) to the northern Bang Sue station (18), with interchanges to the Skytrain at Silom/Sala Daeng (3/S2), Sukhumvit/Asok (7/E4) and Chatuchak/Mo Chit (15/N8). You can also transfer to north/northeast-bound SRT trains at the northern terminus Bang Sue.

Metro tickets are not interchangeable with Skytrain tickets. Rides cost from 12 to 36 baht depending on distance; pre-paid cards of up to 1000 baht are also available. For single ride fares, a round plastic token is used.

The subway stop for the Chatuchak Weekend Market is not Chatuchak Park, but one stop further at Kamphaeng Phet (16). The latter drops you right inside the market.
[edit] By boat
Chao Phraya Express Boat
Chao Phraya Express Boat

A ride on the Chao Phraya River should be high on any tourist's agenda. The cheapest and most popular option is the Chao Phraya Express Boat, basically an aquatic bus plying up and down the river. The basic service plies from Wat Rajsingkorn (S4) all the way to Nonthaburi (N30) is now 13 baht, with stops at most of Rattanakosin's major attractions including the Grand Palace, the Temple of Dawn, etc. Board at piers with a sign showing the route and pay the ticket collector who will approach you bearing a long metal cylinder. In addition to the basic service, there are express services flagged with yellow or orange flags, which stop only at major piers and should be avoided unless you're sure where you're going. The new signposting of the piers is quite clear, with numbered piers and English route maps, and the Central station offers easy interchange to the BTS Saphan Taksin station.

In addition to the workaday express boat, there is also a Tourist Boat which stops at a different subset of piers, offers commentary in English and charges twice the price. The boats are slightly more comfortable and not a bad option for a hop or two, but don't get bullied into buying the overpriced day pass.
Canal boats
Canal boats

Canal boats also serve some of Bangkok's many canals (khlong). They're cheap and immune to Bangkok's notorious traffic jams, but mostly used locals who use these water taxis to commute to work and school and shopping, so you get to see the 'backside' of the neighborhoods, so to speak. They're also comparatively safe -- just watch your step when boarding and disembarking and be wary of the water as it can be quite polluted, do not let it get in your eyes. Pay the fare (8-20 baht) to the crazy helmet-wearing ticket collectors who hang onto the outside of the boat, ducking at bridges, as it barrels down the canal. One particularly useful line runs up and down Khlong Saen Saep, parallel to Petchaburi Road, and provides the easiest access from the city center to the Golden Mount. There's a boarding pier across from the WTC under the bridge where Ratchadamri crosses the khlong near Petchburi, and piers now even have (tiny) signs in English.

Finally, for trips outside the set routes, you can hire a long-tail river taxi at any major pier. These are fairly expensive and will attempt to charge as much as 500 baht/hour, but with haggling may be suitable for small groups. To circumvent the mafia-like touts who attempt to get a (large) cut for every ride, agree for the price of the shortest possible ride (half an hour etc), then negotiate directly with the captain when on board.
[edit] By bus

Local buses, mostly operated by the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (BMTA), are cheapest but also the most challenging way of getting around, as there is a bewildering plethora of routes, usually marked only in Thai. If you can speak Thai you can call 184 Bus Route Hotline. Bus stops usually list only the bus numbers that stop there and nothing more. They are also subject to Bangkok's notorious traffic, often terribly crowded, and many are not air-conditioned. The hierarchy of Bangkok's buses from cheapest to best can be ranked as follows:

* Small green bus, 7.50 baht flat fare. Cramped, no air-con, no fan, famously suicidal drivers, not advisable for more than short hops.
* Red bus, 7 baht flat fare. More spacious and fan-cooled (in theory). Unlike other buses, some of these run through the night (1.50 baht surcharge). These buses are BMTA run.
* White/blue bus, 8 baht flat fare. Exactly the same as the red buses, but cost one baht more. These buses are owned by private entities operated in conjunction with BMTA.
* Blue/Yellow and Cream/Blue air-con, 11 baht for the first 8 kilometers, up to 18 baht max. These buses are quite comfy. The blue/yellow striped buses are privately owned while the Blue/Cream buses are BMTA owned.
* Orange air-con (Euro II), 13 baht for the first few kilometers, up to 22 baht max. These are all BMTA-run, newer, and more comfortable.
* Purple Microbus, 20 baht flat fare. Skytrain feeder services used to use these, but the service has been terminated.

Buses stop only when needed, so wave them down (arm out, palm down) when you see one barreling your way. In all buses except the Microbus, pay the roaming collector after you board; on Microbuses, drop the money into a slot next to the driver as you board. In all buses, keep the ticket as there are occasional spot-checks, and press the signal buzzer (usually near the door) when you want to get off.

Two further pitfalls are that buses of the same number may run slightly different routes depending on the color, and there are also express services (mostly indicated by yellow signs) that skip some stops and may take the expressway (2 baht extra).

The best online resources for decrypting bus routes are the official BMTA homepage, which has up-to-date if slightly incomplete listings of bus routes in English but no maps, and the ThailandOnline bus route map (bus info only in Thai, the map itself is bilingual). As a printed reference, the Bus Routes & Map guide (50 baht) by Bangkok Guides is another option.

Recently they have changed the rules regarding luggage on local buses within Bangkok, with the exception of airport buses you cannot take large amounts of luggage (ie. backpacks or suitcases) on the local buses.

Useful bus lines include the following:

* Red Bus No. 2 can bring people from Sanam Luang (very close to Khao San Road) to Sukhumvit Road. It's a good way to get from the Khao San Road area to connections with the Skytrain or MRT.
* Air Con bus 511 takes people from Sukhumvit and the Democracy Monument to the Southern Bus Terminal. But the route back is different. You can get back to the Khao San Road area (namely, Sanam Luang stop), but not to Sukhumvit.

[edit] By taxi

Taxis are a quick and comfortable way to get around town, at least if the traffic is flowing your way. All taxis are now metered and air-conditioned: the hailing fee is 35 baht and most trips within Bangkok cost less than 100 baht. There are no surcharges (except from the airport), even at night. A red lit sign on the front window means that the taxi is available.

When the meter is switched on you will see a red '35' somewhere on the dashboard or between the driver and you. Be sure to check for this at the start of the ride, as many drivers will "forget" to start the meter in order to overcharge you at the end of your trip. Most will start the meter when asked politely to do so (poet meter na khrap); if the driver refuses to use the meter after a couple of attempts, simply exit the taxi. In some cases, late at night and especially near major tourist districts like Khao San or Patpong, you will need to walk a block away to catch a meter cab. The effort can save you as much at 150 baht. This is often also the case for taxis that park all day in front of your hotel. The only two reasons that they are there: 1) To take you places where they can get their commissions (Jewelry stores, massage parlors, etc) and 2) To overcharge you by not using the meter. Your best bet is to walk to the road and catch an unoccupied metered taxi in motion (easier than it sounds, as Bangkok traffic tends to crawl the majority of the time, and one car out of four is a taxi). Be sure to either know the correct pronunciation of your destination, or have it written in Thai; taxi drivers in Bangkok are notoriously bad at reading maps.

If you're pinching pennies or fussy about your means of transportation, you may wish to think twice before getting into one of the (very common) yellow-green taxis. They are owner-operated and of highly variable quality, and occasionally they have rigged meters. All other colors belong to large taxi companies, which usually enforce their standards better.

From the airport and on some routes in the city the driver will ask if he should use the Tollway. You should affirm this, it will save a lot of time. You have to pay the cost (20/40 baht) immediately. Watch how much the driver really pays, they may try to keep the change.

When getting out, try to have small bills (100 baht or less) or expect problems with change. Tips are unusual, but are certainly welcome.
[edit] By motorbike

When traffic slows to a crawl and there are no mass-transit alternatives for your destination, by far the fastest mode of transport is a motorbike taxi (or in Thai, "motosai lapjang"). No, those guys in the pink smocks aren't biker gangs; they're motosai cabbies. They typically wear colorful fluorescent yellow-orange vests and wait for passengers at street corners and near shopping malls. Prices are negotiable; negotiate before you ride.

WARNING: Motorcycle accidents are brutally common, and many (tourists and Thai alike) consider transportation of this sort to be inherently hazardous. Motorcycle taxis in Bangkok should generally be avoided except as a last resort.

For the unfaint-of-heart, a wild motosai ride can provide a fantastic rush. Imagine weaving through rows of stopped vehicles at 50km/h with mere centimetres to spare on each side, dodging pedestrians, other motorbikes, tuk-tuks, stray dogs and the occasional elephant while the driver blithely ignores all traffic laws and defies even some laws of physics. Now, do the same ride while facing backwards on the bike and balancing a large television on your lap — then you can qualify as a local.

The overwhelming majority of motorcycle taxis do not travel long distances, but simply shuttle up and down long sois (side-streets) not serviced by other transport for a fixed 5-20 baht fare. These are marginally less dangerous, especially if you happen to travel with the flow on a one-way street.

The law requires that both driver and passenger must wear a helmet. It is the driver's responsibility to provide you with one, so if you are stopped by police, any fine is also the driver's responsibility. This is worth bearing in mind when you hire a motorbike or moped. Make sure that if there are two of you, the hirer provides two helmets not one. When riding, keep a firm grasp on the seat handle and watch out for your knees.
[edit] By tuk-tuk
Tuk-tuks on the prowl
Tuk-tuks on the prowl

Finally, what would Bangkok be without the much-loathed and much-loved tuk-tuks? You'll know them when you hear them, and you'll hate them when you smell them — these three-wheeled contraptions blaze around Bangkok leaving a black cloud of smog in their wake. For anything more than a 5-10 minute jaunt or just the experience, they really are not worth the price — and, if you let them get away with it, the price will usually be 4 or 5 times what it should be anyway (which, for Thais, is around 30% less than the equivalent metered taxi fare). On the other hand, you can sometimes ride for free if you agree to visit touristy clothing or jewelry shops (which give the tuk-tuk driver gas coupons and commissions for bringing customers). The shops' salesmen are pushy, but you are free to leave after five to ten minutes of browsing. Visitors should beware though, sometimes one stop can turn in to three, and your tuk-tuk driver may not be interested in taking you where you need to go once he has his gas coupons. Also, with Bangkok's densly congested traffic it is sure to spend hours of your time.

In case you actually want to get somewhere, and you're an all-male party, be careful with the tuk-tuk drivers, they will usually just ignore your destination and start driving you to some bordello ("beautiful girls"). Insist continually and forcefully on going only to your destination.

There's also a less-heralded, less-colourful and less-touristy version of the tuk-tuk that usually serves the back sois in residential neighborhoods. They usually have four wheels instead of three and resemble a tiny truck / ute / lorry, and they run on petrol instead of LP. The maids and locals tend to use them to return home from market with loads of groceries, or for quick trips if they're available. Negotiate before you get in, but don't expect to go much beyond the edge of that particular neighborhood.
[edit] See


More than any other place in Thailand, Bangkok offers wonderful opportunities for just sitting and watching people go by. Here's a partial checklist:

* University student — Many of Thailand's universities continue to enforce a uniform, and what a uniform: for girls, it's a formfitting translucent white blouse, black miniskirt and straight black hair. The little shiny logo button on the blouse tells the cognoscenti which particular university she is attending. Boys wear a white dress shirt and black trousers, but ever the non-conformists, you'll never see one outside school without the shirt pulled out and a few too many buttons open.

* Office lady — Sharply clad in infinite variations of solid pastel shades, this human houseplant mans customer service desks and pours tea in offices across the capital.

* Bargirl — Mostly short and dark-skinned farm girls from the provinces, a bargirl can be spotted a mile away thanks to her pink hotpants and the kilo of gold around her neck. Often found in happy financial symbiosis with the sexpat.

* Sexpat — Fifty-plus, bald, beer belly, stained shirt, lovestruck expression and a hairy arm wrapped around a girl too young to be their daughter. They've found what they're looking for.

* Ladyboy (kathoey) — Either tall, large-handed, wears too much makeup, possesses an Adam's apple and has large breasts... or has accomplished the art of camouflage so well that you just filed her/him as an office lady or bargirl.

* Expat — A farang walking about purposefully in dress shirt and long trousers, seemingly oblivious to the fact that it's 35°C outside. For extra credit, try to distinguish between the scruffier English teacher type and the jet-setting expense package type. Or try classifying them by the old joke about the three types of expat — missionaries, mercenaries and misfits.

* Yuppie — Like every other big city, Bangkok boasts a coterie of young professional types who are hip, well-educated and relatively affluent. Similar to the Expat, they usually sport business attire and are likely to be hurried -- except they probably know a shortcut, and they aren't sweating so profusely.

* Khao San Road brigade — Braided hair, bead necklace, sarongs, shorts and floppy pants. Either on their way to or just back from the beaches. Dazed and bewildered when torn apart from the familiar surroundings of Khao San Road.

Most of Bangkok's sights are concentrated in the "Old City" on Rattanakosin Island. Out of Bangkok's many temples, the following usually make the top 3:

* Wat Arun (The Temple of Dawn)
* The Grand Palace, featuring Wat Phra Kaew (The Temple of the Emerald Buddha)
* Wat Pho, home of the world's largest reclining Buddha and a famed massage school

Bangkok's many markets are an experience in themselves, see Buy for some suggestions.
[edit] Itineraries

* One day in Bangkok — if you have just one day to spare and want to catch a feel for the city

* Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City overland— a suggested one-week trip through the heart of former Indochina.

[edit] Do

Go cycling! It may sound crazy, but it certainly is not. Away from the main roads there is a fast system of small streets and alleys. Cyclists are treated as pedestrians, so you can use your bicycle to explore parks, temple complexes, markets and the more quiet residential areas of eastern Bangkok. In more crowded places you can cycle on the sidewalk. Exploring the town by bicycle has all the advantages of going by foot combined with a much greater action radius and a cooling breeze when cycling.

* For those who don't want to cycle alone dutch expat Co van Kessel organizes highly recommended all inclusive half day cycling tours for 950 bath. Co van Kessel Bangkok tours, ☎ Office: 02 - 322 9481 or: 02 - 752 6818 - 9 Mr. Co's mobile: 0 87 - 824 1931 Miss Nong's mobile: 0 87 - 054 9878 (covankessel@yahoo.com), [9]. 950 Bath.

Bangkok is an extremely popular place for all sorts of pampering. The options available range from massages and spa treatments to haircuts and manicures and even cosmetic surgery, all at prices far lower than in the West.

* All self-respecting hotels in Bangkok will have a spa operating on premises offering at least traditional massage services. These tend to charge a premium but also offer some the best treatments in town. Particularly well-regarded spas include Deverana [10] at the Dusit Thani and the eponymous operations at Banyan Tree [11] and the legendary Oriental [12] — the last of these being probably the most expensive in town, offering (among other things) a 6-hour Oriental Romance package for two costing a whopping US$535.

* Independent spas offer much the same experience but are a little more competitive due to the lack of a captive customer base. Figure on 1000 baht and up per hour for most treatments.

* The ubiquitous little massage shops found on every street corner in town offer the best value for money but the smallest range of services, with offerings usually limited to massage only. It is fairly easy to distinguish legitimate massage shops from more dubious places: the real deal will charge 250-400 baht for a typical two-hour massage and will often have a row of beefy farmers' daughters in white coats working on customers' feet in public view, while the other kind has wispy things in evening dresses and too much makeup yelling "hello handsome" at every passing male.

* Bangkok's hospitals offer generally high quality services at a fraction of the cost of a Western hospital. Probably the best-regarded (and most expensive) is Bumrungrad [13], which (for example) charges 60,000 baht for an all-inclusive breast implant package. Bangkok is also well known as a center for sexual reassignment surgery for people wishing to change their physical gender, although this falls out of the scope of a casual vacation

* A cruise down the Chao Praya River is a nice way to spend a day here in Bangkok. A tour called Five Temples, Five Era Chao Praya River Cruise [14] offer by Truly Yours Tour [15] will take you to explore the history of Thai temples around the river each last Sunday of the Month. The tour mainly visite 5 temples and explain the historical significant by a lecturer.

* Golf - see Golf in Thailand - Bangkok

[edit] Learn
[edit] Cooking

Thai cuisine is a favorite of many, and many cooking schools provide half-day classes that provide a nice break from the day-to-day sightseeing monotony.

* BaiPai Cooking School. Tel. 02-294-9029 info@baipai.com [16]. A nice casual cooking school with a nice modern design in the middle of a residential neighborhood. Their van will pick you up from your hotel or Bangkok location, because it's not easy to find. Instructors are fun and informative, and you get a souvenir printed photo and one is even emailed to you. Class run from 9:30am to about 1:30pm, closed Mondays.

* Blue Elephant. Tel. 02-673-9353 cooking.school@blueelephant.com [17]. Take classes from one of the most famous chains of Thai restaurants in the world. While the price is substantially higher than others in Bangkok, class takes place in the historic Blue Elephant restaurant, and while dining on your creations, wine, extra dishes and dessert are served. And they give you a Blue Elephant apron as well.

[edit] Buddhism

* The International Buddhist Meditation Centre. Wat Mahathat, 3 Maharat Road, Phraborommaharatchawang, tel. 2623-6325, [18]. Meditation classes in English are held at 7-10AM, 1-4PM and 6-8PM everyday in section 5 of the temple. Attendance is free of charge, but donations are welcome. Getting there: Take the river taxi to Chang Pier (between Silpakorn University and the Thammasat University). From there the center is a short walk.

* The World Fellowship of Buddhists. 2nd Floor, No.616 Benjasiri Park, Soi Medhinivet (off Soi Sukhumvit 24), tel:2661-1284(-90), [19]. Offers meditation classes in English from 2 to 5:30PM on the first Sunday of every month. The office also provides information on places to learn and practice meditation in Thailand. Classes and information are free.

[edit] Thai massage

* Union of Thai Traditional Medicine Society offers a more than reasonable alternative to the courses in Wat Po, as they pay more attention to the individual student and practices, conveniently located close to the China Town Pier (No. 5). Contact: Mr. Praphai Kingmala (66) - 087-929-8574, 272 - 274 Rachawong Rd., Sampantawong.

[edit] Eat

Bangkok not only has plenty of Thai restaurants, but a wide-selection of world-class international cuisine too. Prices are generally high by Thai standards, but cheap by international standards; a good meal is unlikely to cost more than 300 baht, although there are a few restaurants (primarily in hotels) where you can easily spend 10 times this.

* Phad Thai and curry shops everywhere
* Tom Yum Goong, don't miss to try one of the most famous soup
* Street vendors selling satay with hot sauce (for 5-10 baht a piece)
* Bugs - yes, insects. They are deep fried, nutritious and quite tasty with the soy sauce that is sprayed on them. Types available: scorpions, water beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, bamboo larvae, mealworms, and some more seasonal specialties. Note: break off the legs from grasshoppers and crickets or they will get stuck in your throat.
* Chinatown has a range of street stalls and cheap restaurants selling food (try 1kg of huge barbecued prawns or tom yam with prawns for 300 baht) to the discerning local population
* All the Thai restaurant chains covered in the main Thailand article
* Restaurants featuring cuisine from all over the world on Sukhumvit Road and Khao San Road

[edit] Drink
The Dome, Silom
The Dome, Silom

Bangkok's nightlife is notorious, although recent social order campaigns have put a bit of a clamp on things: in particularly, nearly all restaurants, bars and clubs are now forced to close before 1 AM, a few are allowed to stay open till 2 AM. (Informal sidewalk bars do stay open all night, particularly in lower Sukhumvit.) You must carry your passport for ID checks and police occasionally raid bars, subjecting all customers to drug tests.

One of Bangkok's main party districts is Silom, home not only to perhaps the world's most famous go-go bar strip Patpong, but plenty of more legitimate establishments catering to all tastes. For a drink with a view, the open-air rooftop bar/restaurants of Vertigo and Sirocco are particularly impressive. Similar bars to the ones at Patpong can be found in the lower Sukhumvit area, at Nana Entertainment Plaza (soi 4) and Soi Cowboy (soi 23), while a large number of more trendy and more expensive bars and nightclubs can be found in the higher sois as well, eg. Thong Lor (soi 55), Bed superclub, Q Bar, or Met bar. Hippie hangout Khao San Road is also slowly gentrifying and there are even some Thais venturing into what were once mere backpacker bars, but most Thais still prefer to congregate around Ratchadaphisek.
[edit] Go-go and beer bars

Behaving while misbehavin'

Some simple rules of etiquette to follow in a go-go bar:

* A drink in your hand is required at all times. Most places charge around 100 baht for most drinks.
* Lady drinks cost a little more and earn you the privilege of chatting with the lady of your choice for a while.
* Taking a dancer out of her place of employment before closing time will cost you a bar fine of around 500 baht. This is the bar's share, the rest is up to you two.
* No photos inside. If you're lucky, you'll merely have your camera confiscated, but you also stand a fair chance of getting beaten up for your trouble.
* Look, but don't touch (unless invited to). Getting too frisky will get you kicked out.
* Bring along your passport. Police raids are not uncommon and you're off to the brig for the night if you can't produce one on demand.

The go-go bar is an institution of Bangkok's "naughty nightlife". In a typical go-go, several dozen dancers in bikinis (or less) crowd the stage, shuffling back and forth to loud music and trying to catch the eye of punters in the audience. Some (but not all) also put on shows where girls perform on stage, but these are generally tamer than you'd expect — nudity, for example, is technically forbidden. In a beer bar, there are no stages and the girls are wearing street clothes.

If this sounds like a thinly veiled veneer for prostitution, it is. Though some point to the large number of American GIs during the Vietnam War as the point of origin of the Thai sex trade, others have claimed that Thai lax attitudes towards sexuality have deeper roots in Thai history. Both Go-go and Beer Bars are squarely aimed at the farang and it's fairly safe to assume that all Thais in them are on the take. That said, it's perfectly OK to check out these shows without actually partaking, and there are more and more curious couples and even the occasional tour group attending. The main areas are around Patpong, Nana Entertainment Plaza and Soi Cowboy.

See also the Stay safe|Prostitution section.
[edit] Gay nightlife

Thais are generally accepting of homosexuality and Bangkok has a very active gay nightlife scene, concentrated in Silom Sois 2 & 4 and a short strip of gay go-gos bars off nearby Th Surawong. Most of these bars, however, are aimed at gay men and the lesbian scene is much more low-key. However, there are two full-time lesbian bars (Zeta and Shela) and one Saturday-night only (Lesla) lesbian bar in Bangkok. The most popular gay bars are Balcony and Telephone bar at Silom soi 4 and for the disco club is DJ Station which located at Silom soi 2 (crowded everynight from 11 p.m.). Bring along your passport for entrance age checking (they do not allow people under 20 years old). Closing time is 2-3 a.m.

In a league of their own are Bangkok's numerous transsexuals (kathoey), both pre- and post-operative, popularly known as ladyboys. Some work in the famed transvestite cabarets and there are some dedicated kathoey bars as well, but most do their best to blend in and many have the art of deception down pat. Telltale signs to look out for include tall height, large hands and an Adam's apple.

Note that some Thai regulars in the gay nightlife scene skirt the fine line between partying and prostitution, and the Western visitor, being considered richer, is expected to pay any food and drink expenses and perhaps provide some "taxi money" in the morning. It's usually wise to ask a boy you pick up in a bar or club if he is after money, as it's not uncommon for them to start demanding money after sex.
[edit] Buy
Racks of clothing at Siam Square
Racks of clothing at Siam Square

Bangkok is full of shopping malls and street markets of all types, especially in the Sukhumvit area; see the section for details. Prices can be cheap by Western standards, especially for locally produced items such as clothes, although bargaining is expected and required. Dump a teenager in MBK or Emporium with a few thousand baht and they'll stay occupied for the rest of the week! Most malls tend to have excellent food courts.

Weekend Market: A major attraction on weekends is the gigantic Chatuchak Weekend Market (also a.k.a. JJ Market), in northern Bangkok but easily accessible by Skytrain and Metro. Takes around an hour on the bus from Khao San Road area and has 20,000 stalls selling everything from counterfeit goods, animals, art, furniture and probably anything else you can think of. Definitely worth a visit for the sheer size of it.

Night Market: Hugely popular with tourists & locals alike is the open air Suan Lum Night Bazaar. This is a large and colourful market offering bargains on everything from clothes, bags, crockery to organic foods. There is a large food court with a live band every night. Covered in more detail in the Silom section. Note that as of March of 2007 there is a current worry that the Night Bazaar may be evicted from its premises and replaced by real estate development. The current management of the thriving bazaar, as well as the vendors in its stalls, are resisting eviction, but the owners of the land -- namely the property management company owned by Thailand's king -- is planning the eviction, which may happen as soon as April 2007.

Computer Mall: Pantip Plaza is a multi level computer mall selling everything from branded laptops to cheap VOIP phones and pirated DVDs. A must for any computer & electronics buff.

See also: Electronics and entertainment shopping in Thailand

Bangkok's pharmacies (drugstores) tend to offer a very wide range of (wholly legal and legitimate) medicines and herbal remedies at a fraction of Western prices, including many drugs that would require a doctor's prescription in other countries. Thai pharmacists tend to be exceptionally helpful, and most speak excellent English. There are small, independent pharmacists on almost every corner, and you'll find bigger (and more expensive) chains on the major streets and in shopping centers. Boots is probably the most ubiquitous chain; they're also a reliable source for traveler's toiletries.

Books: B2S on the the 3rd floor of the Central World Plaza is Bangkok's largest bookstore, holding around 30,000 titles (many in English) and large selection of magazines. Japanese chain Kinokuniya also has a large outlet in Siam Paragon (Level 3 South), with a good selection of guidebooks and comics in English.

Clothing: Bangkok is well-known for it's plethora of tailors and high-quality fabric available locally. As a rule of thumb, avoid ANY tailor that you're taken to since many are frequent bribers of tuktuk drivers and others. Generally Sukhumvit-area tailors are western-oriented.
[edit] Sleep

Bangkok has a vast range of accommodation, including some of the best hotels in the world — and some of the worst dives too. Broadly speaking, Khao San Road is backpacker city; the riverside by Rattanakosin is home to The Oriental and The Peninsula, often ranked among the best in the world (and priced to match); and Sukhumvit Road has hotels for all budgets.

When choosing your digs, pay careful attention to Skytrain and Metro access; a well-placed station will make your stay in Bangkok much more comfortable.
[edit] Stay safe

Given its size and poverty level Bangkok is surprisingly safe, with violent crimes like mugging and robbery unusual. However, Bangkok does have more than its fair share of touting and scams, and quite a few individuals in the tourist business think nothing of overcharging visitors.

Make a photocopy of your passport and the page with your visa stamp. Always keep your passport or the photocopy with you (the law requires that you carry your actual passport at all times, however in practice a photocopy will usually suffice). Many night clubs insist on a passport (and ONLY a passport) as proof of age. It is not required that you leave your passport with a hotel when you check in.

Carrying your own padlock is a good idea, as budget rooms sometimes use them instead of (or as well as) normal door locks; carry a spare key someplace safe, like your money belt, otherwise considerable expense as well as inconvenience may result should you lose the original. Also consider some type of cable to lock your bag to something too big to fit through the door or window.
[edit] Scams

Some common scams and guidelines for avoiding them:

* Beware of all offers of gems and (supposedly) precious stones. These sophisticated and highly professional "special discount" scams, often involving promises of high resale value back home at a supposedly huge profit, sometimes even employ foreigners to act as satisfied customers.

* Beware of tuk-tuk drivers offering all-day tours for prices as low as 10 baht. You may indeed be taken on a full-day tour, but you will only end up visiting one gem and souvenir shop after another. The driver gets a commission if you buy something and gas coupons even if you don't.

* Insist on the meter for taxis, and agree on a price in advance for tuk-tuks. If they refuse, or quote silly prices, just walk out and get a different one, they're rarely in short supply.

* Be highly skeptical of anyone telling you that your intended destination is currently closed (including skytrain and subway stations), or offering discount admissions. Temples are almost always free (the main exceptions are Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Pho) and open just about every day of the year. Anyone telling you otherwise is most likely out to scam you.

* There is no such thing as a Lucky Buddah or Lucky Buddah day!

* At popular tourist sites, if an English-speaking Thai approaches you out of the blue and strikes up a conversation, be wary: they are almost certainly selling something. If they ask you if it's your first time in Thailand, it's probably best to answer 'no' and walk away.

* In the go-go bar zones, beware of touts who try to drag you into the upstairs bars with offers of ping-pong shows and 100-baht beer. The beer may well be 100 baht, but the "show" you'll be treated to will be 1000 baht or more. Rule of thumb is, if you can't see inside from street level, the establishment is best avoided.

* Beware of private bus companies offering direct trips from Bangkok to other cities with VIP buses. There are a lot of scams performed by some private bus companies. The so-called direct VIP trips may end up changing three or four uncomfortable minibuses to the destination, the 10-11 hours trip may be 17-18 hours. Try to book public BKS buses from the main bus terminals.

[edit] Prostitution

The age of consent is 15 but a higher minimum age of 18 applies in the case of prostitutes. Penalties for sex with minors are harsh.

All adult Thais must carry an identity card, which will state that they were born in 2531 or earlier if they were over the age of 18 on January 1st 2007 (in the Thai calendar, CE 2007 is the year 2550). Many hotels retain the ID cards of prostitutes for the duration of their visit.

Whilst most prostitutes are employed by bars or similar businesses, some are "freelancers". Petty theft and other problems are more common with "freelancers".

HIV/AIDS awareness is better than it used to be but infection statistics among entertainment industry workers remain high; "freelancers" are the highest risk group. Almost all girls insist on using condoms.

Technically, some aspects of prostitution are illegal (eg soliciting, pimping), however enforcement is liberal and brothels are commonplace. It's not illegal to pay for sex or to pay a "barfine" (a fee the bar collects if you want to take an employee away).

The novel "The Butterfly Trap" gives a realistic first-person account of Bangkok's nightlife industry.
[edit] Get out

If you want to get out of the city for a while, there are plenty of day trip options from Bangkok.

* The ancient capital of Ayutthaya and its many ruins are just 1.5 hours away by bus or train.

* The magnificent royal palace at Bang Pa-In makes for a pleasant day trip.

* The Burma Death Railway and some good national parks can be found in Kanchanaburi Province to the west.

* The island of Ko Kret, upriver from Bangkok in Nonthaburi Province, makes a pleasant day trip out of the concrete jungle.

* The island of Ko Samet is one of the closer Thai beach islands; direct bus (from Ekamai) + ferry (from Ban Phe) takes about 4 hours.

* Well off the tourist trail, the surreal UFO-shaped temple of Wat Phra Dhammakaya is in Rangsit, an hour north of Bangkok.

* The naughty nightlife of Pattaya is 2 to 2.5 hours away by bus, an hour or so more by train.

permalink written by  garisti on July 1, 2006 from Bangkok, Thailand
from the travel blog: Viaje por Asia
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Tokyo, Japan

* Take a boat ride on the Sumida River from Asakusa.
* Enjoy a soak in a local "sento" or public bath. Or one of the onsen theme parks such as LaQua at the Tokyo Dome (Taito) or Oedo Onsen Monogatari in Odaiba.
* Go to an amusement park such as Tokyo Disneyland or the more Japanese Sanrio Puroland (in Tama), home to more Hello Kittys than you can imagine.
* Check out the hip and young crowd at Harajuku's Takeshita-Dori (Takeshita Street) or the more grown up Omotesando.
* In the spring, take a boatride in Kichijoji's lovely Inogashira Park, and afterwards visit the Ghibli Studios Museum (well-known for their amazing movies, like Spirited Away, and Princess Mononoke), but you will need to buy tickets for these in advance at a Lawson convenience store.
* Sing karaoke at any karaoke box in town!
* Lose yourself in the neon jungle outside major train stations in the evenings. Shibuya and east Shinjuku at night can make Times Square or Piccadilly Circus look positively rural in comparison - it has to be seen to be believed.
* Take the Yurikamome elevated train across the bay bridge from Shimbashi station to the bayside Odaiba district, and go on the giant ferris wheel - the largest in the world until recently.
* Take a stroll through the Imperial Palace's East Gardens (open to the public daily at 9am, except Fridays and Mondays).
* Have a picnic in a park during the cherry blossom (Sakura). Unfortunately Sakura only lasts for about a week.



The following tour starts and ends at Tokyo Station, contrasting the Tokyo of old with the Tokyo of new. In this tour you will visit the following major destinations:

* Tokyo Station
* Imperial Palace and the East Gardens in Chiyoda
* Sensōji Temple in Asakusa
* Odaiba
* Shinjuku

[edit] Prepare

You will need to get a Suica or PASMO fare card worth at least ¥3000 to be safe. Either type of fare card can be obtained at the nearest train station.

If you have a Japan Rail Pass when entering the country, you can just walk through the barriers when entering and exiting the JR system and flash your pass to the guard. However, you should purchase a ¥3000 fare card in any case.
[edit] Go

You can do this itinerary on any day except Mondays, Fridays, and major holidays, when the East Gardens are closed.
[edit] Begin: Tokyo Station (東京)

Time yourself to arrive at Tokyo station at around 10:00 AM. If you wish, arrive earlier to experience the end of the morning rush hour. Exit towards the Marunouchi North Exit (丸の内北口), where if you are lucky, you will see one of the many special exhibitions that are constantly put on display.

Exit the station to your left and walk until you are at the center of the exterior of the station. Here is where the first stark contrast between old and new can be seen: On one side you can see brand new skyscrapers... and on the other side, the red brick facade of Tokyo Station.
[edit] Imperial Palace
Kitanomaru Park, Imperial Palace
Kitanomaru Park, Imperial Palace

You will see a very wide street that proceeds straight out from the center of the station, this is Miyuki Dōri. Proceed walking down the right side of the road until you reach the moat, Wadakura-bori. After walking through what is certain to be a lot of vehicular traffic, it is a slow transition into serenity as you pass the moat and come across the Wadakura Fountain Park.

After spending a few moments at the fountains, continue across the final road, Uchibori Dōri, to the Imperial Palace Plaza. Walk around the edge of the plaza, and you will soon find everything rather calm, as the transfer into old Tokyo has been made. Standing at one of the large gravel intersections, look around and see the contrast once more.

Backtrack yourself to where you entered, and turn left, walking north on Uchibori Dōri until you reach the Ōte-mon Gate (大手門), which leads you into the public East Gardens.

Browse through the main path of the gardens, picking up a beverage from a vending machine, purchasing a gift, and if lucky, hearing the screams of the Imperial Guard practicing kendo close by.

Continuing on the main path, you will reach a flower garden, where you should be able to see a large sign pointing you to Hirakawa-mon Gate (平川門), the north exit of the East Gardens.

With your jaunt through the Imperial Palace complete, turn right as you exit Hirakawa-mon and walk a short distance to the entrance to Takebashi station (竹橋) and, using your Suica or PASMO card, take the Tokyo Metro Tōzai Line one stop to Ōtemachi station (大手町).

Follow the underground arcade towards the JR Lines until you reach Tokyo Station. Flash your Japan Rail Pass, or if you don't have a rail pass, use your Suica or PASMO card. This is a nice opportunity for a quick snack at one of the many food stands before continuing on.
[edit] Sensōji Temple
Kaminarimon, Sensōji
Kaminarimon, Sensōji

A quick entry to Modern Tokyo can be found as you walk up to Platform 4 for the northbound Yamanote Line. Here, board one of the green-colored trains that arrive every 2 to 3 minutes.

The Yamanote Line is the most prominent rail line in Tokyo, with quick service, and a loop that runs around the entire city. All announcements on the Yamanote line are in both Japanese and English, with computer monitors that show information such as connections at the next stop.

Take the Yamanote Line to Ueno (上野), then walk out and down the stairs, where you'll whip out your Suica or PASMO card once again and board the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, taking it to the terminal stop of Asakusa (浅草).

Proceed out of Exit 1, 2 or 3, and look for the large Kaminari-mon Gate (雷門), which is your signal to the road that leads to Sensōji Temple. This road, which is Nakamise Dōri, includes a covered arcade of specialty stores and food shops. Pass these initially, and the usual crowds that form around them, and come back to visit a few upon returning.

When you get back to the area around Asakusa station, don't forget to look across the river for a look at the Golden Turd, also known as the Asahi Beer brewing factory.
[edit] Odaiba
Fuji TV, Odaiba
Fuji TV, Odaiba

Now after a totally classic experience, it's time to head in a completely opposite direction. Enter Asakusa station and follow the signs for the Toei Asakusa Line, which is another subway line. Take any train to Shimbashi (新橋) and then transfer upstairs to the Yurikamome (ゆりかもめ) light rail line. (You'll need your Suica or PASMO card for both.)

After skimming past some skyscrapers, you will see the Rainbow Bridge on your left side. Then the train makes a 270-degree right turn and enters the bridge for the crossing into Odaiba, the man-made island that boasts a completely new scene in Tokyo.

One of the main attractions here is the Fuji TV Building. But one of the more interesting ones is the Toyota pavilion, which can be reached by getting off the Yurikamome at the first stop, Odaiba Kaihin-Koen (お台場海浜公園), then taking a nice walk on the bridge across the expressway. Eventually you will come upon the complex, a part of Palette Town, which includes Toyota, as well as a Lawson convenience store. Inside the Toyota pavilion you can test-drive new Toyota vehicles if you have an international drivers license, or simply push a button and have automated elevators and conveyors present a vehicle to you. The other end of the Yurikamome is on the other side of the complex; board it here with your Suica or PASMO card and take it a few stops to Daiba (台場) to access the Fuji building.

The Tokyo Teleport station (東京テレポート) of the Tokyo Waterfront Railway, aka Rinkai Line, is located within the vicinity of the Fuji building.
[edit] Traveling to Shinjuku

If you've progressed at a steady pace, it should be close to dusk by the time you enter the Rinkai Line. The last stop on the tour is a place which shines with nightlife, Shinjuku.

In the past, getting from Tokyo Teleport to Shinjuku was a bit tricky depending on whether or not you had a Japan Rail Pass. Although Rinkai Line trains continue directly to Shinjuku station, you travel over two separate railways (Tokyo Teleport to Osaki on the Tokyo Waterfront Railway, then Osaki to Shinjuku on the JR Saikyo Line).

Now, it's very easy and straightforward: If you have a Japan Rail Pass, DO NOT USE IT. Use your Suica or PASMO card for this leg of the trip. The Japan Rail Pass is not accpted for travel over the Tokyo Waterfront Railway, however if you use your fare card there will be no problems.

Have a bite to eat in the station, if you want, or see what kind of eateries you can find, cheap or expensive, in Shinjuku itself!
[edit] Shinjuku

Head to the east exit of Shinjuku station to begin in front of the giant television monitor at Studio ALTA, one of Tokyo's major meeting places. If you are courageous, follow the train tracks north and attempt to plunge into Tokyo's red-light district of Kabukichō (歌舞伎町)... you'll see bright signs for it just to the right of the Shinjuku Prince Hotel.

If you've had enough, walk south to Kōshu Kaidō (甲州街道) to enjoy the panoramic views of the rest of Shinjuku at ground level overlooking the train tracks, including the large Takashiyama Times Square building.
[edit] Returning
Saikyo Line platform at Shinjuku during the evening rush
Saikyo Line platform at Shinjuku during the evening rush

Shinjuku is the country's busiest train hub, but don't stray in Shinjuku too late, as, like the rest of the country, train services stop at midnight!

To return to Tokyo Station, you can take the JR Chuo Line across, or do the same using the Marunouchi subway line.

If you are returning elsewhere, you can take the JR Yamanote Line, or several subway lines, including the Marunouchi, Toei Shinjuku or Toei Oedo line.
[edit] Straying

If you want to stray a bit from the route, take a moment to inhale the world's largest pedestrian crossing, which can be found at Shibuya station.



The following is a hectic whirlwind tour of Tokyo, which will take you to:

* a sushi breakfast (Tsukiji)
* one of Tokyo's best museums (Ryogoku)
* a serene shrine (Harajuku)
* shopping hysteria (Shibuya)
* the Tokyo of the future and the bath of the past (Odaiba)
* Tokyo's best-known nightlife district (Roppongi)

While it is technically possible to complete in one day, you're going to be pretty tired and approximately ¥10000 poorer by the end, so splitting this up into bite-sized portions is advisable. Lots of detours from the main itinerary are provided, pick and choose the ones that sound interesting.

Due to its length and complexity this is not really suitable as a layover tour. If you have less than half a day to spare, you're better off sticking to the Ueno or Asakusa districts, both within easy reach of Narita airport — see Classic Tokyo, Modern Tokyo for a sample route through Asakusa.
[edit] Prepare

There's a lot of travel involved, so a ¥2000 Suica or PASMO fare card (available at any train station) will let you zip around the city easily without needing to queue up for tickets at every stop.
[edit] Go

The tour can be done on any day of the week except Monday, when the Edo-Tokyo Museum is closed. On Sundays you'll miss the Tsukiji tuna auction, but the freak show in Harajuku may compensate.
[edit] Morning
Daiwa Sushi, Tsukiji
Daiwa Sushi, Tsukiji
In the Edo-Tokyo Museum, Ryogoku
In the Edo-Tokyo Museum, Ryogoku

* Start off your day bright and early with a visit to the Tsukiji Fish Market. Tourists are no longer allowed into the tuna auction without special permission. If you want to get there early enough to see the tuna being offloaded from the boats, you'll have to cab it before 3 AM (note: no auction on Sundays!), but if you just want to see the market in action it's much cheaper to just take the first train (underground) in the morning a little past 5 AM to Oedo Line Tsukiji-seijo, or Hibiya Line Tsukiji, but this is a little further away. Be sure to eat a sushi breakfast at Sushidai or Daiwa Sushi for around ¥3000. If you just want to eat, you can show up a little later, but beware: queues can be long on weekends.
o Tsukiji Honganji (築地本願寺), near the Hibiya line station, is a rather atypical Japanese temple built not from wood, but from heavy stone and concrete. The interior, full of wafting incense and resplendent with gold, is still worth a quick peek.

* Hop on the Toei Oedo Line to Ryogoku and the Edo-Tokyo Museum (exit A3/A4), one of the best in Tokyo, which will give you an excellent grounding in the history of this city from the Edo era of samurais and geishas to modern-day postwar Tokyo. Admission ¥600, open from 9 AM, closed Mondays.
o Right next door to the museum is the Kokugikan, Japan's most famous sumo wrestling arena, where tournaments are held three times yearly. A visit to one of the sumo stables nearby can be interesting, but must be arranged well in advance.

[edit] Afternoon
Meiji Jingu, Harajuku
Meiji Jingu, Harajuku
Fashion victim in Yoyogi Park
Fashion victim in Yoyogi Park

* Board the JR Sobu Line at Ryogoku.
o If you're feeling geeky, you can stop just a few stations away at Akihabara and plunge into one of the world's largest electronics retail districts. You can also find oodles of software, games, comics and various mixes of the two here. Remember that most everything here is aimed squarely at the Japanese market, so voltage (for hardware) and operating systems (for software) may not be compatible, and the language in the manuals certainly won't be — check out the export retailers like Laox for international versions.

* Ride all the way through central Tokyo to Yoyogi, then change to the Yamanote Line and ride one stop south to Harajuku. Immediately to the west side of the station is the majestic Meiji Shrine, one of the largest and most serene in Tokyo, located down a wide foot path into a forest of tall cedar trees. Once at the shrine entrance, rinse your hands and take a sip of cleansing water (Note: Do not drink the water. Take the dipper in your right hand and pour water over your left hand. Change hands and pour water over your right hand. Change hands again and pour water into your cupped left hand, transfer the water to your mouth, rinse and spit---yes, spit--out the water into the trough at the foot of the fountain. Again, rinse your left hand, rinse the dipper to clean it, then put the dipper back on the rack.), then enter the shrine. Here you can make a wish (remember to throw a coin (a five-yen coin is preferable) into the money box as an offering. Also, notice the other worshippers bow and clap twice to call the gods) or buy a votive plaque (ema) to write a wish on. If it's a weekend outside winter, the odds of catching an elaborate Japanese wedding ceremony here are pretty good.
o On Sundays only, there's a ceremony of a different sort going on outside the shrine entrance and in nearby Yoyogi Park when the unofficial Tokyo freak show is held: here you can catch punks, gothic lolitas, bloodspattered surgeons and other bizarre subcultures showing off to each other and the gaggle of photographers.

* Backtrack to Harajuku station and cross to the east side, where an entirely different vista will present itself: right across the road is Takeshita-dori, the nexus of Tokyo's teens, home to the world's heaviest concentration of Hello Kitty goods and other forms of extreme cuteness. Kawaiiiiiiiiii!

* Walk through the narrow winding street and take a right at its end onto Meiji-dori. The next intersection is Omote-sando, a tree-lined boulevard occasionally compared to Paris' Champs-Elysées, with trendy boutiques and snooty cafes priced almost as high as the original.
o Feeling a little peckish? Stop at Tenya on Meiji-dori (on the right side before the Omote-sando crossing) for a ¥500 bowl of tempura and rice (天丼 tendon).

* Cross Omote-sando and keep walking past the Condomania shop. A few blocks down take a right to cross under the Yamanote train tracks, and after this you are now officially in Shibuya, Japan's capital of cool. The shops here change at a blistering pace nearly as fickle as Tokyo teen fashion, but a few long-termers along the road include the OIOI (say "marooee") fashion mall and the seven-story Tower Records music and book store, where foreign (read: English) books can be found on the seventh floor.

* At the end of the road you will find Shibuya station and Hachiko, the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world. If you want to explore Shibuya a little more, make a sharp right here to stroll down the pedestrian street Center-gai. Along the street one shop worth a stop is Tokyu Hands, a DIY department store that retails absolutely everything imaginable (and some things that aren't), and otaku certainly won't want to miss out on manga/anime superstore Mandarake.

[edit] Evening
Fuji TV, Odaiba
Fuji TV, Odaiba
Propaganda, Roppongi
Propaganda, Roppongi

* When night starts to fall, board the Metro Ginza line to Shinbashi and change to the Yurikamome line to the artificial island of Odaiba. This futuristic all-automated train-bus-monorail is an attraction in itself, especially the approach to Odaiba via a 270-degree loop that propels the train onto the Rainbow Bridge. There's lots of futuristic architecture here, including the spectacularly bizarre Fuji TV building, and even a copy of the Statue of Liberty by the seaside.
o If your quota of shopping still isn't full, detour from Odaiba-Kaihin-Koen station to the mindboggling Venus Fort, a recreation of Venice inside a shopping mall, complete with artificial sky and Italian mayors giving speeches from balconies.

* After all that sightseeing it's time to take a dip. Get off at the Telecom Center station and cross the parking lot to Oedo Onsen Monogatari, Tokyo's spiffiest spa complex done up to look like the good old Edo days. Get a locker key, pick a yukata bathrobe of your choice and change into it, then head out into the spa armed just with the key. There are restaurants, bars, souvenir shops and various Edo-era amusements, all of which can be paid with your key. Entry after 6 PM costs ¥1900.

* Re-energized, you can hop on the Yurikamome and ride back to Shiodome. Change here for the Toei Oedo line to Roppongi. If you haven't had dinner yet, take exit 4 and walk a few hundred meters to Roppongi Hills, where you will find countless eating and shopping options in superslick surroundings. Try the tonkatsu (deep-friend pork cutlet) at Katsukobo Wako (NB1F) or the curry udon at Konaya (NB2F).

* Wash down dinner with a beer or seven in one of Roppongi's innumerable watering holes. These change with bewildering rapidity, but Gas Panic and Lexington Queen have been around forever. For a more upmarket clubby experience, check out Space Lab Yellow, another reliably quirky standby, or Velfarre, which still claims to be Asia's largest disco.

* When morning comes, stagger onto the first Oedo line train to Tsukiji for a sushi breakfast, and start the tour again!

permalink written by  garisti on June 13, 2007 from Tokyo, Japan
from the travel blog: Viaje por Asia
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Nikko, Japan

Nikkō (日光) [1] is a small town to the north of Tokyo, in Tochigi prefecture.


Magnificent enough?

A famous Japanese saying proclaims Nikko wo minakereba "kekkō" to iu na. Most tourist literature translates this as "Don't say 'magnificent' until you've seen Nikko", but there's another dimension to this Japanese pun: it can also mean "See Nikko and say 'enough'."

The Nikko tourism board put their own spin on the famous saying: "Nikko Is Nippon."

The first temple in Nikko was founded more than 1,200 years ago along the shores of the Daiya River. However, in 1616, the dying Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu made it known that his final wish was for his successors to "Build a small shrine in Nikko and enshrine me as the God. I will be the guardian of peace keeping in Japan." As a result, Nikko became home of the mausoleums of the Tokugawa Shoguns, which are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Unlike most Japanese temples and shrines, the buildings here are extremely gaudy and ornate, with multicolored carvings and plenty of gold leaf, and show heavy Chinese influence. Some sense of dignity is restored by a magnificent forest of over 13,000 cedar trees, covering the entire area.

However, for all of the grandeur the shoguns could muster, they're now over-shadowed in the eyes of many visitors by a trio of small wooden carvings on a stable wall: the famous three wise monkeys.

The fastest and most convenient way to access Nikko is on the private Tōbu Nikkō Line (東武日光線) [2] from Tokyo's Tobu-Asakusa station.

Tōbu Railway runs all-reserved limited express services, known as Tokkyū (特急) trains, to the area. These trains, which use Tobu's "SPACIA" railroad equipment, have comfortable, reclining seats, with vending machines available on most trains. One service, called Kegon (けごん) runs directly from Asakusa to Nikko in the morning, and back to Asakusa in the afternoon. There is one daily departure from Asakusa at 7:30 am, and depending on the season, there may be an additional departure at 9:30 am. The other service, Kinu (きぬ), departs from Asakusa more frequently, but branches off to Kinugawa so you will need to transfer at Shimo-Imaichi station (下今市) to a local shuttle train for the final 10-minute run to Nikko. This train is timed to meet the Kinu arrival. Both the Kegon run, and the Kinu run with transfer, take about 1 hour and 50 minutes.

In addition, Tōbu Railway offers two convenient passes for Nikko, which can be used only by visitors to Japan.

1. All Nikko Pass [3] allows unlimited buses and train access in the Nikko and Kinugawa area and includes some discounts for nearby attractions, but does not include entry to the shrines. Valid for 4 days, cost ¥4400. Recommended for visitors coming to see Nikko's lakes and falls.

1. World Heritage Pass [4] covers a round-trip to Nikko and Kinugawa and includes admission to the shrines. Valid for 2 days, cost ¥3600. Some discounts for Kinugawa Theme Park are also included.

View of Shoyoen, Rinnoji Temple
View of Shoyoen, Rinnoji Temple

For the sights in the temple area, it's best to buy a combination ticket (社寺共通拝観券, ¥1,000) that covers Toshogu, Rinnoji and Futarasan, as separate admissions are ¥600 each. You can buy this at any of the three sites. Guides can be arranged (Tel. 0288-54-0641) for the three sites at ¥5500 for 1-20 people.

* Tōshōgū (東照宮). (8:00am-4:30pm Apr-Oct, to 3:30pm Nov-Mar) The burial place of dynasty founder Tokugawa Ieyasu and the most extravagant of the lot. Ieyasu was buried here immediately after his death, but the present complex was only built in 1634 on the order of his grandson Iemitsu. The shrine took 2 years to complete with the efforts of 15,000 workers.
o After two flights of steps you will reach the Sacred Stable, housing a white horse. The most famous symbol here is the carving of the three wise monkeys, who "hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil". They're part of a curious series of carvings about the life cycle of a monkey, from giddy childhood to fearful old age. Nearby, you can also find an interesting approximation of an elephant, carved by an artist who had clearly never seen one.
o Yakushi-dō Hall (薬師堂), the Hall of the Medicine Buddha, is known for a dragon painting on the ceiling. A monk is usually on hand to speak (Japanese only) and strike a special block whose sharp, piercing sound is said to be identical to the cry of a dragon — not quite the roar of English legend but an attention-getter all the same.
o Yomei-mon Gate (陽明門) is an incredibly ornate gate with over 400 carvings squeezed in.
o To the right of the main hall is the way to Ieyasu's tomb, entry to which costs an extra ¥520. Look out for another famous carving, this time of a sleeping cat (nemuri-neko). There are 200 stone steps, and steep ones at that; and then you finally reach the surprisingly simple gravesite itself.

* Taiyuin-byō (大猷院廟). (8:00am-4:30pm Apr-Oct, to 3:30pm Nov-Mar) After completing Toshogu, Iemitsu himself was buried here. Smaller in scale (but not by much), this is generally held to be artistically superior to its predecessor.

* Rinnō-ji Temple (輪王寺). (8:00am-4:30pm Apr-Oct, to 3:30pm Nov-Mar) [5] Known for its three large Buddha figures, the real reason to visit is the beautiful and peaceful Shōyō-en Garden (逍遥園). Note that the garden charges a separate ¥300 admission, which also gets you into the temple's treasure hall (宝物殿 Hōmotsuden).

* Futarasan Shrine (二荒山神社 Futarasan-jinja). (9:00am-4:30pm Apr-Oct, to 3:30pm Nov-Mar) [6] Directly to the west of Toshogu and the oldest structure in Nikko (1617). The shrine is dedicated to the spirits of Nikko's three holy mountains Mt. Nantai, Mt. Nyoho and Mt. Taro.

There are a few other sites near the temple area:

* Shinkyō (神橋). This much-photographed red bridge separates the shrines from the town of Nikko. In feudal times, only the shogun was permitted to cross the bridge, and even today it's barred from pedestrian traffic — although there's a 4-lane highway rumbling right past. You can get a nice view from the sidewalk, but to set foot on the bridge and look down into the gorge below, you'll have to buy a ¥350 ticket from the booth nearby.

* Kanmangafuchi Abyss. A long series of jizo protector statues on the side of a hill, some adorned with hats and bibs, some crumbling with age, with a river, small waterfalls and rapids below. Legend says that the statues change places from time to time, and a visitor will never see them in the same order twice. It can be tricky to find - at Shinkyō, instead of heading up the steps to the temple area, follow the road around to the west (to the left, if you crossed over the bridge) and walk a short distance - look for signs along the way.

* Tamozawa Imperial Villa Memorial Park (Tel. 0288-53-6767; open 9:00am-4:30pm, closed Tuesdays). Built for the Emperor Taisho in 1899, the former imperial villa also served as a hide-out for Hirohito during World War II. It's next to the Botanical Garden.

* Nikko Botanical Garden (Tel. 0288-54-0206; open 9:00am-4:30pm, closed Mondays and Dec.-mid-April). Has plenty of the local flora and gardens that were said to be favorites of the Emperor Taisho. It's now an adjunct to Tokyo University.


There are several campsites in Nikko, although only Narusawa (0288-54-3374) and Ogurayama (0288-54-2478) are open year-round; several others run from April to mid-November or July to August.

* Daiyagawa Youth Hostel (大谷川ユースホステル). Tel. 0288-54-1974; [7]. A cosy and very friendly place which can be a bit narrow at times, but it's the obvious choice for budget travellers with ¥2730 for a bunk bed. The owner is very hearty and is happy to lend guide books and answer questions. Either walk about 10 minutes uphill on the main street or take the bus to the tourist information centre, from there take the first right and follow the road up the river for a few minutes. It's a bit tucked away and directly at the Daiyagawa river.

* Catnip Bed & Breakfast (キャット二ップ). Tel. 0288-54-3120; [8]. This comfortable family-run B&B is a fair hike from the station but the 40 minute walk is beautiful and the owners promise you a free beer on arrival. Alternatively you can take the #6 bus or arrange to be picked up from the station. The rooms are spacious and charming, with shared bathrooms. A bargain at ¥5000 per adult or ¥4000 for children for the first night, there is a ¥1000 discount for each subsequent night and a hot breakfast is included in the price. The owners speak fantastic English.

permalink written by  garisti on June 18, 2007 from Nikko, Japan
from the travel blog: Viaje por Asia
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Tokyo, Japan

permalink written by  garisti on June 19, 2007 from Tokyo, Japan
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Odawara, Japan

Tránsito para Hakone

permalink written by  garisti on April 1, 2008 from Odawara, Japan
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Hakone, Japan

Hakone (箱根; [1]) is a mountainous area west of Tokyo in Japan. The Hakone checkpoint on the historical Tokaido road marks the beginning of the Kanto region.

By train

The fastest and most expensive method of reaching Hakone from Tokyo is to take a Tokaido Shinkansen Kodama (こだま) train from Tokyo to Odawara, then transfer to the Hakone-Tozan Line for the run to Hakone-Yumoto (trains operated by Odakyu Railway). The one-way ride lasts one hour with a good connection, and costs ¥3430... but if you use the Japan Rail Pass, you need only to pay ¥300 for the Hakone-Tozan line.

Be aware that the JR East Rail Pass does not provide acess to the Tokaido Shinkansen and to make use of this pass you will need to ride the regular Tokaido Main Line to Odawara. From Tokyo, a convenient choice that is valid with the JR East Pass is the "Odoriko" limited express train service. These trains have bigger windows and better seating than the regular commuter trains, and seat reservations can be made. As of March 2007, there are at least four daily runs, arriving in Odawara one hour later; there may also be additional runs on certain days. All trains make a pickup stop at Yokohama, while a few also stop at Shinagawa and Kawasaki stations.

The affordable method of reaching Hakone from Tokyo is to take the Odakyu Odawara Line from Shinjuku station. The fastest train on the Odakyu Line is the Hakone (はこね) Limited Express train (特急 tokkyū), which runs twice an hour for most of the day. The 85-minute journey makes only two stops enroute and costs ¥2020. Note that some trains, called Super Hakone (スーパーはこね), use newer train equipment, while evening rush hour runs from Shinjuku are called Home Way (ホームウェイ). The slower Odakyu express train (急行 kyūkō) runs twice an hour at a cost of only ¥1150, reaching Hakone in two hours.

Rail connections can be made at Odawara from Nagoya (2 1/2 hrs), Kyoto (3 hrs) and other locations throughout Japan.
[edit] Get around

Modes of transport in the Hakone region are many and varied. Your options include:

* The scenic Hakone-Tozan Line mountain railway from Odawara to Gora via Hakone-Yumoto
* The Hakone-Tozan Cablecar up the mountainside from Gora to Sounzan
* The Hakone Ropeway from Sounzan down to Togendai on Lake Ashinoko via the boiling sulphur pits of Owakudani (section is closed for construction and shuttle buses are available)
* The Hakone Sightseeing Ships, decked out like Disneyland versions of pirate ships, sailing across the lake from Togendai to Moto-Hakone and Hakone-machi
* And positively dull in comparison, the Odakyu Bus back to Hakone-Yumoto or Odawara

(Bear in mind that portions of the above circuit may close for a short period of time in the winter for maintenance. Shuttle buses replace the closed services.)

Most people opt for the Odakyu Hakone Free Pass, which includes a return trip from Shinjuku and allows unlimited use of all of the above forms of transport for several days. In addition, pass holders can receive discounts at many hot springs, museums, restaurants, and other locations by showing their pass.

The 2-day Weekday Pass is a particularly good deal at ¥4700 from Shinjuku, ¥3410 from Odawara, allowing travel Monday through Thursday. The Weekday Pass is not sold during summer and holiday periods. The regular 3-day Free Pass is ¥5500 from Shinjuku and ¥4130 from Odawara.

If you have a Free Pass or Weekday Pass from Shinjuku Station, you can use the Hakone Limited Express train by paying a surcharge of ¥870 each way.
[edit] See
Something's cooking at Owakudani
Something's cooking at Owakudani

The volcanically active Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, centered around Lake Ashinoko, is a popular tourist attraction well known for its onsen (hot springs) and its views of Mount Fuji.

* The Great Boiling Valley (大涌谷 Ōwakudani) is a volcanic hot spot full of sulphurous springs. Owakudani can be reached by cablecar from Sounzan and the lake.

* Hakone Jinja Shrine, nestled on the south shore of the lake, close to Moto-Hakone, is a picturesque Shinto shrine with torii gates in water.

* Lake Ashinoko offers beautiful views of Mount Fuji but only on a clear day. As many tourists have found out, a visit to Lake Ashinoko does not guarantee a view of the mountain. The lake is crisscrossed by cartoonishly decorated "pirate ships".

* Hakone Open Air Museum displays a wide variety of sculptures and artwork within a beautiful parkland setting. Includes a Picasso exhibition (paintings and pottery).

[edit] Do

No trip to Hakone would be complete without a dip at a Japanese hot spring (onsen). If you're staying overnight, your lodgings may include bathing facilities, but if not many hotels open up their baths to visitors for around ¥500 or so.

* Tenzan Tōjigō (天山湯治郷), Hakone-Yumoto, Chaya 208, [2]. Large, popular hot spring operation with indoor and outdoor baths, sauna, etc. Free shuttle bus from outside the bus station. Open 11 AM-8 PM daily. ¥1000/630 adult/child.

[edit] Eat

* Try the black jewel eggs (黒玉子) at Owakudani. Boiled on site, their shells are a mottled black due to a chemical reaction with the sulphurous water, but the inside is quite tasty. According to Japanese legend, every one you eat will add seven years to your life. 6 eggs (and hence 42 years) will set you back just ¥500.

[edit] Sleep

Hakone has many onsen ryokan, traditional Japanese inns featuring hot springs. Facilities vary widely, although prices are generally somewhat elevated (especially on weekends) due to the proximity of Tokyo.

* Kappa-tengoku Minshuku (tel. 0460-56121, 2 minutes on foot from Hakone-Yumoto station) is a well-located if slightly crumbling cheap inn featuring large open-air baths on the roof. Rates as low as 3300. Meals are optional and run 1470 for dinner and 840 for breakfast.

* Fuji Hakone Guest House 912 Sengokuhara, Hakone, Kanagawa. Tel 0460-46577, Fax 0460-46578, email: hakone-@pop21.odn.ne.jp. This is a very well located guest house popular with both Japanese and foreigners. The staff can speak English. Comfortable Japanese style rooms and breakfast are available as is a natural hot spring bath. Room rates are reasonable and the owners, Mr and Mrs Takahashi, are happy to offer signtseeing advice.

permalink written by  garisti on April 1, 2008 from Hakone, Japan
from the travel blog: Viaje por Asia
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Fuji, Japan

Mount Fuji (富士山 Fuji-san, 3776 meters) is Japan's highest mountain. Visible from Tokyo on a clear day, the mountain is located to the west of Tokyo on the main island Honshu.


A perfectly symmetrical volcanic cone, the mountain is a near-mythical national symbol immortalized in countless works of art, including Hokusai's 36 Views of Mt. Fuji.

The Japanese always refer to Mt. Fuji as Fuji-san, but the -san (山) here simply means "mountain", and has nothing to do with the honorific san (さん) for people's names. "Fujiyama" is a misreading of the name, and is never used by the Japanese themselves — except in the set phrase Fujiyama geisha, a lament at how Japan is misunderstood in the West.
[edit] When to go

Climbing out of season

If you have the skills, climbing out of season can be an amazing experience — imagine being the only people on the mountain surrounded by snow looking out over an amazing landscape 3776m up! And you don't have to go all the way, as in good weather, the slopes of Fuji draw numerous people doing various sports activities. Note that the roads to the 5th station will be shut out of season so you will have a long walk up, and also if you intend to climb to the summit, it is necessary to advise the local authorities.

The official climbing season lasts for only two months, from July to August. Even during these months, when Tokyo often swelters in 40-degree heat, temperatures at the top can be below freezing at night and climbers must dress adequately.

Climbing outside the official season is not only technically illegal without police permission but extremely dangerous without alpine climbing experience and equipment. Nearly all facilities are closed in the off season. The weather, unpredictable any time of year, is downright vicious in the winter and there are cases of people being literally blown off the mountain by high winds.

Fortunately, there are a few options for those who are not fit enough to climb or who would like to get "up close" to the mountain in the off-season. The trails at the bottom of the mountain are less steep, and suited more for an afternoon hike at any time of the year. The nearby Fuji Five Lakes (Fuji-goko) has many attractions close to the mountain, and Hakone also provides spectacular views.
[edit] Get in
Main approaches to Mt. Fuji
Main approaches to Mt. Fuji

Mt. Fuji can be approached from all sides, but note that transport schedules are sharply cut outside the official climbing season in July and August. For up to date information, the city of Fujiyoshida maintains a Fuji access page listing current routes and schedules.

From Tokyo, the most economical approach is by Odakyu train from Shinjuku to Gotemba, although you will have to change trains and the price difference is rather minimal. The easiest and most popular option is thus to take a direct bus from Shinjuku to the trailhead at Kawaguchiko Fifth Station.

There are also Fuji-san climbing tours offered by numerous tourist companies through out Japan. These tours may include round trip bus fare, climbing guide, hut, dinner, breakfast (packed rice box), and a visit to a hot spring after the descent. Prices tend to be expensive though: a one-day "superman" tour costs around ¥20000 and a more leisurely two-day approach (including overnight stay) is over ¥30000.
[edit] By bus

The easiest option for reaching the slopes of Mt. Fuji is to take the Keio express bus from Shinjuku in Tokyo. The direct bus takes 2 to 2.5 hours, depending on traffic, costs ¥2600, and takes you directly to the start of the climb at Kawaguchiko 5th Station. To buy a ticket, take the west exit at Shinjuku station, then follow the circle of bus stops to the left. The Keio building is on the corner near stop 26, right across from Yodobashi Camera.
[edit] By train

There is no direct access to Mt. Fuji by train, but you can get pretty close and change to a bus for the rest of the way, and doing it this way allows you to use any of the ascent or descent routes. From Tokyo, the two main staging points are Fujiyoshida and Gotemba, while visitors from western Japan can opt for Fujinomiya (Shin-Fuji) instead.
[edit] Via Fujiyoshida

Fujiyoshida can be reached by taking the JR Chuo line to Otsuki and changing to the Fujikyu line. The Fujikyu line passes through Fujiyoshida to Kawaguchiko, from where hourly buses (50 minutes, ¥1700) shuttle to the 5th Station. If you are planning to walk from the foot of the mountain, Fujiyoshida is, also, the starting point of the Yoshida route. You will be able to visit Fujiyoshida Sengenjinja (shrine) on the way to the summit.
[edit] Via Gotemba

If heading for the Gotemba route (御殿場), Subashiri route, or Suyama route, take the JR Tokaido line from Tokyo through Odawara to Kōzu (府津) station then change train for Gotemba. Alternatively, if traveling from Shinjuku, take the Odakyu line to Shin-Matsuda and walk to the neighboring Gotemba line Matsuda station. This local train usually runs just once per hour.

During official climbing season there are direct buses from the Gotemba station to the Gotemba 5th station that take about 40 minutes and cost ¥1080/1500 one-way/return. Tickets to the Subashiri 5th station are ¥1500/2000 one-way/return. A bus for the Suyama route is ¥530 one-way. If you want to ascend and descend on different routes, you can purchase a 3-day round trip ticket for a little over ¥3000. Note that Gotemba buses run only during the official Fujisan mountain climbing season between July and August, but Subashiri route busses run till October and Suyama route busses run all year around.

There is also a bus to Kawaguchiko from the Gotemba station and a bus from Shin-Matsuda to the Kawaguchiko fifth station (¥3000 one-way).
[edit] Via Fujinomiya

Visitors coming from Chubu or Kansai may wish to opt for the southern approach via Fujinomiya (富士宮) instead. The nearest Tokaido Shinkansen stop is Shin-Fuji station (新富士駅). From Shin-Fuji station, buses cost ¥4500 return. If arriving on the ordinary Tokaido line, change trains to the JR Fujinomiya line at Fuji station.

[edit] By car

Take the Chuo Expressway from Shinjuku. Tolls around ¥2,500.
[edit] Get around

Once on the mountain the only way of getting around is on foot. The sole exception is horseback riding, available on the Fujiguchiko trail between the 5th and 7th stations only for the steep price of ¥12,000.
[edit] See

For merely seeing Mt. Fuji, it's better to maintain some distance. The most popular places for sightseeing tours of Fuji and surroundings are Hakone, to the east of Mt. Fuji towards Tokyo, and the Fuji Five Lakes, located just north of the mountain.

The Mt. Fuji Welcome Card is a free card that can get you discounts for various attractions and tours in the vicinity.
[edit] Do
Torii gate at the summit
Torii gate at the summit

No spot in this world can be more horrible, more atrociously dismal, than the cindered tip of the Lotus as you stand upon it. — Lafcadio Hearn (1898)

The thing to do on Mt. Fuji is, of course, to climb it. As the Japanese say, a wise man climbs Fuji once, and a fool twice, but the true wisdom of this phrase is usually only learned the hard way. Depending on your pace, the climb up will take 5 to 8 hours, and the descent another 3 to 4. An overnight climb in order to reach the top for the sunrise (go-raiko) is the most traditional thing, but you will probably be shuffling along in a slow-moving line for the latter stages of the ascent. Consider starting out in the late morning to reach the summit for the equally majestic sunset, with a tiny fraction of the crowds to accompany you. Afterward, you can try to sleep in a mountain hut (see below) and catch the sunrise if you like; two for the effort of one.
[edit] Preparation

An absolute minimum set of clothing for climbing Fuji would be:

* sturdy shoes (hiking boots if possible)
* rain clothing
* head cover

Gloves and warm, layered clothing are also strongly recommended. Other supplies you will need are:

* flashlight and spare batteries (if climbing at night)
* sunglasses and sunscreen (which will most likely be needed during the descent even if you climb at night)
* toilet paper
* Japanese yen, as the toilets are pay-per-use
* plastics bags to carry garbage and keep off the damp
* your camera for the spectacular views!

Also bring along at least 1 liter of water per person, preferably 2. High-energy snacks as well as a more substantial fare (rice balls and such) will also come in very handy.
[edit] Kawaguchiko route

The most popular starting point is Kawaguchiko 5th Station (河口湖五合目 Kawaguchiko Go-gōme, 2305m), which offers you a last chance to stock on supplies before heading out. The initial stretch through flowery meadows is pleasant enough, but the bulk of the hike is a dreary and interminable slog: the volcanic landscape consists of jagged red rock in varying sizes from dust to boulder, with the trail zigzagging left and right endlessly, and the hike just gets steeper and steeper as you progress. Actual rock climbing is not required, but you will wish to use your hands at some points.

The trail is well marked and in season you will find it difficult to get lost, as the trip is completed annually by 300,000 people and there may even be human traffic jams at some of the dicier spots. However, due to the danger of landslides do not venture beyond the trail; visibility may also be very rapidly reduced to near-zero if clouds roll in.

Once at the top, you will pass under a small torii gate and encounter a group of huts selling drinks and souvenirs; this being Japan, you will even find vending machines on the top of Mount Fuji. Yes, this is as anticlimactic as it sounds, but with any luck seeing the sunrise above the clouds will make up for it. You can also gaze into the long-dormant crater at the center of the mountain. Strictly speaking, this is not the highest point of the mountain; that honor goes to the meteorological station on the other side of the crater, an additional 30 minutes hike away and not really worth the trouble. A full circuit of the crater takes around an hour.

There is a separate path for descending down the mountain back to Kawaguchiko; be sure you take the right one! Do not attempt to run down the mountain; rolling down isn't fun, it's a long way to the nearest hospital, and you don't want to find out how much a helicopter medevac costs in Japan.
[edit] Gotembaguchi route
Gotembaguchi route
Gotembaguchi route

This is the longest and toughest access route from the fifth station, with Gotemba 5th Station (御殿場五合目 Gotemba Go-gōme) located at 1440 meters, nearly 900 meters lower down than Kawaguchiko.

There are separate routes for ascent and descent, which will take 7 and 3 hours accordingly. The path is clearly marked with signs, so night climbing is possible. For your own safety, it is not allowed to walk on the bulldozer path, which crosses pedestrian path several times. The climb from the 5th to the 6th station is over an enormous ash field, which formed during a recent eruption in 1707. Two mountain huts at 7th and 8th stations operate during official climbing season and also provide warm food (curry rice, ramen, soba, drinks etc). Beware of rocks from 8th station and above. It is essential to bring enough water supplies or buy water at the fifth station, because there are limited place to resupply.

Advantages of this trail:

* Less people, so you can go on your own speed and have more space to sleep at the mountain huts
* Mountain top is visible
* Can run down the ashed covered path from the seventh station.
* No rock climbing

Disadvantages of this trail:

* Fewer mountain huts
* During descent ash can make clothes and shoes very dirty
* Transportation to the fifth station is limited

[edit] Other routes

There are two other Fifth Stations at Subashiri (須走, 1980 meters) and Fujinomiya (富士宮, 2400 meters). Fujinomiya is the shortest route, but as it is on the "wrong" side you will not be able to see the sunrise before the summit.

Beside climbing from the fifth station, there are three routes from Sengenjinja at the foot of the mountain. They are Yoshida route, Suyama route, and Murayama route. Murayama route is the oldest climbing route, followed by Suyama route. These routes offers glimpse of history of Mount Fuji climbing and are being restored. Be warned, however, not to expect to see too many people climbing from these routes.
[edit] Buy, Eat and Drink

If you have an energy to haul food and drink, buy before coming to Mount Fuji.

Kawaguchiko 5th Station is the last place to have a meal or stock up on supplies without breaking the bank, although there's a bit of inflation even here.

All stations along the Kawaguchiko trail, as well as the summit itself, are equipped with mountain huts that sell drinks, candy (¥250 for a Snickers bar) and basic climbing gear (sticks, flashlights, raincoats, even oxygen canisters). If your climbing staff becomes a cherished companion, you can pay to have an official seal burned into it marking your arrival at every station, making a handsome souvenir (as long as you don't mind lugging it around with you). As all materials have to be hauled up by tractors, food and drink prices are high and rise the closer you get to the summit. For example, a vending machine at the summit sells drinks and cans of corn soup for ¥400.

Note that most huts will not allow visitors to stay within the (heated) huts without paying a resting fee, either ¥1000-2000 per hour or ¥5,000 yen for the entire night (see Sleep). Simple meals (curry rice and such), if available at all, will cost in the range of ¥1000.

The summit has fewer people staying overnight and many more people resting, so the price of a cup of tea or a bowl of noodles is somewhat more reasonable.

The huts also have extremely basic toilets, but they get the job done (¥200). Instead of the usual noxious sweet deodorant, some of these toilets use a pepper scent to mask the smell of the waste.

At the summit, you can set your postcards apart from the rest with a postmark from the highest post office in Japan (and perhaps the world). You might as well do a post-sunrise circuit around the summit, though, because the Mount Fuji post office observes strict bureaucratic protocol, and doesn't open until 8am. Next to the post office is a small shrine and a stand where you can purchase fairly nice embossed certificates with an Official Stamp to mark your ascent; remember, though, as they say on Mount Everest, you've only climbed the mountain if you make it back down as well.
[edit] Sleep

Huts from 7th station onward also offer primitive accommodations; reservations are strongly recommended if you plan on staying in these. Prices are pretty much standardized at ¥5250 a night for a very cramped space (one tatami mat or less) shared with the halitosis, funky boot juice and snoring of 150-500 strangers, plus an optional ¥1050/2100 for one/two meals.

* Hinode-kan, Kawaguchiko 7th Station, tel. 0555-24-6522, [1]. Notable primarily for having the only bilingual website on Mt. Fuji (but no regular bilingual staff). A stay costs ¥5250 per person, and there is space for about 200.

* Fujisan Hotel, Kawaguchiko 8th Station, tel. 0555-22-0237. The largest hut on the mountain, with space for about 500. In two separate but nearby huts, it's a far cry from a hotel, but unlike most others English is spoken here.

A full list of huts (in English) with phone numbers is available hereand here. Fujiyoshida's official website has more updated info on the Kawaguchiko trail's huts [2]
[edit] Stay safe

Mount Fuji is a real mountain and should be treated with respect. Near the top the air is noticeably thinner, which may cause altitude sickness and breathing difficulties. The hike to the top is taxing, but hypothermia strikes when waiting for sunrise at the goal, while injuries typically occur during the descent phase when you're tired. Especially after heavy rains landslides are also a possibility.

It is very cold on top. During summer, when at the mountain foot the temperature is a sweltering 35°C, at the top it will be 7°C during the day and less during the night (ice and frost are common sights throughout the year). If you choose to climb in around New Year, you could experience -30°C on the mountain top.

These warnings are not a joke: every year inadequately prepared people die on Fuji.

permalink written by  garisti on April 1, 2008 from Fuji, Japan
from the travel blog: Viaje por Asia
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Nagoya, Japan

Nagoya (名古屋, [1]) is in Aichi prefecture, in the Chubu region of Honshu, one of the islands in Japan.


The hub of the Aichi region, Nagoya is Japan's fourth-largest city after Tokyo, Yokohama and Osaka. The focal points of this sprawling agglomeration are Nagoya station (名古屋駅) to the north, Sakae (栄) to the east and Kanayama (金山) to the south).
[edit] Get in
[edit] By plane

Not arriving via Centrair Airport?

* If you happen to arrive in Japan at Osaka's Kansai International Airport, Nagoya can be reached in no less than two hours by taking the Haruka limited express train to Shin-Osaka station, then changing to the Tokaido Shinkansen.

* A small number of air flights operate daily from Tokyo's Narita Airport to Centrair Airport, for the benefit of international passengers. Otherwise, Nagoya is no less than three hours away by taking the Narita Express limited express train to Tokyo station, then changing to the Tokaido Shinkansen.

Chubu Centrair International Airport, Japan's third major international gateway, is located on an artificial island 30 minutes south from the center of town. Facilities include two hotels and an onsen spa with views of the runways. Centrair opened in 2005, and this airport replaces the existing Nagoya airport, also taking over its IATA code NGO.

The best way of connecting between Centrair Airport and central Nagoya is the Meitetsu Airport Line. Limited expresses take just 28 minutes (¥980 plus a usually-optional ¥350 for a reserved seat) to cover the distance to the city. Note that Meitetsu trains are not free for JR Railpass riders.
[edit] Nagoya Airport

While all other companies have moved to Chubu, regional flights by J-Air still use the old Nagoya Airport (NKM), also known as Komaki Airport, to the north of the city. Shuttle buses (¥850) connect to Nagoya station in 28 minutes.
[edit] By train

Nagoya is located along the Tokaido Shinkansen route between Tokyo and Osaka. To the west are Gifu and Kyoto, and to the east are Hamamatsu and Shizuoka.

* A one-way ride from Tokyo is about 1 hour, 40 minutes via Nozomi (¥10780) and between 1 3/4 and 2 hours via Hikari (¥10580).

* From Kyoto, Nagoya is reachable in 36 minutes via Nozomi (¥5640) and between 36 and 55 minutes via Hikari or Kodama (¥5440).

* From the Shin-Osaka station in Osaka, Nagoya is 53 minutes away via Nozomi (¥6380) and between 53 and 70 minutes away via Hikari or Kodama (¥6180).

Thru Nozomi trains from western Japan reach Nagoya from Okayama (1 hr 40 mins, ¥10980), Hiroshima (2 hrs 20 mins, ¥13830) and Hakata station in Fukuoka (3 hrs 20 mins, ¥18030). It is slightly longer via the Hikari service; you will need to change trains at least once, either at Okayama, Shin-Kobe, or Shin-Osaka.

If you wish to sacrifice travel speed for savings, you can take advantage of the Puratto Kodama Ticket (in Japanese), which offers a discount for Kodama services if you purchase at least one day in advance. You get a reserved seat and a free drink on board. With this ticket a trip to Nagoya costs ¥7900 from Tokyo (3 hours; 2 trains per hour), ¥4100 from Kyoto (1 hour; 1 train per hour) and ¥4200 from Shin-Osaka (1 1/4 hours; 1 train per hour). A few early-morning Kodama trains cannot be used with this ticket.

Nagoya also serves as the terminal point for the hourly Wide View Shinano, a limited express train that runs from the mountain resort towns of Nagano and Matsumoto. Nagoya is reached in 3 hours and 2 hours, respectively.

Local trains from Tokyo take about 6 hours at a cost of ¥6090, requiring several train changes along the way. However, trips on local trains are more valuable if you purchase and use a Seishun 18 Ticket during the valid time period. Otherwise, consider using a bus starting from ¥5000, or step up to the bullet train for ¥7900 using the Puratto Kodama Ticket.

Remember that the Japan Rail Pass covers all journeys described above, EXCEPT for Nozomi trains.

Nagoya is also served by the Meitetsu and Kintetsu private railways. If coming to Nagoya from Osaka, a travel option that comes cheaper than the Shinkansen is a Kintetsu limited express service called the Urban Liner (アーバンライナー), which runs out of Namba station. The Urban Liner departs at 0 and 30 minutes past the hour, covering the journey in as little as two hours, but at a cost of ¥4150 each way. (The shinkansen, by comparison, makes the run from Shin-Osaka to Nagoya in under an hour for ¥5670). Japan Rail Passes are not vaild for the Urban Liner.
[edit] By bus

A cheaper method of reaching Nagoya is by bus. Day and night services run to Nagoya from most parts of the country, particularly from Kanto. For example, a night service from Tokyo to Nagoya on JR Kanto Bus costs ¥6420 one way (discounted trips ¥5000 each way), while daytime services cost ¥5100 one way. The trip takes roughly 6 hours to complete.
[edit] Get around

Nagoya is a big automotive industry center, and it shows. Trains and subways are less convenient than in Tokyo or Kansai, but more expensive. For those travelling with a JR Rail Pass, note that the train network doesn't have many stations in the city and you'll probably find yourself using the bus or subway alot, something your pass won't cover.
[edit] By subway

There are 4 main subway lines:

* The red Sakuradōri Line (桜通線) connects Nagoya Station to Sakae before curving south.

* The purple Meijō Line (名城線) runs in a loop around the eastern side of the city, connecting Sakae and Kanayama; the Meikō Line (名港線) spur branches from Kanayama to Nagoya Port.

* The yellow Higashiyama Line (東山線) connects Nagoya, Fushimi, Sakae, and Fujigaoka.

* The blue Tsurumai Line (鶴舞線) connects Fushimi and Osu Kannon, then goes south.

Subways run every several minutes between about 05:30 until about 00:30. Fares range from ¥200 to ¥320. A one-day subway pass is also available for ¥600 (although the multilingual city guides still quote the summer 2005 Expo prices of ¥600 for bus, ¥740 for subway, and ¥850 for bus & subway).
[edit] See

* Nagoya Castle (名古屋城 Nagoya-jō). Trumpeted as a famous landmark, particularly the two golden carp (金の鯱 kin-no-shachi) on the roof, but in truth recently rebuilt in concrete. The inside is an interesting enough museum (no pictures allowed) and the gardens surrounding it, nothing special. 500 yen for entry. To get there by subway, take the Meijo line and get off at Shiyakusho station. If you've seen other Japanese castles, you can safely give it a miss.

* Atsuta Shrine (熱田神宮 Atsuta Jingū), Jingūmae station. This shrine houses the sacred Kusanagi no mitsurugi (草薙神剣) sword, one of the three Imperial regalia of Japan — but unfortunately nobody but the emperor and a few high priests get to see it. There are some 4,400 other artifacts on the grounds though and the shrine hosts some 70 festivals every year.

* Nagoya/Boston Museum of Fine Arts, 1-1-1 Kanayama-cho, Naka-ku (next to Kanayama station), 052-684-0786, [2]. Closed Mondays, Tuesday through Friday 10am to 7pm, Saturday, Sunday, Holidays 10am to 5 pm. Like any world-class art museum, the MFA in Boston has far more in its archives than it can reasonably display. This sister institution is one way to make the most of the extensive collection. Student / Adult admission: 300/400 yen for the general collection, 900/1200 yen for special exhibits.

* Tokugawa Art Museum. Displaying some treasures of the Tokugawa family.

* Nittaiji Temple (日泰寺), 1-1 Hohocho, Chikusa-ku, tel. 052-751-2121, [3]. Among the 165,000 square meters of temple grounds is the 15 meter Gandala-style Taian Pagoda, which houses relics of the Buddha that were presented to Japan by the king of Thailand.

[edit] Do

* Higashiyama Park (東山公園 Higashiyama-koen). (Higashiyama-koen station). Features a zoo, conservatory, monorail, roller coasters, "sky tower" and a great deal of open space.

[edit] Buy

* Osu Market, subway Osu Kannon exit 2 (straight ahead one block, turn left into the temple grounds and go straight on through the gravelled temple area). A series of old style shopping arcades packed with mom-and-pop stores, 100 yen shops, traditional crafts, used computers and a fantastic range of clothing stores. There is a little bit of everything. Osu is the shopping area and Osu Kannon the temple just to the west side.

* Sakae is a good choice for your mainstream department store shopping, restaurants, and night-life. Take a walk atop Oasis 21 and get a nice view of the TV Tower.

[edit] Eat

Nagoya is big on miso, a sauce made from fermented soybeans and grain. You should not leave the city without trying misokatsu (味噌カツ), fried pork cutlet with a rich, red miso sauce on it.

The other Nagoya classic is shrimp tempura, particularly when wrapped up in rice and dried seaweed and turned into a handy portable package known as a tenmusu (天むす).

The city is also known for uiro, basically red bean jelly, a substance a little firmer than gelatin, with a subtle flavour.

Nagoya's noodle specialty is kishimen, a flat, broad noodle served in a miso or soy sauce broth. Available in most restauran-gai in shopping centres or close to major railway stations.
[edit] Budget

* Café de Metro, 1F Kanayama station (North Exit). Serves up basic curry and donburi dishes (including a decent misokatsu) for ¥480 with coffee/tea, or ¥680 with miso soup and pickles.

[edit] Mid-range

* Kanran aka Marche du Soleil, [4], map on the website. European style restaurant, near Osu Kannon subway station. Plenty of vegetarian options on the (available in English) menu - the organic vegetable sticks and vegetable pizza are good choices. Staff are friendly and speak a useable amount of English.
* Yamamotoya Sōhonke (山本屋総本家), 25-9 Meieki, B1F Horinouchi Bldg (on Sakura-dori not far from Exit 6 of the Nagoya subway station). The home of the classic Nagoya miso dish nikomi udon, consisting of thick, chewy, handmade udon noodles served in boiling hot miso sauce/stock. Fairly pricy at ¥1200 for a basic bowl and rather difficult to eat — diners are provided with bibs to protect themselves from soup spray — but the effort is worth it.

[edit] Splurge
[edit] Drink

There are countless izakayas around Kanayama station, both cheap chains and more upscale places.

Around Nagoya station are a lot of places for cheap drinking. Sakae is the big nightlife district, in a lose triangle formed by the Sakae, Yaba-cho and Osu Kannon stations. Sakae has a large red light district as well, but as with most of Japan there's no sense of danger so don't worry about drifting around.

For a foreign fix, try Shooter's close to Fushimi station, an American sports bar that attracts a mixed crowd with live music on Sundays, or The Red Rock, located directly behind the Chunichi Building in Sakae for your Australian pub experience. Hard Rock Cafe, also close to Hilton, serves the usual mix of rock music and American food.
[edit] Night Clubs

Nagoya has some of the best clubs in Japan, possibly second only to Tokyo. A lot of the Djs who play Tokyo also pass through Nagoya.

* ID club - the most popular and well-known club in Nagoya. In Sakae.

* Radix[5] - one of the bigger clubs in Nagoya, a lot of big house, jungle and dub Djs play here. Expect to pay from 2000-3000 yen, usually with a free drink included.

* Club Daughter[6] has something happening almost every night, so you'll never be stuck for something to do. Its a small place though, to western clubbers it may seem more like a basement party then a club and if you're going out on a monday or a tuesday, you may find it pretty empty. Fridays and Saturdays the place is normally packed. Drinks are about 600 yen each, entry varies, check on the site.

* Club JB's[7] is another good Nagoya club. Right around the corner from Club Daughter.

* J-Max [8] in Fushimi attracts foreigners and Japanese alike for your weekend dance event. Entry fee is usually 2000-3000 yen, with a couple of drinks included.

* the Underground in Shin-Sakae has two floors for one price, upstairs is hip-hop at maximum volume levels, while downstairs more dance music is played. Always a happy crowd without annoying bouncers, ladies pay 1500 and guys 2000 with 2 drinks included. Foreigners welcome.

[edit] Sleep
[edit] Budget

* Capsule Inn Nagoya (カプセルイン名古屋), 7F Kanayama 4-1-20 (on Otsu-dori near Kanayama stn), tel. (052)331-3278, [9]. Showing its age, but kept clean and still a perfectly functional capsule hotel. Reservations accepted and you're free to come and go, payment on arrival by cash or credit card. ¥2800 gets you a capsule for night, plus ¥800 if you want to sample the sauna/spa downstairs (there are no bathing facilities in the capsule levels) and ¥500 extra if you check-in after midnight. You get ¥300 off if you present a paper with the printout of the online coupon at check-in time. Hotel is men only.

[edit] Mid-range

* APA Hotel Nagoya Nishiki, 3-15-30 Nishiki, Chuo-ku (Sakae subway station, exit 2, one block forward), 052-953-5111, fax 052-951-7269. This business hotel is located in the middle of the Sakae dining and shopping district. The rooms are comparatively clean and the staff speaks English; internet access is included. ¥9800/single. [10]

* Meitetsu Inn Nagoya Kanayama (名鉄イン名古屋金山), 1-11-7 Kanayama, Naka-ku (Kanayama subway station, exit 6. Turn right at Daiei, left at Coco, look for the blue-and-white Japanese sign), 052-324-3434, fax 052-324-3435. This business hotel was built in February 2005 and has very clean rooms; in-room internet access and breakfast is included. The staff has some limited English ability. ¥6800/¥10,800/¥13,000 for single/small double/double [11] (in Japanese)

[edit] Splurge

* Marriott Associa Hotel, Nagoya Station (directly above Takashimaya Department Store). A three minute walk from a Nozomi Shinkansen train to a well-marked elevator portal takes you to the 15th floor check-in level. This often-full five star hotel (20,000 to 70,000 yen/night) is equipped with ten good restaurants, which tend to be jammed, but the adjacent office tower also has more than 20 restaurants on two levels ranging from inexpensive noodle eateries to high-end sushi places. Note that if you have a concierge room reservation, you need to go to the concierge level (35th floor) to check in. Rooms are extremely clean and comfortable.

[edit] Cope

Nagoya Tourist Information has branches in Nagoya and Kanayama stations.

The city's two Citibank branches for foreign-friendly cash withdrawals are in Sakae, and in the North Tower above Nagoya Station. Post offices may prove more convenient.
[edit] Get out

* Inuyama, with its picturesque castle, kinky fertility shrines, and nearby Meiji Village, is a short day trip from the city.
* Ise, home to Japan's holiest shrine, is within striking distance.

permalink written by  garisti on April 1, 2008 from Nagoya, Japan
from the travel blog: Viaje por Asia
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Kyoto, Japan

Nestled among mountains in Western Honshu, Kyōto (京都; [2]) has a reputation worldwide as Japan's most beautiful city. However, visitors will be surprised how much work they will have to do to see its beautiful side. Most visitors' first impressions will be of the urban sprawl of central Kyoto, around the ultra-modern glass-and-steel train station.

Nonetheless, the persistent tourist will soon discover Kyoto's hidden beauty in the temples and parks which ring the city center, and find that the city has even more than meets the eye.

Kyoto was the capital of Japan and the residence of the Emperor from 794 until the Meiji Restoration of 1868, when the capital was moved to Tokyo. During its millennium at the center of Japanese power, culture, tradition, and religion, it accumulated an unparalleled collection of palaces, temples and shrines, built for emperors, shoguns, geishas and monks. Almost alone among Japanese cities, Kyoto escaped the Allied bombings of World War II, although it could be argued that the concrete redevelopment that turned 95% of Kyoto into an ordinary Japanese city did just as thorough a job.
[edit] Get in
[edit] By plane

Not arriving at Kansai or Itami?

* A small number of air flights operate daily from Tokyo's Narita Airport to Itami and Kansai, for the benefit of international passengers. Otherwise, Kyoto is no less than four hours away by taking the Narita Express limited express train to Tokyo station, then changing to the Tokaido Shinkansen.

* If you happen to arrive at Nagoya's Chubu Centrair International Airport, Kyoto can be reached in no less than 80 minutes by taking the Meitetsu Airport Line to Nagoya, then changing to the Tokaido Shinkansen.

Kyoto does not have its own airport. The nearest international gateway is Kansai International Airport in Osaka. JR West's Haruka limited express train runs to Kyoto twice per hour (1 1/4 hours, ¥3490, no charge with Japan Rail Pass). Cheaper limousine buses run once or twice an hour to the south entrance of Kyoto Station (1 3/4 hours; ¥2300).

Most domestic flights land at Osaka's Itami Airport. Airport limousine buses run three times per hour to the south entrance of Kyoto Station (1 hour, ¥1280).
[edit] By train

Most visitors arrive at JR Kyoto station by Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo. Nozomi trains make the trip in approximately 2 1/4 hours and cost ¥13520. Hikari trains, which run less frequently and make a few more stops, cover the trip in around 2 3/4 hours, but only the Hikari and the Kodama trains can be used by Japan Rail Pass holders at no charge.

Travellers can also take advantage of the Puratto Kodama Ticket (in Japanese), which offers a discount for the all-stopping Kodama services if you purchase at least one day in advance. You get a reserved seat and a free drink on board. With this ticket a trip from Tokyo to Kyoto costs ¥9800 and takes 3 3/4 hours. Note that there is only one Kodama service per hour from Tokyo, and a few early-morning Kodama trains cannot be used with this ticket.

For travel in the Kansai region, a cheaper and nearly as fast alternative is the JR shinkaisoku (新快速) rapid service, which connects to Osaka, Kobe and Himeji at the price of a local train. Slightly cheaper yet are the private Hankyu or Keihan lines to Osaka and Kobe, or the Kintetsu line to Nara.
[edit] By bus

As Kyoto is a major city, there are many daytime and overnight buses which run between Kyoto and other locations throughout Japan, which can result in significant savings when compared to shinkansen fares.

The JR Bus Group (Japanese Website) is a major operator of the routes from the Tokyo area to Kansai. Buses operate via the Tomei Expressway (to/from Tokyo Station) or the Chuo Expressway (to/from Shinjuku Station). You can receive a discount of between 10 and 35 percent off the cost of the ticket if reservations are made at least 21 days in advance on most routes.

Other bus companies offer trips between Tokyo and Kyoto, but it should be pointed out that seat reservations for JR Buses can be made in train stations at the same "Midori-no-Madoguchi" ticket windows used to reserve seats on trains. Moreover, the Japan Rail Pass is valid on ALL JR buses operating from the Tokyo area to Kyoto. (Note that the pass is NOT valid on buses to/from Yokohama.)

From Tokyo, buses run to and from Kyoto in approximately eight hours. Major bus locations are as follows:

* Tokyo: Tokyo Station Yaesu Exit (東京駅八重洲口), with a few buses discharging at the Nihombashi Exit (東京駅日本橋口)
* Shinjuku: Shinjuku Station New South Exit (新宿駅新南口)
* Kyoto: At Kyoto Station, most buses stop at the Karasuma Exit (京都駅烏丸口) to the north, while others use the Hachijo Exit (京都駅八条口) to the south.

The following services are available: (Current as of January, 2007)
[edit] Daytime buses from Tokyo

There are two daily departures from Tokyo Station on the Tomei Expressway, departing at 10:20 and 12:20 in either direction.

There are two daily departures from Shinjuku Station on the Chuo Expressway, departing at 9:20 and 11:20 in either direction.

All runs cost ¥6000 one-way and ¥10000 round-trip.
[edit] Nighttime buses from Tokyo

The nighttime bus service from Tokyo to Kansai is called Dream. This route name has several variants.

* The Dream Kyoto is a bus that runs from Tokyo Station to Kyoto Station via the Tomei Expressway. There are two nightly departures from Tokyo at 22:00 and 23:10, with a third departure at 22:10 on Fridays, weekends and holidays. Returning buses leave from Kyoto Station at 22:00 (Fridays, weekends and holidays only), 23:00 and 23:40.

* The Ladies Dream Kyoto is a special bus for women only, running from Tokyo Station to Kyoto Station. The bus departs from Tokyo at 23:10, and departs from Kyoto at 23:00.

* The Chuo Dream Kyoto runs from Shinjuku Station to Kyoto Station via the Chuo Expressway. The bus departs from Shinjuku at 23:50, and departs from Kyoto at 23:10. An additional bus departs at 22:30 in either direction on Fridays, weekends and holidays.

* The Seishun Dream Kyoto-Nara runs from Tokyo Station to Nara Station via the Tomei Expressway, with a stop at Kyoto station. There is one nightly departure from Tokyo at 21:50, and one departure from Kyoto at 22:40.

* The Seishun Chuo Dream Kyoto runs from Shinjuku Station to Kyoto Station via the Chuo Expressway. It departs from Shinjuku at 23:10, with the return run leaving from Kyoto at 22:50.

The ride costs ¥8180 one-way and ¥14480 round-trip, except for the Seishun buses, which cost only ¥5000 one-way and ¥9500 round-trip. The notable difference is that Seishun buses use four-across seating found in standard buses, while the others use more comfortable and wider three-across seating.

* An overnight bus, the Harbor Line Kyoto, serves Yokohama. The bus leaves from Yokohama station's east exit at 22:40, with the return trip leaving Kyoto at 22:40. The cost is ¥7950 one-way and ¥14310 round-trip.

[edit] Get around

The sheer size of the city of Kyoto, and the distribution of tourist attractions around the periphery of the city, make the city's public transport system invaluable.
One of the easiest ways to plan a route is through Hyperdia, [3]. . This website contains station-to-station route plans, which reference public and private trains and subways as well as buses throughout Japan.

The Kansai Thru Pass (Surutto Kansai) stored-value card can be used on all means of transportation in Kyoto (and the rest of the Kansai region), with the notable exception of JR trains. You can purchase the cards in denominations starting at ¥1000 at any train or subway station.
[edit] By bicycle

Particularly in spring and fall, but at any time of year, getting around by bicycle is an excellent option. Cycling forms a major form of personal transport year-round for locals. The city's grid layout (copied from Xian), arranged between mountains on three sides, makes navigation easy. You can also rent bicycles in many places in Japan for a reasonable price. During the peak tourist seasons, when roads are busy and buses tend to be crammed beyond capacity, bicycles are probably the best way to navigate Kyoto.

Kyoto's wide, straight roads make for heavy traffic in many parts of the city, but it is possible to find back alleys that are quieter and offer better chances to happen upon all sorts of sightseeing/cultural gems. Riding on major roads is OK, especially if you are confident and used to riding with traffic on the road, rather than on the sidewalk and especially again if you are used to riding/driving on the LEFT-HAND side of the road. If you have no experience riding on the 'wrong'-side of the road, you may want to reconsider as a visit to a busy city may not be the time or place to experiment with a potentially dangerous activity.

* Kyoto Cycling Tour Project, ☎ 075-954-3636, [4]. A five-minute walk from the North Exit (the side with the buses and Kyoto Tower) of Kyoto Station, immediately turn left (west) and head down the street that runs between the station and the Post Office, continuing across the street and past the Kyoto Campus Plaza. Soon the street dead-ends and then you turn right and you will see the shop (orange awning) right away. Bikes range from ¥1000 to ¥2000 for an actual 27-speed mountain bike with city-tires on it; perfect for the average foreigner who is used to a 'real' bike in their home country. The following options can be added: bi-lingual cycling/walking map of Kyoto ¥100; light ¥100; helmet ¥200; back pack; ¥100; rain poncho ¥100. They can hold on to your luggage while you are riding. There are four other locations of KCTP and you can return your bike to any location, however you will incur a ¥200 charge if you return the bike to a location other than the one you rented from. Guided bike tours are also available ranging from ¥3900 (three hours) to ¥9800 (7.5 hours) than include guide, bike rental, lunch/snacks, accident insurance and admission to some attractions on the tour. Minimum of two people to guarantee departure/maximum of 10. A walking tour may be substituted in the case of inclement weather. Must reserve three days in advance if you want a tour. The map is excellent value for ¥100 - it is very easy to read and includes some sensible recommended itineraries. Don't worry if the mountain bikes sell out - Kyoto (like Tokyo) is a city with perfect kerb transitions so a 3 speed with basket and bell is fine, if a little bumpy on the river path.

* There is a bicycle rental shop across the street from the Keihan Demachiyanagi station. It is ¥300 yen for a day, ¥450 for a day and night, and ¥2000 for a month.

[edit] By train

The Keihan train line can be useful for traveling in eastern Kyoto, while the two Keifuku tram lines are an attractive way of traveling in the northwest.
[edit] By subway

Kyoto is criss-crossed by several subway lines, all of which are clearly sign-posted in English. Although the lines are run independently and prices vary slightly between them, transfers can be purchased at most of the ticket machines. The north-south Karasuma Line runs under Kyoto Station, and the west-east Tozai Line links up with it near the city center. Both are useful for travel in the city center but not really suitable for temple-hopping. The Tozai Line does connect with the Keihan Line, however, which runs parallel to the Kamo-gawa, and is convenient for reaching Gion and southern Kyoto; it also gets you within a short walk of many of the sights in eastern Kyoto. Across the street from the northern terminus of the Keihan Line is the Eidan Eizan line, which runs to Mount Hiei and Kurama.

The Hankyu Line starts at Shijo-Kawaramachi downtown, and connects to the Karasuma Line one stop later at Karasuma. It's useful for reaching Arashiyama and the Katsura Rikyu; it runs all the way to Osaka and Kobe.
[edit] By bus

The bus network is the only practical way of reaching some attractions, particularly those in north-western Kyoto. Many buses depart from Kyoto station, but there is also a bus station closer to the city center at Sanjo-Kawabata, just outside the Sanjo Keihan subway line. Most city buses have a fixed fare of ¥220, but you can also purchase a one day pass (¥500 for adults and 250 yen for children under 12) with which you can ride an unlimited number of times within a one day period. The day passes can be bought from the bus drivers or from the bus information centre just outside the Kyoto Station. This is especially useful if you plan on visiting many different points of interest within Kyoto. You can also buy a combined unlimited subway and bus pass for ¥1200.

Unlike most Japanese buses, Kyoto's buses have announcements and electronic signs in English. The municipal transport company publishes a very useful leaflet called Bus Navi[5]. It contains a route map for the bus lines to most sights and fare information. You can pick it up at the information centre in front of the main station.
[edit] See

Kyoto offers an incredible number of attractions for tourists, and visitors will probably need to plan an itinerary in advance in order to visit as many as possible.
[edit] North-western Kyoto
The Zen Garden at Ryoan-ji
The Zen Garden at Ryoan-ji

Visiting the vast temple complexes of north-western Kyoto can take the better part of a day. A suggested itinerary is to take the subway (Karasuma line) to Kitaoji station, and walk west along Kitaoji-dori. Daitokuji, Kinkakuji, Ryoanji and Ninnaji Temples are all on Kitaoji-dori, and about 15-30 minutes' walk apart. En route, you will see the giant "dai" (大) symbol burned on Mt. Daimon-ji, which can be climbed in an hour or so - look for the entrance near Ginkaku-ji (see below). If you're in Kyoto at night on August 16th, look up - you'll see the (大) aflame. Hirano Shrine is a short walk south along Nishioji-dori from Kinkakuji. If you still have time left at the end of the day, take the pleasant electric railway (Keifuku Kitano line) from Omuro to Katabiranotsuji, then take the JR Sagano line from nearby Uzumasa station back to central Kyoto.

* Daitokuji (大徳寺). A small and understated temple complex, boasting several small, secluded subtemples. Daitokuji is the quietest of the temples in north-western Kyoto, and if you visit it at the start of the day, you could virtually have it to yourself. Eight of the twenty-four subtemples open to the public (most days 9am-5pm), and each charges an admission fee (around ¥400). The highlight of the subtemples is Daisen-in, located on the northern side of the temple complex, which has a beautiful Zen garden without the crowds of Ryoanji Temple. Koto-in is particularly noted for its maple trees, which are beautiful in autumn. Nearest bus stop: Daitokuji-mae.

* Kinkaku-ji (金閣寺). The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, formally known as Rokuonji (鹿苑寺), is the most popular tourist attraction in Kyoto. The pavilion was originally built as a retirement villa for Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu in the late 12th century, and converted into a temple by his son. However, the pavilion was burnt down in 1950, by a young monk who had become obsessed with it. (The story became the basis for Yukio Mishima's novel The Temple of the Golden Pavilion.) The pavilion was rebuilt to look even more garish than before - extending the gold leaf covering it to the lower floor. The beautiful landscaping and the reflection of the temple on the face of the water make for a striking sight, but keeping the mobs of visitors out of your photos will be a stern test for your framing abilities (and a dilemma for your photographic honesty). Get there early if you can to beat the school groups. Visitors follow a path through the moss garden surrounding the pavilion, before emerging into a square crowded with gift shops. It's only a short walk from Ryōan-ji (below), making for an easy pairing (and study in contrasts). Open daily 9am-5pm, admission ¥400. Nearest bus stop: Kinkakuji-michi or Kinkakuji-mae.

* Hirano Shrine (平野神社). A small shrine, which is an especially popular destination during the cherry blossom season, setting up amusement and food stalls. A small park of cherry trees next to the shrine is hung with lanterns and drawings by local schoolchildren. Sufficiently far off the tourist trail to be worth a look. Admission is free. Nearest bus stop: Waratenjin-mae.

* Ryōan-ji (竜安寺). Famous for its Zen garden, which is considered to be one of the most notable examples of the "dry-landscape" style. Surrounded by low walls, an austere arrangement of fifteen rocks sits on a bed of white gravel. That's it: no trees, no hills, no ponds, and no trickling water. Behind the simple temple that overlooks the rock garden is a stone washbasin called Tsukubai said to have been contributed by Tokugawa Mitsukuni in the 17th century. It bears a simple but profound four-character inscription: "I learn only to be contented". There is a fantastic boiled tofu (湯豆腐 yudōfu) restaurant on the grounds, which you should be able to find by following the route away from the rock garden and towards the exit. It is slightly expensive, but serves delicious, traditional tofu dishes. The rest of the grounds are worth a look too - particularly the large pond. Open daily 8am-5pm (Mar-Nov), 8.30am-4.30pm (Dec-Feb). Admission ¥500. Nearest bus stop: Ryōanji-mae.

* Ninnaji (仁和寺). Another large temple complex which is often overlooked by tourists. Admission to the grounds is free, allowing visitors to view the 17th century five-storey pagoda, and the plantation of dwarf cherry trees (which are always the last to bloom in Kyoto, in early-mid April). However, visitors shouldn't miss the temple itself, which demands an admission fee of ¥500, and features some beautifully painted screen walls, and a beautiful walled garden. In the hills behind the temple, there is a delightful miniature version of the renowned 88 Temple Pilgrimage in Shikoku, which takes an hour or two (rather than a month or two). This can provide a delightful end to a day of looking at tourist attractions. Open daily 9am-4.30pm. Nearest bus stop: Omuro Ninnaji.

* Jingoji (神護寺). An overlooked gem among Kyoto temples, it is an ideal place to visit for those wanting to escape the tourist hordes. It is located in Mt. Takao in the north-western corner of Kyoto. In front of Kyoto Station, take JR Bus bound for Takao/Keihoku and get off at Yamashiro Takao Station (free with JR Pass), walk down a flight of winding stairs, cross a small bridge, and walk up for about ten minutes. Make sure you walk all the way to the back of the temple ground to a commanding view of the Kiyotaki River below wedged between two hills; here you can buy clay disks, which you throw down the mountain after making a wish. The temple is especially lovely in the fall, when the leaves all turn colors. Admission fee: 500 yen. Open: 9AM-4PM.

[edit] Western Kyoto
A walk through the bamboo forest, Arashiyama, Western Kyoto
A walk through the bamboo forest, Arashiyama, Western Kyoto

The Arashiyama (嵐山) area to the west of the city is dismissed in most Western guidebooks in a brief paragraph suggesting "other attractions". However, the area is rightfully very popular with Japanese tourists, and is well worth a visit. To get here, take the JR Sagano line from Kyoto station to Saga Arashiyama, or take the Hankyu Line from the city center to Katsura, and change to the Hankyu Arashiyama Line.

* The walk through a forest of bamboo to Nonomiya Shrine and Okochi Sanso (a traditional house, previously occupied by a Japanese silent screen legend), is a real highlight of a visit to Kyoto. No admission fee for the shrine, ¥1000 for Okochi Sanso (price includes a cup of matcha, traditional Japanese tea, in the tea garden).

* Feeding the macaque monkeys atop the mountain in Iwatayama Monkey Park, to the south of the river, is worth the entrance fee (and the demanding climb!). Don't bring food up with you, though - peanuts are on sale inside the shack on top of the mountains, and the monkeys are well aware of it. There's a pond next to the shack, and the monkeys seem particularly fond of the keeper's motorcycle, which is usually parked there. There's ¥500 admission fee to enter the park; peanuts cost extra, but you know the monkeys appreciate it.

* Just outside Saga Arashiyama station is the 19th Century Hall - a museum covering the unlikely combination of steam locomotives and pianos. Probably best to look at it from the outside, and listen to the amusing tinny music it blasts out.

* The picture-esque Togetsukyo Bridge spans the Hozu River, which usually has at least a bit of water in it. If you're interested in a cruise down the river, you won't have to look far - small and large boats, both rowed and motored, are waiting on either side of the river. Be sure to confirm how far and how long the trip goes, though. Some are as long as two hours, and others will do a quick turnaround in less then twenty minutes.

* Tenryu-ji (8:30am-5:30pm Mar-Oct, to 5pm Nov-Feb; admission ¥600) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the main temple of the Rinzai sect of Buddhism in Kyoto; it's also considered one of Kyoto's Five Great Zen Temples. Tenryu-ji was founded in 1334, but the current buildings all date from the last century - pleasant, but unremarkable. However, there is a lovely garden and pond, designed by the Zen master Musō Soseki, that is worth a look. The main gate is just beyond the busy intersection with the Togestu-kyo bridge.

Sharing a cup at Otagi Nenbutsu-ji
Sharing a cup at Otagi Nenbutsu-ji

* Otagi Nenbutsu-ji is omitted from virtually all guidebooks, but it's one of the true unknown gems of Kyoto. It was founded in the eighth century, and went through an unlucky patch for a millennium or so; by turns it was destroyed by flood, fire and typhoon, and had to move location a few times. Today, it sits in seclusion, far away from anything else. Two fierce statues guard the entrance. Once you're through the gate, though, you'll find over 1200 small (knee-to-waist high) statues, each with its own unique character - you'll see a cheerful boxer near the entrance, but you could spend hours checking out the rest, and you'll do it in relative seclusion, since this is well away from the tourist trail. The statues were carved in 1981 by amateurs under the direction of master sculptor Kocho Nishimura. Moss and forest have begun to reclaim the area, and if you've ever wondered what Angkor Wat would look like crossed with Japanese kawaii, this is your chance. By bus, take #72 from Kyoto station to Otagidera-Mae, or within Arashiyama, catch #62 or #72.

[edit] Central Kyoto

* Nijō Castle (二条城). Certainly one of the highlights of Kyoto. The series of ornately-decorated reception rooms within the Ninomaru complex is particularly impressive, and known for its "nightingale floors" - wooden flooring which makes bird-like squeaking sounds when stepped on. From the donjon of the inner castle, you can get good views over the castle layout, and the rest of the city. Open daily, 8.45am-5pm, with last admission at 4pm. Admission ¥600. Nearest bus stop: Nijojo-mae. Nearest subway station: Nijojo-mae.

* The Imperial Park is a large, peaceful area in the centre of Kyoto, centred around the Imperial Palace. The Palace itself is only open to visitors on pre-booked guided tours - English tours take place at 10am and 2pm Monday-Friday, and bookings must be made at the Imperial Household Agency, located to the west of the palace complex. The Palace is a reconstruction, though, and the Emperor doesn't actually spend much time there; don't consider it a priority. However, if you're in Kyoto for an extended amount of time, the park can make for a very pleasant afternoon, and it's large enough to let you forget the noise of the city outside the walls. It's home to 50,000 trees, including cherry, plum and peach tree orchards.

* The Museum of Kyoto is particularly worthwhile if you have a burning interest in ancient pottery, otherwise not really worth a visit. Open daily 10am-8.30pm. Admission ¥500. Located on Takakura-dori. Nearest bus stop: Shijo Karasuma. Nearest subway station: Karasuma Oike.

* Higashi and Nishi Honganji Temple are currently under construction, which is expected to be completed in 2008. The majestic main hall of Higashi Honganji, said to be the largest wooden structure in the world, can accomodate up to 5,000 people and is the headquarter of the Shinju Sect of Buddhism. From Kyoto Station, Higashi Honganji is a five-minute walk; Nishi Honganji, a 15-minute walk.

* Toji Temple is an oasis of calm near central Kyoto. Its pagoda is the tallest wooden structure in Japan. There are also flea markets at various times of the month.

* Kyoto Tower, just north of Kyoto Station, [6]. A sightseeing tower that provides views of Kyoto's urban sprawl. Open from 9 AM to 9 PM, adults ¥600.

[edit] Eastern Kyoto
Picturesque street near Kiyomizu Temple
Picturesque street near Kiyomizu Temple

Some of the most picturesque parts of Kyoto are located in the eastern region of the city, across the Kamo River. Visiting the main tourist attractions of eastern Kyoto will fill a full day - a suggested itinerary is to work north from Kiyomizu-dera to Ginkakuji, passing through Gion, and visiting Yasaka Shrine and Nanzenji before following the Philosopher's Walk to Ginkakuji.

* Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺). This temple complex, with a spectacular location overlooking the city, is a deservedly popular attraction, approached by either of two tourist-filled souvenir-shop-lined streets, Kiyomizu-zaka or Chawan-zaka. Admission ¥300. Open daily, 6am-6pm. Nearest bus stop: Kiyomizu-michi or Gojo-zaka. Highlights of the temple complex include;
o The main hall's wooden veranda, supported by hundreds of pillars and offering incredible views over the city,
o Jishu-jinja, the love-themed shrine selling countless charms to help you snag the one you love, and featuring two "love stones" positioned around 18m apart which the lovelorn must walk between with eyes closed to confirm their loved one's affection, and
o Otowa-no-taki the temple's waterfall, which gives it its name (Kiyomizu literally means 'pure water'). Visitors stand beneath the waterfall, and collect water to drink by holding out little tin cups.
o mountain hike If you're up for a mountain walk, steer to the right-hand pathway instead of taking the left toward the Jishu-jinja. The path leads through a gate and winds up onto the mountain. You can walk up for a good hour and not reach the end of the path. Has lovely forest and great scenery, and makes for a nice short excursion out of the city traffic.
* Gion district (祇園). The flagstone-paved streets and traditional buildings of the Gion district, located to the north-west of Kiyomizu, are where you're most likely to see geisha in Kyoto, scurrying between buildings or slipping into a taxi. The area just to the north of Shijo-dori, to the west of Yasaka Shrine, is particularly photogenic - particularly around Shinbashi-dori and Hanami-koji. Sannen-zaka ("three-year-slope") and Ninen-zaka ("two-year-slope"), two stepped streets leading off from Kiyomizu-zaka, are also very picturesque - but watch your step, slipping over on these streets brings three or two years' bad luck respectively. At the northern end of Ninen-zaka is Ryozen Kannon, a memorial to the unknown Japanese soldiers who died in World War II, with a 24-meter-tall statue of Kannon. Admission is ¥200, including a lit incense stick to place in front of the shrine.
* Yasaka Shrine at the eastern end of Shijo-dori, at the edge of Gion, is the shrine responsible for Kyoto's main festival - the Gion Matsuri, which takes place in July. The shrine is small in comparison with many in Kyoto, but it boasts an impressive display of lanterns. Admission is free. Nearest bus stop: Gion.
* Maruyama Park is the main center for cherry blossom viewing in Kyoto, and can get extremely crowded at that time of year. The park's star attraction is a weeping cherry tree (shidarezakura). Main entrance to the park is through Yasaka Shrine. Admission is free.
* Nanzenji, with its distinctive two-storey entrance gate (sanmon) and aqueduct, is another popular temple in Kyoto, but its larger size means that it doesn't seem as crowded as many of the others. Nearest bus stop: Nanzenji, Eikando-michi. Nearest subway station: Keage. Open daily, 8.30am-5pm. Walking around the temple complex and along the aqueduct is free, but there are three regions of Nanzenji that you can pay to enter;
o Sanmon - the two-storey main gate to Nanzenji Temple charges ¥500 for admission, and offers pleasant views over the surrounding area of the city.
o Nanzen-in Zen Temple - a small, but relaxing temple and moss garden behind the aqueduct, dating back to the 13th century, charges ¥300 for admission, and is probably only worth it if you have a particular interest in Zen Buddhism.
o Hojo - the abbot's quarters, is a more interesting building, with a small raked gravel garden and some impressive paintings on the sliding doors of the buildings. Admission is ¥500.
* The Philosopher's Walk (哲学の道 tetsugaku-no-michi) is the name given to a 2km-long path through north-eastern Kyoto, along which a philosophy professor, Kitaro Nishida, used to frequently walk. It is a surprisingly pleasant and relaxing walk even today, though you will undoubtedly share it with more tourists than Kitaro did. The walk runs south from Ginkakuji beside an aqueduct to Nyakuoji Shrine, many guidebooks suggest that the walk continues further south from there to Nanzenji, but this southerly section of the walk is less consistently signposted. The route passes several temples en route, notably Honen-in, a beautiful secluded temple with a thatched gate. Suggested route for the walk and surrounding area.
* Ginkakuji (銀閣寺, the Silver Pavilion) is at the northern end of the Philosopher's Walk. Much like its golden counterpart at Kinkakuji, the Silver Pavilion is often choked with tourists, shuffling past a scrupulously-maintained dry landscape Zen garden and the surrounding moss garden, before posing for pictures in front of the Pavilion across a pond. Unlike its counterpart, however, the Silver Pavilion was never actually covered in silver; only the name had been applied before the plans fell apart. Be sure not to miss the display of Very Important Mosses! Admission ¥500. Nearest bus stop: Ginkakuji-michi.
* Mt. Daimonji isn't much more than a hill, but it provides a breathtaking (and perhaps the best) view of the city. So if you're in the mood for a hike, this is a pleasant forest walk, taking a little less than an hour. At the summit, you can take a breather and check out the views over the city, or climb the steps and keep hiking through the forest at the top for hours, as long as you don't mind winding up far away from where you started. There's a clearly marked path up the mountain that begins near Ginkakuji. To reach the trailhead, turn left at the gates of Ginkakuji, and, before the stone torii (the iconic gate found throughout Japan), turn right and follow the path upwards. You'll soon be greeted with a map of the hill. If you don't know Japanese, don't worry, just follow everyone up the very-obvious path to the summit.

Back near Kiyomizu-dera and further to the southeast, along the Kamo River, are a few more sights:

* Sanjusangen-do is definitely worth a visit. It was founded in 1164 and became famous for its 1001 beautiful wooden and gold-leaf covered statues of Kannon, goddess of mercy, housed in thirty-three bays (sanjusan = thirty-three, gendo = bays) in the main hall.
* Kyoto National Museum [7] (9:30am - 5:00pm, closed Mondays; admission ¥500) is near Sanjusangen-do, and has a large collection of ancient Japanese sculpture, ceramics, metalwork, painting, and other artifacts. (It's quite similar to the Tokyo National Museum in Tokyo/Ueno.) The Museum building is fairly grand, but the statue of Rodin's The Thinker out front is a bit out of place, as there's no Western art inside. It's seven minutes east of Shichijo Keihan.

[edit] Southern Kyoto
The torii at Fushimi-Inari-taisha
The torii at Fushimi-Inari-taisha

Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社 Fushimi-Inari-taisha). Another of Kyoto's often-overlooked jewels, about twenty-minutes to the south of Kyoto. Dedicated to Inari, the Japanese fox goddess, Fushimi-Inari-taisha is the head shrine (taisha) for 40,000 Inari shrines across Japan. Stretching 230 meters up the hill behind it are hundreds of bright red torii (gates). A visitor could easily spend several hours walking up the hillside, taking in the beautiful views of the city of Kyoto and walking through the torii, which appear luminescent in the late afternoon sun. Countless stone foxes, also referred to as Inari, are also dotted along the path.

Approaching the shrine, local delicacies are sold at the roadside, including barbecued sparrow and inari-sushi (sweetened sushi rice wrapped in fried tofu), which is said to be the favourite food of the fox. Watch your fingers as you go - the fox spirits are said to be able to possess people by slipping through their fingernails.

Admission is free. From the city center, take the Keihan line to the Fushimi Inari station, and the foxes will point you in the right direction.. Be warned, the shrine is located close to Fushimi Inari and Inari stations, but is nowhere near Fushimi station! You can also take the JR Nara line from Kyoto station to Inari station, which exits immediately opposite the entrance to the shrine. When you are done walking the entire path, you have to walk through residential streets to get back to the train station; if you get lost, listening for and walking toward the sound of the trains will help guide you there.

Fushimi Castle was a favorite of Toyotomo Hideyoshi. The original was dismantled in 1623, but a 1964 reconstruction went up in its memory with a small museum and gold-lined tea room.

Tofuku-ji To get there, get off on the way to Fushimi-inari shrine at Tofuku-ji station. Large temple complex with many small and beautiful gardens nearby. Famous for its garden, especially in the fall when the leaves turn into all shades from green to red. Not on the top-list of most of western tourists, so especially worth visiting during fall.

Video game giant Nintendo has its world headquarters in southern Kyoto. Sad to say, tours are not offered, and visitors are unlikely even to make it into the lobby; the best you'll be able to do is pose for a photo with the company logo on the plaza in front of the otherwise anonymous building.
[edit] Do

A highly-recommended walking tour is the "Walk in Kyoto, Talk in English" tour (16/over ¥2000; 13-15 ¥1000; under 13 free; no reservations, cash only). The tour is given by Hajime Hirooka, better known to the tourists as Johnny Hillwalker. During the five-hour English-speaking tour, Hillwalker shows tourists a large Buddhist temple, a few Shinto shrines, and workshops in the back alleys of the city. The tour operates rain or shine on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays between March and November, excluding public holidays. Departure time is 10:15 AM sharp outside the main (north) entrance of Kyoto station. See Johnnie's Kyoto Walking for more information.
[edit] Buy

Currently, Kyoto is enjoying even more popularity than usual with Japanese tourists due to the success of Japanese TV broadcaster NHK's series 'Shinsengumi!' (新選組!), a historic drama following a group of samurai who kept peace in the city in the 1860s. Consequently, among the most popular souvenirs from the city at the moment are the distinctive blue and white happi (shirts) worn by this group.

There is a nice selection of reassuringly non-tacky traditional souvenir shops around Arashiyama station in Western Kyoto, selling fans and traditional sweets. More tacky stores can be found in Gion and the approach to Kiyomizu Temple, selling keyrings, cuddly toys, and garish ornaments. Other traditional souvenirs from Kyoto include parasols and carved wooden dolls.

A more unconventional but colorful (and relatively cheap) souvenir are the wooden votive tablets produced by temples, which bear an image relevant to the temple on the reverse. Visitors to the temples write their prayers on the tablets, and hang them up within the temple.

Manga and anime enthusiasts should visit Teramachi Street, a covered shopping street off the main Shijo-dori, which boasts a large manga store on two floors, as well as a two-story branch of Gamers (a chain of anime stores), and a small two-story anime and collectables store.

Many ATMs in Kyoto do not allow non-domestic credit cards to be used, but ATMs in post offices usually do, so if you find your card rejected or invalid in an ATM then try and get to a post office to use their ATMs instead. A rough guide is the mastercard symbol - if you see it then that machine will probably allow foreign cards to be used. Another option is Citibank, which should work, too. There is an old standby international ATM at the top floor of Takashimaya Department Store at Shijo/Kawaramachi in the "Cash Corner." The bank of ATMs in the basement of the Kyoto Tower shopping center (across the street from JR Kyoto Station) also includes one machine where international cards may be used.

* Gallery Gado 27 Miyashiki-cho Hirano, Kitaku (on Kinukake no Michi, near Kinkakuji). 075-464-1655. Open everyday, 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM. Gallery Gado sells modern woodblock prints (ukiyo-e) with traditional themes. The gallery also has catalogs of the work of artists who are maintaining this art form. All prints are authentic woodblock prints; postcard-sized prints are available for ¥800, medium-sized prints for ¥2000-3000, and large prints for a few ten thousand yen. [8]

[edit] Splurge

In the shopping areas adjacent to Kiyomizudera (on the other side of the Kamo River), it is possible to purchase samurai swords and top of the line kimono. Do not be surprised if the prices for either item exceed ¥3,000,000.

Kyoto incense is also famous. It usually has a very delicate yet fragrant bouquet. Fortunately, incense is much more agreeable in price (¥400-2000).
[edit] Eat
Seafood on offer in central Kyoto
Seafood on offer in central Kyoto

If you've just stepped off the train and the first thing on your mind is a bite to eat, there are several restaurants on the tenth and eleventh floors of the Isetan department store attached to Kyoto station. Most of the offerings are Japanese, including a veritable Ramen village, with a few casual Italian cafes as well.

* Local specialties include: hamo (a white fish served with ume as sushi), tofu (try places around Nanzenji temple), suppon (an expensive turtle dish), vegetarian dishes (thanks to the abundance of temples), and kaiseki-ryori (multi-course chef's choice that can be extremely expensive).

[edit] Budget

* Musashi Sushi one of the oldest kaitenzushiya (conveyor belt sushi) restaurants in Kyoto, it is located directly across chain Kappa Sushi at the corner of Sanjo/Kawaramachi. All of the sushi is handmade, though it may take a while to see something new float by. Fortunately, the seats surround the chefs, so you can request whatever you want if you don't see something you like. Price: ¥120 per plate (usually 2 pieces per plate).

* Kappa Sushi is a chain kaitenzushiya (conveyor belt sushi) restaurant on the corner of Sanjo and Kawaramachi at the entrance to the Shinkyogoku/Teramachi covered mall. Lots of variety, but quality matching the price, this restaurant being the type to use machines to cut rice and fish. Price: ¥100 per plate (usually 2 pieces per plate).

* Kick-up Bar is a tiki-themed bar & grill outside the Keage Tozai line subway station and across from the Westin Miyako Hotel. They have the best meatball sandwich in Japan for ¥800 and loaded pizza made from homemade dough (medium for ¥1500)

* Santouka Ramen is a Hokkaido style ramen shop in the Sanjo-Keihan above-ground plaza & bus station. For about ¥900 they have excellent pork broth ramen. Don't forget the broth-boiled egg for ¥200. Look for the line outside.

* Mr. Young Men is a pleasantly grubby okonomiyaki restaurant downtown, at the corner of Shijo and the covered shopping street of Teramachi. Basic English menus are available. A basic dish of Osaka-style okonomiyaki will run about ¥800, although a few variations (including a bizarre cheese and potato version) are available for about the same price.

* Hati Hati is an Indonesian restaurant on Kiyamachi, near Takoyakushi. It has great food and atmosphere, but it's occasionally converted into a bar and a performance space for local bands and DJs at night on weekends. For really late night food on Kiyamachi, there is a cheap, open-air falafel cafe a couple doors down from Hati Hati that never seems to close.

[edit] Mid-range

* Kappa Sushi (on Pontocho) is a reasonably-priced (for fresh sushi) restaurant. They have an English menu which is, unfortunately, inferior to the Japanese menu. Specials change daily, but are generally on the pricey side. Sit at the sushi bar, and eat well-apportioned nigiri off of banana leaves with your fingers. Not a bad place to try real o-toro for ¥800 a plate.

* Cafe Rue Ribera is a new, very beautifully arranged and welcoming petit restaurant and bar that has just been open for a year. Opened by a very nice, welcoming woman who speaks very good English (having spent some time in England). Located just near Enmachi Station on the Sagano Line. Tel/Fax: 075-812-2351. Open 11:30am til 1:30am. Lunchtime 11:30am til 2:30pm. Closed Tuesdays.

* efish 798-1 Nishihashizume-cho 075-361-3069 (near the Idemetsu gas station, across the river from Keihan Gogo 京阪五条 station). 075-361-3069. Open every day, 11 AM to 11 PM (until 10 PM in the winter). This cafe, tucked away down a hidden side street, has a trendy ambiance and river views. For lunch, try the okra curry (¥850) or soup and bread set (¥650). [9]

* Siam (シャム)A tiny but wonderful Thai curry restaurant off Marutamachi-dori and near Nishioji-dori. The food is delicious; not too oily nor too thick, and spice levels are indicated on the menu. For 1000 Yen (about 10 USD) you can get salad, curry, and dessert such as fresh-made coconut pudding. Best of all is enjoying wonderful ambiance of a soft-lit room, decorated with lovely exotic paintings from Bali, listening to soothing music, while your wonderful meal is made right in front of you. Menu available in Japanese and English. (11:30-20:30)

* Fuka(麩嘉)Located west of the Imperial Palace and just a bit south of the Kyoto Prefectural Office, this old shop makes the best nama-fu (wheat gluten filled with sweet bean paste) in Kyoto and supplies many sweet shops and restaurants throughout the city. There might not be enough supplies to sell over the counter, so it is best to arrive early. Open: 9AM-5PM. Closed: Mondays

* Tengu A chain izakaya offering their own beer and good shared food with occasional seasonal specials. One is located underground with an entrance near the corner of Sanjo/Kawaramachi.

[edit] Splurge

* Pontochō (先斗町) is a narrow lane running from Shijo-dori to Sanjo-dori, one block west of the Kamo River. One of Kyoto's most traditional nightlife districts, the restaurants here run the gamut for super-exclusive geisha houses to common yakitori bars. Many have pleasant open-air riverside terraces. Rule of thumb is, any establishment with a menu and prices outside is OK, but others are best skipped.

* Mishima-tei: If you have a yearning for sukiyaki, and your pockets are deep, you must visit Mishima-tei at the junction of Teramachi-dori and Sanjo-dori. Here you will be bowed in and shown to your own private tatami room by your personal kimono-clad hostess. There, having helped you to order, she will prepare your sukiyaki feast on the hotplate set between you. Order the "premium beef", and the richly marbled meat will just melt in your mouth, and require almost no chewing whatsoever: it is delectable – and it should be since two of you will spend around ¥25,000 in less than an hour on 360 grams of beef and a few vegetables! In the butchers shop attached to the restaurant this beef retails at ¥50,000 per kilogram, and you can have fun devising a fantasy barbecue for you and a half dozen close friends where you would grill thick-cut steaks of this meat, washed down with a couple of bottles of 1982 Lynch Bages, for the modest outlay of ¥175,000 – a pleasant way to pass a Sunday lunchtime.

[edit] Drink

Kiyamachi, between Shijo and Sanjo, is packed with drinking establishments. There are the inevitable hostess bars with tuxedo-ed touts pacing out front, but there are also plenty of pubs and block-buildings full of idiosyncratic one room bars as well. Near the Sanjo end, keep an eye out for Pretty Space, also known as "Mushroom Bar", and be sure to compliment the owner on committing to the theme with his haircut. Also on that end of Kiyamachi is Rub-a-Dub, a one-room reggae bar that can either be an over-crowded mess or a box of delirious fun, depending on which record is on (and how much you like Red Stripe).

A good start to the evening would be A-bar, a hard-to-find izakaya close to the Shijo/Kiyamachi corners. Food is good and reasonable - daily sashimi specials and fried goods, especially. You share long tables with foreigners and locals alike; a friendly thing to do would be to pour beers (¥550 Yebisu) for your neighbors and Suei-san, the proprietor.

Bar Africa - bland, but if there's a football match from home that you need to catch, they have cheap Asahi jugs. Also, their foosball table is very well kept. Across from the Hub, infra.

No night in Kyoto is complete without the requisite after hours visit to all-night Ing (a.k.a., "Box Bar," or "the office"). Proprietor Hako-san will keep bringing you big bottles of Sapporo (¥600 each shareable bottle), happy to join for a drink when offered. Food there is always an option - tofu salad & potato pizza are good for the price (¥600). Get ready for Rolling Stones, competitive Jenga, sharing tables with odd drunk people, and clothes permanently soaked in smoke. Good luck finding it. If you see Hamid's Falafel you're on the right track. Ing is on the second floor of a building slightly south of Hamid's.

The Fushimi district is known for its sake breweries; tours are available at Gekkeikan.

British style pubs:

* The Hub: on the small streets connecting Kiyamachi to Kawaramachi, lots of TVs for sports, cheap beer (¥700/pint) (especially with a ¥500 membership) and more expensive imports; food, however, is mediocre. This is basically the headquarters for English-speaking tourists and gaijin residents for happy hour. If you want some inside information about where to go, where to eat, what to see, etc., ask a group here. One of the larger bars in Kyoto, it is a popular spot for happy hours and goodbye parties. The real draw is the foosball, darts tournaments, and, upstairs in the back, the pool table.

* Pig & Whistle: underwent a renovation last year, adding a more stylish whiskey bar to its original drinks bar. This is a popular spot, located right above the Sanjo Keihan subway station. If you hear live music, go on up; though it probably won't be great music, it will draw a crowd. Food here is also mediocre.

* Tadg's Pub: a bit less convenient (second floor on the corner of Shijo and Kawabata-dori), but great portions of food. Steer clear from their stuffy events like poetry readings and open mics, but definitely go for rugby games.

* Hill of Tara: a quiet Irish-style pub with good food. A bit more expensive than the frozen stuff from the Pig or the Hub, but a much mellower scene. In the Spring and Summer, they have a nice, though small, second floor balcony.

* McLaughlin's: a new food-focused Irish restaurant located on Kiyamachi between Sanjo and Nijo. Food is pricier than the others, but more creative. Good quality beers unfortunately served in thimble-like goblets.

* Kick-Up Pub: across from the Westin Miyako Hotel, a gaijin-friendly tiki-themed bar with fresh Bass Ale pints (¥800) and ice cold Asahi mugs (¥600). Not a problem if alone because the proprietors, Masuyo and Rick, speak both Japanese and English and are up for a good chat. See the Budget Food section for food information.

[edit] Sleep

Kyoto has a wide range of accommodation, much of it geared towards foreign visitors. During peak seasons, when accommodation is difficult to get, consider staying in Osaka. A thirty minute train ride from Kyoto Station to Osaka will cost you ¥540 one way.
[edit] Budget
[edit] Temple lodgings

Many temples in Kyoto own and run their own lodging complex known as shukubō (宿坊), usually located on or near temple grounds. The least known option of accommodation even among Japanese, shukubos are becoming popular with both Japanese and foreigners alike. Guests are often invited to participate in morning prayer service (otsutome) held at the temple. Unfortunately, most temple lodgings do not have English-speaking receptions, and curfews and check-in/out times tend to be strict.

* Myōren-ji Temple (妙蓮寺) - Three minutes by foot from Horikawa Teranouchi Stop on Bus # 9 and 12 (the former leaves from Kyoto Station, the latter, Shijo Karasuma Subway Station). Tel: 075-451-3527. Rate: ¥3,800 per person (including entrance fee to public bath). Facilities: in-room air-conditioner; no bath but a public bath is nearby; guests should bring their own bath towel and shampoo as the public bath only lends out mini-towels and soap. Check-in: 6pm; Check-out: 7 am.

* Hiden-in (悲田院)- in southern Kyoto near Fushimi Inari Shrine and Tofuku-ji Temple, 15 minutes by foot from Sennyuji-michi Stop on Bus # 202, 207, 208. Tel: 075-561-8781. Rate: ¥4,500 per person with breakfast. Facilities: rooms are separated by sliding doors only; maximum capacity: 20; one shared bath. Check-in: 4pm; Check-out: 10am.

* Rokuō-in(鹿王院) - near Arashiyama, six minutes by foot from Saga-Arashiyama Station on the JR Sagano Line. Only for female visitors. Tel: 075-861-1645. Rate: ¥4,500 per person with breakfast. Facilities: 10 rooms with a maximum capacity of 30; during peak season, guests travelling alone may be asked to share a room with another single guest; towels not provided; one bath. Crowded during autumn foliage season. Curfew at 7:30pm.

* Myōshin-ji Daishin-in(妙心寺大心院)- 10 minutes by foot from Hanazono Station on JR Sagano Line or 7 minutes by foot from Myoshin-ji Mae Stop on Bus # 8, 10, 26. Tel: 075-461-5714. Rate: ¥4,700 with breakfast. Facilities: 10 rooms with a maximum capacity of 50; in-room air-conditioner, kotatsu heating table in winter, shared bath and toilet. Lights out at 10pm.

* Myōshin-ji Tōrin-in(妙心寺東林院) - 10 minutes by foot from Hanazono Station on JR Sagano Line or 7 minutes by foot from Myoshin-ji Mae Stop on Bus # 8, 10, 26. Tel: 075-463-1334. Only accept reservations from foreigners if they are with a Japanese person. Rate: ¥4,700 with breakfast; ¥6,000 with breakfast and dinner; Shojin meal (Buddhist vegetarian)¥3,000 - ¥8,000; Shojin cooking class ¥3,000. Facilities: 10 rooms with a maximum capacity of 40; shared bath. Curfew at 9pm. Lights out at 10pm.

[edit] Other

* Bakpak Kyoto Hostel. Located in central downtown Kyoto between Kawaramachi and Gion, next to the Minamiza theatre. Rates from $20/night.Tel : + 81- 75 – 525 - 3144 [10]

* Budget Inn (near Nishi-Honganji, 7 min walk from Kyoto Station) [11]. A new, clean hostel owned by the same people as Tour Club. Both dorm and private rooms available. No curfew.

* Gojo Guest House (5 min walk from Keihan Gojo Station) [12]. A Japanese style hostel with a cozy cafe located in Higashiyama area.

* Hirano's B&B Kyoto (3 minute walk from the Karasuma-Oike subway station) [13]. A quiet and intimate B&B, near Nijo Castle. Guests experience being at home with a Japanese family.

* Ikoi-no-Ie [14] A Japanese-style guesthouse with all rooms private, no smoking (some are en-suite). Located right in the middle between Kyoto Station and the downtown (12 and 15 minute walk respectively). Bus stops and an underground/subway station for most Kyoto sightseeing spots nearby. Newly opened in February 2007.

* J-Hoppers Kyoto Guesthouse (8 min walk from Kyoto Station) [15]. A new and clean backpackers hostel guesthouse. 7 minutes walk from Kyoto central station. Dormitory bed 2,500 yen including tax. Rental bike 500 yen/day, Internet 300 yen/hour, No curfew, Up-to-date local information by native staff, managed by a trans-continental motorcyclist. TEL +81-75-681-2282, SKYPE:jhoppers

* K's House Kyoto, 418 Nayacho, Shichijo-agaru, Dotemachi-dori, Shimogyo-ku, (9 min walk from JR Kyoto Station, 4 min. walk from Keihan Line Shichijo Station) 075-342-2444 (fax 075-342-2440, email info@kshouse.jp), [16]. Opened in November 2003, this foreigner-friendly hostel has received favorable reviews for reasonable prices, cleanliness and amenities like Internet access and kitchens. English-speaking staff. Dormitory room ¥2500, twin/double/triple room from ¥2900, single room from ¥3500 (prices per person). The hostel itself can be difficult to find, as it is located down a narrow street off the main road.

* Kyoto Cheapest Inn [17] (Near Nijo castle, 1-3 min walk from bus stop Horikawa Marutamachi & Marutamachi Chiekoin) Claims to offer the cheapest accommodation in Kyoto. ¥900-2,000 (dormitory), ¥6,800 (private ensuite). Credit cards accepted, English available.

* Palace Side Hotel [18] is exactly where the name suggests: across the street from the Kyoto Imperial Palace and park, on Karasuma (near the intersection with Marutamachi). It's a Western-style hotel reminiscent of a much more expensive hotel that could use a good scrubbing. The staff speak fluent English, and the front desk is always open, as are computers with internet access in the lobby. It's often used by academic groups from nearby universities, though, so advance reservations should be made. There are discounts for stays of three or more days. S/D/Tw/Tr from ¥5040 - ¥10,500.

* Ryokan Hiraiwa (旅館平岩). Tel. 075-351-6748. [19]. A self-proclaimed ryokan (really a minshuku) catering almost entirely to the foreign market, in an old Japanese house plastered with English signs, warnings and tips. All rooms Japanese style. Traditional breakfast extra. Internet. Shared bathrooms, public bath half a block away. But it's cheap (¥4200 for a single, ¥8400 for a double, breakfast not included) and reasonably friendly. Slightly inconveniently located halfway between the station and the center of town (it's bit of a hike to either), take bus #17 or #205* from Kyoto Station pier A2 to Kawaramachi-Shomen (the third stop).

* Station Ryokan Seiki (5 min walk from Kyoto Station) [20]. Small but convenient. Doubles ¥9000.

* Tour Club (10 min walk from Kyoto Station) [21]. A friendly, clean hostel with both dorm and private rooms. The dorms have a 11pm curfew.

* Tani House (near Daitokuji). A 70-year-old traditional wooden house, a little shabby but cheap, mixed guests, from ¥1700 a night and you can rent cheap bicycles.

[edit] Midrange

* Gimmond Hotel Takakura-Oike-dori, Nakagyo-ku (2 min. walk from Karasuma-Oike subway station), 075-221-4111 (fax 075-221-8250, email kyoto@gimmond.co.jp). [22] A foreigner-friendly hotel, neat and tidy and good location. Discount for internet booking.

* Ryokan Shimizu 644 Wakamiya Agaru Shichijo, Shimogyo-ku (7 minute walk from JR Kyoto Station), Tel 075-371-5538, Fax 075-371-5539. [23] A modern style ryokan which is welcoming to foreign visitors. The owners are able to speak some English. En-suite facilities are provided and a Japanese style breakfast is available. There is a communal Japanese bath facility.

* Kyoto Tower Hotel Karasuma-dori Shichijo- sagaru. Shimogyo-ku (1 Minute walk from JR Kyoto Station, across the street), Tel 075-361-3212, Fax 075-343-5645. [24] Foreigner-friendly hotel, single rooms start at ¥8700, but the location across the street from JR Kyoto Station is unbeatable.

* The Kyoto Tower Hotel chain also operates the Kyoto Tower Hotel Annex, northwest of the station, and the Kyoto Dai-Ni Tower Hotel, east of the station. Singles at both of these hotels, which are a few minutes further away by foot from the Kyoto Tower Hotel, start at just ¥6500.

* Hearton Hotel Kyoto [25] Higashi no Toin Dori Oike Agaru, Nakagyo Ku, Tel 81-75-222-1300 Fax 81-75-222-1313. Mid range hotel close to Oike Karasuma Subway Station.

[edit] Splurge

* New Miyako Hotel (新都ホテル). 0120-333-001[26] The largest hotel in Kyoto with over 700 rooms, and the prices to match: starting at ¥10,000 for singles and ¥21,000 for doubles. But the location is unbeatable, it's just across the street and a few minutes' walk south of Kyoto station. If you get a room facing north, you'll be able to see the bullet trains coming into and out of the station, as well as the glass windows from the exterior of the Isetan department store that seem to reflect the sky if the weather conditions are just right. The new south wing opened in late September of 2005, with prices starting from ¥29,000 for doubles.

* Kyoto Hotel Okura, Kawaramachi-Oike, Nakagyo-ku. Tel:+81 75 211-5111. Fax:+81 75 254-2529. A large, modern and conveniently located hotel.

* The Westin Miyako Kyoto. 075-771-7111 Keage, Sanjo, Higashiyama-ku. [27] Established in 1890, this is the oldest Western-style hotel in Kyoto. It has over 400 rooms, starting at ¥33,000 for twins. (If you make a reservation through a travel agency, you may get a lower price.) It has about 30,000 square meters, and a few Japanese gardens, one of which,Aoiden (葵殿庭園) was built by Jihei Ogawa (小川治兵衛). The gardens can be visited by non-guests. It's near Keage Station (subway - Tozai Line), or you can take a shuttle bus from JR Kyoto Station.

* Hyatt Regency Kyoto. 075-5411-3180 644-2 Sanjusangendo-mawari, Higashiyama-ku. [28] yen;34,650 for twin room. Near Hichi-jo station (七条駅)on the Keihan line, or you can take shuttle bus from JR Kyoto station.

[edit] Get out

* Amanohashidate - literally "the bridge to heaven", it is considered one of Japan's top three scenic view (along with Matsushima in Miyagi prefecture and Miyajima in Hiroshima prefecture). It forms a thin strip of land straddling the Miyazu Bay in northern Kyoto Prefecture, hence the name. Visitors are asked to turn their backs toward the view, bend over, and look at it between their legs.

* Himeji - about an hour by Shinkansen west of Kyoto, Himeji boasts a spectacular traditional castle.

* Miho Museum [29] - an hour southeast of Kyoto deep in the hills of Shiga prefecture. Building designed by I.M. Pei. Closed in winter.

* Mount Hiei - an ancient hilltop temple complex that traditionally guarded (and occasionally raided) Kyoto.

* Nara - less than an hour's journey by train on the JR Nara line from Kyoto station, this former capital has several temples and tame deer.

* Osaka - about half an hour from Kyoto by JR rapid train, this bustling city offers more retail opportunities and a central castle.

* Uji - the best tea in Japan and the Byodo-in temple.

* Kurama - less than an hour's journey by a local train from Kyoto Demachi-Yanagi station, small village of Kurama has real onsen (Japanese natural hot spring).

permalink written by  garisti on April 1, 2008 from Kyoto, Japan
from the travel blog: Viaje por Asia
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Osaka, Japan

Ōsaka (大阪) is the third largest city in Japan, the central metropolis of the Kansai region and the largest of the Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto trio.


Osaka and the "808 Bridges" (八百八)

Many districts in Osaka derive their names from the Tokugawa-era bridges that were built during the city's reign as transportation hub for the country. Today, Yodoyabashi (淀屋橋) and Kyobashi (京橋) still retain their crossings, while the bridges in Yotsubashi (四ツ橋), Nagahoribashi (長堀橋)and Shinsaibashi (心斎橋) are long gone.

橋 (hashi, often pronounced -bashi, when affixed to a preceding name) is the kanji character meaning 'bridge'.

"Osaka" can mean either the larger Osaka prefecture (大阪府 Ōsaka-fu), covered in a separate guide, or central Osaka city (大阪市 Ōsaka-shi), the topic of this guide. The city is administratively divided into 24 wards (区 ku), but in common usage the following divisions are more useful:

* Kita (キタ, "north") — the newer center of the city, including the Kita ward (北区). Umeda (梅田) is the main terminal. Department stores, theaters and boutiques are clustered around JR Osaka Station and Umeda Station, which serves several city and private railways.
* Minami (ミナミ, "south") — the traditional commercial and cultural center, composed of the Chuo (中央区) and Naniwa (浪速区) wards. Namba (なんば, 難波) is the main railway station, and the surrounding area has the department store and showy shopping. Shinsaibashi (心斎橋) and Horie (堀江) is the fashion area. Dōtonbori (道頓堀) is the best place to go for a bite to eat.
* Semba (船場) straddles the line between Kita and Minami, and contains the business districts of Yodoyabashi (淀屋橋), Kitahama (北浜), Doujima (堂島) and Hommachi (本町).
* Tennōji (天王寺) or Abeno (アベノ, あべの, 阿倍野) — generally means the area around JR Tennōji Station and Abeno Station of subway and Kintetsu lines, located at south end of Tennōji ward. The ward was named after the historical Shitennoji temple. Tennōji Park and Zoo are in the area. To the west of Tennōji is Shinsekai (新世界), which was an amusement area in the past and has now become quite seedy.

Other important places include:

* Kyōbashi (京橋) — northeast of Osaka Castle, home to Osaka Business Park (OBP).
* Shin-Osaka (新大阪) — Shin-Osaka Station (the shinkansen and airport express stop)

[edit] Understand

If Tokyo is Japan's capital, one might call Osaka its anti-capital. With what you will call it so, however, is left much open to your own findings upon the visit to the city. Veiled much with a commercial-centric city touch, you may as well start from picking up the lively intonation of Osaka dialect, heard from the people as you ride on the escalators standing on the right, instead of the left in Tokyo; then discovering the contrast of popular food to eastern Japan, as you look for places to lunch. The deeper you get inside, and at the end of your stay, it is not completely impossible that you may have compiled your own original list of reasons covering from history, culture, sports, to business.

Osaka dates back to the Asuka and Nara period. Under the name Naniwa (難波), it was the capital of Japan from 683 to 745, long before the upstarts at Kyoto took over. Even after the capital was moved elsewhere, Osaka continued to play an important role as a hub for land, sea and river-canal transportation. (See "808 Bridges" infobox.) During the Tokugawa era, while Edo (now Tokyo) served as the austere seat of military power and Kyoto was the home of the Imperial court and its effete courtiers, Osaka served as "the Nation's Kitchen" (「天下の台所」 tenka-no-daidokoro), the collection and distribution point for rice, the most important measure of wealth. Hence it was also the city where merchants made and lost fortunes and received repeated cheerfully ignored warnings from the shogunate to reduce their conspicuous consumption.

During Meiji era, Osaka's fearless entrepreneurs took the lead in industrial development, making it the equivalent of Manchester in the U.K. A thorough drubbing in World War 2 left little evidence of this glorious past — even the castle is a ferroconcrete reconstruction — but to this day, while unappealing and gruff on the surface, Osaka remains Japan's best place to eat, drink and party, and in legend (if not in practice) Osakans still greet each other with mōkarimakka?, "are you making money?".
[edit] Get in
[edit] By plane

The main international gateway to Osaka is Kansai International Airport (ICAO: KIX), covered in a separate article. Domestic flights, however, some arrive at Osaka International Airport, more commonly called Itami Airport (ICAO: ITM), which despite the name hasn't had a single international flight since 1994. Itami is connected to the Osaka Monorail, but the monorail is expensive and traces an arc around the northern suburbs, so to get to the centre of the city you will need to transfer to a suburban Hankyu railway line. A more convenient option for most are the Airport Limousine Buses [1], which run frequently from Itami to various locations within Osaka and elsewhere in the region (including Kansai Airport), with fares starting around ¥500-600.
[edit] By train

Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen (新幹線) trains arrive at Shin-Osaka station, to the north of the city center. From Shin-Osaka, you can connect to the city center by using the Midosuji subway line, or connect to the local JR network for other destinations.

* From Tokyo, Nozomi (のぞみ) trains cover the one way ride in about 2 1/4 hours (¥14050); Hikari (ひかり) trains take about 3 hours (¥13750). With the Japan Rail Pass, there is no charge to take the Shinkansen if you use the Hikari service.
* From points west of Osaka, Nozomi trains run from Okayama (¥6060, 45 mins), Hiroshima (¥10150, 80 mins) and Hakata station in Fukuoka (¥14890, 2 1/4 hours). Japan Rail Pass holders can use the Hikari Rail Star (ひかりレールスター) service instead, which runs at a comparable speed to the Nozomi and makes a few more stops, but its trains are shorter (8 car trains, compared to 16 cars on the Nozomi).
* Slower Kodama (こだま) trains connect the rest of the stations on the Shinkansen route.

If travelling from the east without a rail pass, you can take advantage of the Puratto Kodama Ticket (in Japanese). This ticket offers a discount for the all-stopping Kodama services if you purchase at least one day in advance. You get a reserved seat and a free drink on board. With this ticket a trip from Tokyo to Shin-Osaka costs ¥10000 (a savings of about ¥4000) and takes four hours. Note that there is only one Kodama service per hour from Tokyo, and a few early-morning Kodama trains cannot be used with this ticket.

Several overnight trains make runs to and from the main Osaka Station. Of note are the Ginga (銀河) which runs daily to Tokyo, the Twilight Express (トワイライトエクスプレス) which runs into Hokkaido and terminates at Sapporo, and the Nihonkai (日本海) trains which run to Aomori in northern Tohoku.

During University holidays there are some additional overnight services to Matsuyama, Kochi and Fukuoka. As these are considered rapid services they can be very economical to use if you use a Seishun 18 Ticket.

There are many regional railway lines connecting Osaka to nearby cities:

* From Kyoto, JR offers fast, but slightly more expensive, shin-kaisoku (special rapid) trains to Osaka Station. The cheaper but slower alternative is the Hankyu Railway's limited express service. Both lines terminate in the Umeda area of Osaka. Keihan Railway offers Kyoto-Osaka trains. The Yodoyabashi terminal in Osaka does not connect directly with JR, but it is possible to transfer to the JR Osaka Loop Line at Kyobashi.

In Kyoto, Keihan and Hankyu trains do not connect with JR Kyoto station but both travel to stations which are more convenient for reaching the centre of the city. about 30 - 45 minutes.

* From Kobe, JR again offers slightly faster and slightly more expensive service than Hankyu. The third choice is Hanshin Railway, which is identical to Hankyu in terms of cost and similar in time, useful for getting to Koshien Stadium to see Hanshin Tigers games. All three lines go to Osaka / Umeda. about 20 minutets.
* From Nara, JR offers trains to Tennōji and Osaka Stations, and Kintetsu offers trains to Namba. Kintetsu station in Nara is closer to Tōdaiji and Nara Park. about 35 - 45 minutets.
* From Nagoya, an alternative to the Shinkansen is Kintetsu's premium limited express service, the Urban Liner (アーバンライナー) which goes directly to Namba. Trip times are as little as two hours each way, with departures at 0 and 30 minutes past the hour at a cost of ¥4150. In comparison, the shinkansen takes just under an hour for ¥5670.

Stations with the same name but belonging to different railway companies are sometimes very far apart. For example, the Nakatsu stations on the Hankyu and subway networks are about an hour's walk from each other, even though they look close on the railway map. Allow up to half an hour for walking between the various Umeda stations and about the same for the various Namba stations, especially if you are a first time visitor. In Kobe the Sannomiya stations belonging to JR and Hankyu are connected but Hanshin Sannomiya is across a street.
[edit] By car

It is generally a bad idea to use a private automobile to visit Osaka. Many streets do not have names, signs are usually only in Japanese, parking fees are astronomical, and Japan is a left-side drive country which may be frustrating for visitors from right-side drive countries.
[edit] By bus

As Osaka is a major city, there are many daytime and overnight buses which run between Osaka and other locations throughout Japan, which can result in significant savings when compared to shinkansen fares.

The JR Bus Group (Japanese Website) is a major operator of the routes from the Tokyo area to Kansai. Buses operate via the Tomei Expressway (to/from Tokyo Station) or the Chuo Expressway (to/from Shinjuku Station). You can receive a discount of between 10 and 35 percent off the cost of the ticket if reservations are made at least 21 days in advance on most routes.

Other bus companies offer trips between Tokyo and Osaka, but it should be pointed out that seat reservations for JR Buses can be made in train stations at the same "Midori-no-Madoguchi" ticket windows used to reserve seats on trains. Moreover, the Japan Rail Pass is valid on ALL JR buses operating from the Tokyo area to Osaka. (Note that the pass is NOT valid on buses to/from Yokohama.)

From Tokyo, buses run to and from Osaka in approximately 8 1/2 hours. Major bus locations are as follows:

* Tokyo: Tokyo Station Yaesu Exit (東京駅八重洲口), with a few buses discharging at the Nihombashi Exit (東京駅日本橋口)
* Shinjuku: Shinjuku Station New South Exit (新宿駅新南口)
* Osaka: Osaka Station Sakura-bashi Exit (大阪駅桜橋口)

The following services are available: (Current as of January, 2007)
[edit] Daytime buses from Tokyo

There are between six and eight daily departures on the Tomei Expressway in each direction. Buses from Tokyo Station depart at 7:10, 8:10, 9:10, 13:10 and 14:10. Return buses from Osaka Station depart hourly at 10 minutes past the hour from 6:10 to 9:10, and again at 14:10. There is also a 12:10 departure in either direction on Fridays, weekends and holidays.

Premium Buses, with added amenities described later in this article, depart from Tokyo and Osaka at 11:10 in either direction, with an additional 10:10 departure on Fridays, weekends and holidays.

There are two daily departures on the Chuo Expressway, departing at 9:40 and 11:40 in either direction.

There is also one daily departure from Yokohama to Osaka in each direction, leaving Yokohama station's east bus terminal at 10:30, and from Osaka at 10:50.

The runs cost ¥6000 one-way and ¥10000 round-trip. Premium buses incur an additional surcharge of ¥300 in either direction for second floor seating and ¥1300 in either direction for first floor seating. All buses are double-level and make rest stops en route.
[edit] Nighttime buses from Tokyo

The nighttime bus service from Tokyo to Kansai is called Dream. This route name has several variants.

* The Dream Osaka is a bus that runs from Tokyo Station to Osaka Station via the Tomei Expressway. There are two nightly departures from Tokyo at 22:10 and 23:50, with a third departure at 23:30 on Fridays, weekends and holidays. Returning buses leave from Osaka Station at 22:10 (Fridays, weekends and holidays only), 23:00 and 23:50. One bus continues to/from JR Namba and Tennoji stations.

* An additional Dream Osaka service leaves on Fridays, weekends and holidays from Tokyo Teleport and Shinagawa stations at 21:37 and 22:00 respectively. The return bus leaves Osaka at 21:50.

* The Ladies Dream Osaka is a special bus for women only, running from Tokyo Station to Osaka Station. The bus departs from Tokyo at 22:10, and departs from Osaka at 23:00.

* The Chuo Dream Osaka runs from Shinjuku Station to Osaka Station via the Chuo Expressway. The bus departs from Shinjuku at 23:40, and departs from Osaka at 23:50.

* The Seishun Dream Osaka runs from Tokyo Station to Osaka, JR Namba and Tennoji Stations via the Tomei Expressway. There is one nightly departure from Tokyo at 22:00, and one departure from Tennoji at 22:25 (leaving Namba at 22:55 and Osaka Station at 23:20). On Fridays, weekends and holidays, there is an additional departure in each direction, serving Osaka and JR Namba stations. It departs from Tokyo at 23:00 and departs from Namba at 21:55 (leaving Osaka Station at 22:20).

* The Seishun Chuo Dream Osaka runs from Shinjuku Station to Osaka Station and JR Namba Station via the Chuo Expressway. It departs from Shinjuku at 22:10, with the return run leaving from Namba at 22:55 (Osaka Station at 23:20).

The ride costs ¥8610 one-way and ¥15190 round-trip, except for the Seishun buses, which cost only ¥5000 one-way and ¥9500 round-trip. The notable difference is that Seishun buses use four-across seating found in standard buses, while the others use more comfortable and wider three-across seating.

* The Harbor Line overnight bus runs from Yokohama. It departs from Yokohama station's east bus terminal at 22:30, with the return leaving Osaka at 22:20. The cost is ¥8230 one-way and ¥14810 round-trip.

For the extremely brave and budget-conscious, there's the Seishun Mega Dream bus service, the cheapest route operating between the two cities. No more than 84 seats in a four-across seating configuration (2x2) with no recline are crammed into the double-level, four-axle bus, with a bathroom located on the first floor. Buses leave Tokyo every night at 22:50, with the return service leaving Osaka at 22:40. On Fridays, weekends and holidays, there are additional buses departing Tokyo at 21:40 and Osaka at 22:00. The fare is cheaper if you book at least one day in advance, costing ¥4000 for departures on Fridays, weekends and holidays, and ¥3500 for departures on all other days. Purchasing a ticket on the day of departure costs ¥4300 in all instances.
[edit] Premium nighttime buses from Tokyo

Premium Buses have been recently introduced on the Tokyo to Osaka overnight route. These buses provide upgraded amenities including more plush recliners, more legroom, air filtration and toiletries.

* The Premium Dream departs Tokyo station daily at 23:20, with the return trip leaving from Osaka daily at 23:40. On Fridays, weekends and holidays, an extra round-trip operates, leaving Tokyo at 22:20 and Osaka at 22:50. The ride costs ¥8910 one-way and ¥15790 round-trip for second floor seating, which features FM radios at every seat. More expansive first floor seating (of which there is only four seats) incurs an additional ¥1000 surcharge each way... but you do get your own television.

* The Super New Dream runs from Shinjuku Station to Osaka Station. It departs at 23:10 in both directions and costs ¥8910 one-way, ¥15790 round-trip.

[edit] By boat

There are ferry services from Osaka to Busan (South Korea) three times a week and Shanghai (China) twice weekly.

Osaka International Ferry Terminal [2] is located at Nankō (南港) in the Osaka Bay Area. To reach the port, take the New Tram from Suminoe-koen station to Nankōguchi (南港口).
[edit] Get around
The concrete expanse of Nishi-Umeda (West-Umeda)
The concrete expanse of Nishi-Umeda (West-Umeda)

The convenient Kansai Thru Card can be used on just about anything that moves in Osaka (as well as the rest of the Kansai region), with the notable exception of JR trains.
[edit] By subway

Osaka has Japan's second-most extensive subway network after Tokyo, which makes the underground the natural way to get around. The Midosuji Line is Osaka's main artery, linking up the massive train stations and shopping complexes of Shin-Osaka, Umeda, Shinsaibashi, Namba and Tennoji.

The signage, ticketing and operation of the Osaka subway is identical to its larger counterpart in Tokyo. However, the Osaka subway is more expensive, especially for short-distance travel.
[edit] By train

True to its name, the JR Osaka Loop Line (環状線 Kanjō-sen) runs in a loop around Osaka. It's not quite as convenient or heavily-used as Tokyo's Yamanote Line, but it stops in Umeda and Tennoji, and by Osaka Castle. Namba and Universal Studios Japan are connected to the Loop Line by short spurs.
[edit] See
Umeda Sky Building
Umeda Sky Building

* Osaka Castle (大阪城 Osaka-jō) [3]. Osaka's best known sight, although it's a concrete reconstruction that pales in comparison with, say, Himeji. Still, it's pretty enough from the outside, especially in the cherry blossom season when Osakans flock to the castle park to picnic and make merry. Open 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM daily, adult admission ¥600 (Children up to middle school free). Closed at the end and beginning of the year. The park can be accessed on a number of lines, but the castle is closest to Osaka-jō Koen station on the JR Osaka Loop Line. Naniwa Palace Site Park can also be found south to Osaka Castle Park.

* Osaka Museum of History[4] 1-32 Otemae 4-Chome Chuo-ku Open 9:30AM-5PM (on Fri 9:30AM-8PM) Closed Tue but on Wed instead if Tue is a Holiday (5min walk from subway Tanimachi 4-chome Station but also accessible via Osaka Castle or from JR Osaka-jō Station) An ideal place to learn all-abouts of Osaka's history. Enjoyable view over Osaka Castle and the OBP skyscrapers. Admission: ¥600

* Osaka Science Museum (大阪市立科学館) (walk from subway Higobashi Station or Yodoya-bashi Station, 500m and 900m to the west respectively) Closed on Mon and days after Holidays if not weekend. Big interactive activity center on several floors. Great for kids. Planetarium and cinema (with science films) downstairs. ¥600/300.

* Umeda Sky Building (梅田スカイビル)[5]. 1-1-20 Oyodonaka, Kita-ku (10 min on foot from JR Osaka or Hankyu Umeda), Built in an attempt to upgrade Osaka's somewhat downbeat Kita district, the project wasn't quite the hoped-for commercial success but this bizarrely shaped 40-story, 173-meter building is still a city landmark. Take the escalator through midair to the rooftop observatory for an open-air view of Osaka, which is particularly impressive on a clear night. Observatory admission ¥700, open 10 AM to 10:30 PM daily (entry until 10 PM, varies by season). The basement features a recreation of a Meiji-era street, with a few small restaurants and bars in appropriate style.

* Sumiyoshi Taisha (住吉大社) is one of Japan's oldest Shinto shrines, with a history stretching back 1800 years. Its traditional architecture is unusual amongst Japan's shrines, and its park-like surroundings with the sacred bridge arching over a tranquil pond make it a restful break from the busy environment of Osaka. Best of all, it's free! Access is from the Nankai line station of the same name; local trains run from Namba station in central Osaka.

* Shitennōji (四天王寺), 1-1-18 Shitennōji Tennōji-ku (5 min walk from Shitennōji-mae-Yuhiga-oka Station on subway, or 15 min by walk to north from Tennōji Station), originally built by Emperor Suiko in 593 AD. Although the current buildings are mostly post WWII reconstructions, the temple is a rare sample which conveys the continental style (notably the positioning of the individual buildings inside the complex) of 6th - 7th century to our date.

* Japan Mint (造幣局) 1-1-79, Temma Kita-ku (15 min by walk from subway Temmabashi Station), [6]. It's not widely known even by people from elsewhere in the country that Japan Mint is actually headquartered in Osaka. For Osakans, Sakura-no-tōrinuke (桜の通り抜け, cherry blossom tunnel road) is a synonym for this facility, attracting a large number of visitors (close to 1 million in just 7 days) during a limited, planned week of mid-Apr. A must-see if you are fond of nature and happen to drop into Osaka in season. Admission free. Check for official announcement beforehand.

* Tsūtenkaku (通天閣). While the original tower was built early 20th century, the current "newer" version is designed by the same Prof. Naitō, who also designed Tokyo Tower. This landmark built in the middle of Shinsekai (新世界) area is a symbol of reconstruction of the City of Osaka post WWII.

[edit] Do

* Imax Osaka is home to the largest Imax movie screen in the world located in the Suntory Museum (next to Kaiyukan). English headphones are available for no extra cost. If you plan on going to Kaiyukan aquarium and Imax, you can purchase a discount ticket for both at either ticket office.

* Kaiyukan (Osakako, Chuo Line) [7] is one of the world's largest aquariums, with 11,000 tons of water and plenty of sharks, dolphins, otters, seals, and other creatures of the sea. The largest tank, representing the Pacific Ocean with 5,400 tons is nothing but overwhelming. On the weekend, musicians and street performers offer additional entertainment to people outside the aquarium. ¥2,000 for adults, ¥900 for children.

* Sumo Spring Grand Tournament (大相撲春場所), Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium (approx. 10 min walk from subway Namba Station) [8]. The Osaka Tournament of Japan's national sport, sumo wrestling, is usually held mid-March annually at Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium. Check for schedules and ticket availabilities at the official Nihon Sumo Kyokai homepage. Ticket prices range from ¥3000 to ¥14,300.

* Universal Studios Japan, at Universal-City Station (JR Yumesaki Line, 10 min from Osaka), [9]. Japan's second-largest theme park. One-day tickets for adults/children ¥5800/3900.

* Tenpozan Ferris Wheel, next to Kaiyukan at Tempozan (天保山) area.There are Suntry museum,Kaiyukan (海遊館) - one of the biggest aquarium in japan,shops and a port of sightseeing boat. Open 10am to 10pm.

* Umeda Joypolis Sega, next to Umeda (Osaka) station, occupying 8th and 9th floors of the Hep Five building with arcades and a Ferris wheel at the top. From 11am to 11pm; ¥500-¥600 attractions.

* Spa World Just near Tsutenkaku Tower. Gender-separated European and Asian themed spas and saunas as well as a pool for the family with slides and fun. Open 24hrs. Regular prices are ¥2400 for 3 hours, ¥2700 for all day. Extra charge ¥1000 for stays 0AM-5AM. Watch out for the special ¥1000 deals offered from time to time, often in March.

* National Bunraku Theater, Nippombashi, [10]. One of the last places in the world where bunraku, a form of intricate puppet theater from the Edo period, can be seen live. The large puppets, which require three operators each, are accompanied by traditional music and narration, and act out great Japanese plays of the 1600s and 1700s. Transcripts in Japanese and synopses in English are provided.

* Osaka Siki musical theater, Umeda,in the Herbis ENT. Home of the Shiki Theatre Company.

* The festival hall in Nakanoshima, near Umeda, and the symphony hall in Umeda host modern and classical recitals, while Umeda Koma in Umeda, and Shin-Kabukiza in Namba host Enka performances. For more independent or underground music, try Banana Hall in Umeda or Big Cat in Amerika-mura.
o Zepp Osaka (POP clubs) , Nanko (Nanko_Kita 1-18-31,Suminoe_ku, near Cosmo-squair station. ).
o Blue Note (Jazz clubs)[11] Umeda.The branch of Blue Note in N.Y..

[edit] Learn
[edit] Work

The occupation of most resident Americans, Europeans and Australians is teaching English (as is the case in most of Japan). In recent years, the economy in the Osaka region has been relatively stagnant compared to Tokyo's: although there are jobs in law, finance, accounting, engineering and other professional fields in Osaka, demand for foreign professionals tends to be much higher in Tokyo (as is pay). Osaka does have several educational publishers that employ foreign workers, but these jobs require fluent Japanese language ability.
[edit] Buy

* Osaka's most famous shopping district is Shinsaibashi (心斎橋), which offers a mix of huge department stores, high-end Western designer stores, and independent boutiques ranging from very cheap to very expensive. Within Shinsaibashi, the Amerika-mura (アメリカ村, often shortened to "Amemura") or "American Village" area is particularly popular among young people, and is often said to be the source of most youth fashion trends in Japan. Near Amerika-mura,Horie (堀江) is shopping street of mainly Japanese brands shops. The many shops in Umeda are also popular among trendy locals, particularly in the Hep Five and Hep Navio buildings adjacent to Hankyu Umeda Station, although these shops tend to be too expensive to captivate most tourists' interest. In this area, new shopping buildings have been constructed recently. For example, the“E-ma” buildings next to Hanshin department store, and “Nu-Chayamachi” (Nu 茶屋町), opened in October 2005 near Hankyu Umeda station.
* For electronics, the Nippombashi (日本橋) area southeast of Namba, and particularly the "Den-Den Town" shopping street, was once regarded as the Akihabara of western Japan; nowadays, more people would rather shop at the new, enormous Yodobashi Camera (ヨドバシカメラ) in Umeda or BicCamera (ビックカメラ) and LABI1 in Namba, although Nippombashi still offers good deals on many gadgets and geekier PC components.
* For Japanese and foreign books, try Kinokuniya in Hankyu Umeda Station, or Junkudo south of Osaka Station.
* If you are a fan of Shochu you can buy it in the Sho-chu Authority shop in Namba Parks. There are hundreds of varieties of Shochu from all over Japan in crazy bottles. There usually is a selection of bottles to taste from (help yourself). Also sells Shochu pottery and glass as well as traditional snacks.
* The Official Hanshin Tigers (baseball team) Shop is located on 8th floor of Hanshin Department Store at Umeda.
* Tenjinbashi-suji Shopping Street (天神橋筋商店街 Tenjinbashi-suji Shōtengai) is said to be the longest straight and covered shopping arcade in Japan at approx. 2.6km length. The arcade is running north-south along Tenjinbashi-suji street, and is accessible from multiple subway and/or JR stations, eg. Tenma, Minami-Morimachi, Tenjinbashi-suji 6-chome, etc. Nothing meant for sightseeing, the arcade is a live exhibition of Osaka's daily life, open since Edo period.

[edit] Eat

Okonomiyaki - The DIY Food

Okonomiyaki Osaka style is usually do-it-yourself food at smaller, independent specialized restaurants. Tables are equipped with embedded hot plates and you'll receive a bowl of ingredients, which you are expected to cook on your own. However, in larger franchised chains the staff can often cook for you — and even in smaller places staff will usually gladly help if asked.

Should you decide to try your luck on your own, you might want to dress for the occasion: pork slices, the most common topping, are usually very fatty and tend to splatter grease all over the place.

In a nation of obsessive gourmands Osaka is known as an excellent place to eat, exemplified by the Osakan maxim kuidaore, "eat until you burst".

Some typically Osakan foods worth trying include:

* Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き), fried cabbage cakes that resemble a cross between a pancake, pizza, and omelette.
* Takoyaki (たこ焼き), bits of octopus inside fried dumplings.
* Kushiage (串揚げ), skewers with various sorts of food (meet, vegetables, cheese, etc.) deep-fried in dough and served with a black sauce.

Okonomiyaki is best eaten in hole-in-the-wall restaurants, while takoyaki is best eaten from street vendors' carts, which can be found all over the major districts around nightfall. The best place to find kushiage is in Shinsekai, between Dobutsuen-mae and Ebisucho stations on the Sakaisuji subway line.

* Battera (バッテラ), is a block type sushi, with mackerel put on rice and squeezed very hard in a wooden box, cut into pieces when served. Battera sushi is a variant and direct decendant of primitive sushi, this one from Osaka is unique for its squary shape. A very popular sushi that can be found at not only sushi restaurants but also as take-aways or souvenirs at department stores and/or station kiosks.

The best place for exercising kuidaore is probably Dōtonbori (道頓堀) and neighboring Hōzenji-yokochō (法善寺横町) or Soemon-cho (宗右衛門町), the whole area containing nearly nothing but one restaurant after another.

Some of the more famous establishments here include:

* Kuidaore (食い倒れ), featuring a mechanical clown beating a drum, is one of the contenders for the title of the largest restaurant in the world. Each floor specializes in a type of food. Affordable, but more fun in a group.
* Kani Dōraku (かに道楽), easily identifiable by the giant mechanical crab waving its pincers about, specializes in crab. Good but moderately expensive.
* Kanso is a "can bar", a uniquely Osaka invention. The shelves stock a wide range of cans of food, from chili to curried sea lion. Once you've made your selection, the staff will open the can and supply you with a plastic fork or spoon to consume the contents. Beer (¥350) and cheap booze (¥300-400) is available to accompany your feast. It's beside Yotsubashi blvd. on the north side of the Dotonbori river - look for the plastic tarps. (Those are the walls.) There is often live music in the summer.
* Tako Tako King, north side of Dotonbori river and west of Midosuji. The best takoyaki in Osaka and the same goes for service too! A friendly staff that never take off their smiles, good prices, good food, good drinks, and a whole lot of fun, make this a great place to start off a night in the Shinsaibashi area. Look for the big red octopus wearing a crown.

In the Hanshin department store (Umeda) B2 Floor is Snack Park (スナックパーク), which offers okonomiyaki, takoyaki and a few surprises like doteyaki (どて焼き) - stew sinew of beef. It's open from 10 a.m to 8:30 p.m.
[edit] Splurge

* Harijyu (はり重) 1-9-17 Dōtonbori Chuō-ku, 06-6211-7777 11:30AM-9:30PM Closed on T except Dec [12] (partly English), Shabu-shabu or sukiyaki in Japanese tatami rooms. No reservations are taken except for large groups, so arrive early at nights (6PM or so) to be sure you get a room without waiting. Expensive, but not astronomical thanks to their direct involvement in butcher's. (Butcher's on ground floor, take-out obentō boxes are available.) ¥6300+ Credit cards accepted.

* Mimyu (美々卯) 4-6-18 Hirano-machi 06-6231-5770 11:30AM-10PM Closed Su. This inventor of udonsuki has turned the otherwise popular and affordable udon into a luxury hotpot (nabe) dish, served in its corporate secret soup. Shabu-shabu available, too. ¥5800+ for dinner.

Outside of Dotonbori, you may find:

* Tsuruhashi Fūgetsu (鶴橋風月), Hankyu Building 29F (next to Hankyu Umeda station), [13]. Good okonomiyaki as well yakisoba, with extra toppings (egg, cheese, etc.), all for a cheap price of ¥700-800, plus English menu and a nice view overlooking Umeda. Perfect!

Other budget alternatives would be:

* Saizeria is a very cheap Italian eatery chain with many restaurants not only in Osaka, but all over the nation. The food is simple but decent. Glass of wine ¥100. Typical meal ¥400. The cheaper dishes are actually better than the pricier ones.

[edit] Drink

* Common Style, 1-2-2 Nakazaki-nishi, Kita-ku, [14]. A cafe where foreigners can exchange information with Japanese about what interests them.
* Pig and Whistle - This British pub, on Midosuji in Shinsaibashi, serves as a meeting place for many local expats as well as Japanese locals.

[edit] Nightclubs

* Clube Joule, 2-11-30 Nishi-shinsaibashi, next to Sankaku (Triangle) Park in America Mura, [15]. Packed with trance lovers.
* Club Pure, Chuo-ku, Soemon-cho 2-3-12 Diamond Bldg. B1F, Tel. 06-2536-6278, (info@club-pure.com), [16]
* Club Heaven, Shinsaibashi. Tel. 077-510-0321. Gets very crowded when Club Pure and some other clubs are closing for the night. Very international crowd.
* Sam and Dave Shinsaibashi, 4F 1-3-29 Shinsaibashi Cyuo-ku Osaka Tel. 06-6243-6848.

[edit] Sleep
[edit] Budget
Hello Kitty room, Hotel Adnis
Hello Kitty room, Hotel Adnis

Backpackers have recently begun to use budget hotels around the JR Shin-Imamiya (新今宮) and subway Midosuji Line Dōbutsuen-mae (動物園前) stations, located in the southern part of the city center. Room quality varies widely and prices vary from 800 yen to 3000+ yen, but there are many options: see the Osaka International Guesthouse Area [17] for the full list of foreigner-friendly establishments.

* Hotel Chuo. 1-1-12 Taishi Nishinari-ku Osaka-shi.

* Hotel Taiyo, [18], 23-2-1 Taishi Nishinari-ku. Single ¥2100, twin ¥3100.

* Hotel Mikado, [19], 1-2-11 Taishi Nishinari-ku. Single 2100yen, Twin 4200yen. Internet, sauna.

More centrally located are capsule hotels, found near the major train stations .

* Capsule Inn Osaka, 9-5 Doyamamachi, Kita-ku (in the Higashi-Hankyu shopping arcade off Umeda station). Tel. 06-6314-2100, Fax 06-6363-3014, [20]. This is Japan's first capsule hotel, designed by noted architect Kisho Kurokawa and opened in 1979. Still open for business, happy to accommodate male foreigners with some semblance of a clue and a steal at ¥2700 for a night (or ¥3300 with entry to the spa). No women allowed.

* Asahiplaza Shinsaibashi, 2-12-22 Nishi-shinsaibashi, Chuo-ku (at Amerikamura). Tel. 06-6213-1991, Fax 06-6212-0954, [21]. A sauna is available, and there is a separate area for women. ¥2700.

* Daitoyo, 2-1-9 Nakazaki-Nishi, Kita-ku. (Near Nakazaki-cho station, Tanimachi-Line subway). Near Umeda, with branches at Namba and Juso. It has a hot spring spa, sauna, and a floor for women. ¥3200.

There are many business hotels in Osaka. Most offer single rooms.

* Esaka Central Hotel, 1-22-30 Esaka Suita-shi Osaka (2 min from Esaka station, Midosuji-line subway). Single ¥4500.

* Business Hotel OK, 1-10-11 Juso-higashi Yodogawa-ku Osaka, (3 min from Juso station, Hankyu line), Tel 06-6305-5021. Single ¥4500.

Last but not least, Osaka has its fair share of love hotels around the city.

* Hotel Adnis, Tennoji 5-5-15 (5 min from Kintetsu Uehonmachi stn), Tel 06-6761-0168, [22]. Love hotel with an S&M twist: check out rooms 303, done up like a commuter train, and room 501, the infamous Hello Kitty bondage room. Overnight stay from ¥6,500 (depending on room).

[edit] Mid-range

Typical Japanese business hotels are step up from a capsule and can be found everywhere. Examples include:

* Park Hotel Rinkai, Near Honmachi Station (Exit 28 from the Yotsubashi subway line, walk east for 5 minutes.) TEL 06-6444-0809. [23] A business hotel located in the center of the business district. Near Honmachi station offering access to 3 subway lines. Room prices are around ¥6000 for a single and 10,000 for a twin. Unfortunately, most of the staff can't speak English.

[edit] Splurge

* Hilton Osaka 1-8-8, Umeda, Kita-ku [24]. Across the street from JR Osaka station.

* Hyatt Regency, 1-13-11 Nanko-Kita, Suminoe-Ku [25]. A hotel opposite the World Trade Center and one of the higher end hotels in the area. This hotel is an official hotel for the Universal Studios Japan and one of the most expensive hotels in the city. A bit far away from the city centre with no direct subway line. Houses a chapel on its grounds too. Some Airline Crews use this one.

* Imperial Hotel 8-50, Temmabashi 1-chome, Kita-ku [26]. At riverside.

* New Otani 1-4-1 Shiromi, Chuo-ku [27].

* Rihga Royal Hotel, 5-3-68, Nakanoshima, Kita-ku [28]. Opened as the New Osaka Hotel in 1935, this landmark hotel proudly offers one of the best hotel services in town.

* Ritz-Carlton, 2-5-25 Umeda, Kita-ku (just down the street from the Sakurabashi exit of Osaka Station, behind the Central Post Office) [29] Japan's only Ritz-Carlton, pending the 2007 opening of a high-rise monster in Tokyo's Roppongi. This particular outlet was voted the best hotel in Japan several times, and has become known as one of the city's swankiest dining and meeting points. Rates start around ¥30,000 a night and rise skyward from there.

* Swissotel Nankai 5-1-60, namba,Chuo-ku, [30]. Next to Namba train and bus stations.

* Westin 1-1-20 Oyodo Naka, Kita-ku [31]. Next to the Umeda Sky Building.

[edit] Contact

* Opti Café is a surprisingly cheap internet café in Umeda. ¥100/30min. Yodobashi Camera department store's groundfloor, next to Excelsior Café. You are requested to register for membership but it doesn't cost anything.

* Y-net Cafe, Labi 1 Namba GF, Nambanaka 2-11-35, Naniwa-ku. First hour of use is free and no registration needed.

[edit] Stay safe

Osaka has a dangerous reputation (by Japanese standards), but is still remarkably safe for a city of its size, and the overall level of crime is as low as in Tokyo or other Japanese cities. However, some districts, particularly Shinsekai, may be a little dodgy at night and the Airin/Kamagasaki area — Japan's largest slum — south of Shin-Imamiya is best avoided at all times.

Incidentally, despite the movie stereotype of gangsters speaking in Osakan dialect, the actual base of Japan's biggest yakuza families is neighboring Kobe — and the most gang violence occurs in Tokyo. Unless you're dealing drugs, you're unlikely to get involved with the local mafia.
[edit] Get out

* Its location makes Osaka a perfect base for doing one-day trips to nearby cities like Kyoto (30 minutes), Kobe (20 minutes), Nara (40 minutes) or Himeji (1 hour). (Typical times shown on JR Trains available without extra express charges starting from Osaka Station.)

* The Expo Park in Suita, the huge commemorial park of the Japan World Expo '70, with its interesting Japanese Garden and Museum of National Ethnology.

* Church of light (茨木春日丘教会 Ibaraki Kasuga-oka Kyoukai)(Ibaraki), one of the masterpiece architecture by Tadao Ando.

* Minō Koen (Minō), a popular maple watching spot in autumn.

* The temples and lush greenery of Mount Koya, 90 minutes away by train, are an entirely different world and the perfect getaway when all the concrete starts to get to you.

* Akashi Kaikyo Bridge, the world's longest suspension bridge is located near Kobe, about 40 minutes away by train.

permalink written by  garisti on April 1, 2008 from Osaka, Japan
from the travel blog: Viaje por Asia
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