Saturday, November 1, 2008

Rafting & hiking in Japan

A suggested rafting and hiking trip to Japan for me would involve the following:
1. Flying to Narita return can be expensive, so I offer an alternative of flying to another city, even Pusan, South Korea and catching a ferry to Fukuoka. At any Japan major city you can activate your 1 week Japan Rail Pass. As a side option, consider an overnight stay in Fukuoka, Nagoya, Hiroshima at a Capsule Hotel. These hotels are cheap (Y3000-4000) and you dont need to book. You can leave excess luggage (secured) in the office. You can take this opportunity to travel around each region by rail to see Japan, or spend the nights bar hopping in a foreign city. If you like drinking, go for the budget izakaya franchises like Hub (popular for expats).
2. Accommodation in capsule hotel in Tokyo: There are capsule hotels in the vicinity of the major stations like Ueno and Shinjuku. Shinjuku and Shibuya are best for drinkers. Capsule hotels tend to be targeted at Japanese people, so they have Japanese names. Nevertheless you can book a 'capsule' through a shinkansen (rapid train) station Tourist Information Office. Ask for the cheap options.
3. Book your train ticket to Minakami: Go to the Reservations Office in a major JR station and book a ticket to Minakami. There are various adventure companies operating from there whom can help you with your trip, or go to to make reservations. You can check the travel timetable at
4. Next day go rafting at Minakami: If the adventure company does not pick you up from Joban Kogen Station, you will likely need to change trains at Takasaki or Numata.
5. Explore the options for mountaineering around Minakami, or if it is winter, you can travel through the range towards Niiagata, and there are several stations near the ski fields. Return to a capsule hotel in Tokyo.
6. Take your mountaineering day trip in Minakami or Matsumoto if you are looking for an alternative option. There are no budget capsule hotels in nearby Nagano unfortunately (, but there might be a budget ryokan (traditional guest house), or go a budget busines hotel for Y5000-6000. Otherwise back to Tokyo.
7. Narita City: On your last day you might want to stay at Narita City so you dont have to far to go the next day for your flight. I suggest staying at the Central Hotel or Narita View Hotel, as they are cheap and are close to the station. There are alot of tourist places around Narita Station including bars, plus one of the best shrines in Japan. You can catch a train to the airport in the morning. Or get an express to Ueno-Fukuoka if you are flying out from Pusan with Korean or Asiatic Airlines.
Using a Korean Airline can make particular sense if you are flying on to other countries as JAL only allows you to stay in Japan on stopover for 12 days. Japan can be an expensive place to eat. The cheap options are franchise izakaya outlets in the major cities, as well as discount takeaway stores such as Hokka Hokka Tei (Best!) and Yoshinoya. See my blog posting about the Japan Rail Pass at
Andrew Sheldon

Sea kayaking in Halong Bay, Vietnam

Vietnam is a gorgeous country. Outside the city its very clean and the government also goes to alot of trouble to ensure the tourist districts in Hanoi (Lake Kiem district) and Saigon are also kept clean. Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City) is the main gateway to Vietnam, which is unfortunate because I think Hanoi is the crown in the jewels. For this reason consider approaching Hanoi by:
1. Transferring to a domestic airline in Saigon
2. Entering via an airline that flies to Hanoi, eg. Singapore Airlines, Korean Airlines, Thai Airways, etc
This might be an excuse for a stopover in another country.
My suggested itinerary is:
1. Stay at Lake Kiem: When you get to the airport in Hanoi, you will find its a long trip to the city. In fact this is one of the most remote airports in the world. Ask the driver to take you to the northern end of Lake Kiem in Hanoi. When you arrive seek out the backpacker district. Ask a foreigner or a street vendor where the budget accomodation is. Its all located in about 2-3 blocks extending north of the lake. You could pay $US5-15 per night.
2. Familiarise yourself with Hanoi: Go to Queens Cafe and book a 3-day tour to Catba Island, try a few of the local bars in the area.
3. Bus to Halong Bay - You can make your own way or join a Queens Cafe tour. You dont need to pay alot, there is cheap hotel accommodation in Halong Bay for $5-15/night. Great if you can take a tour that gets you to Catba Island. Cheap & clean accommodation there.
4. Sea kayaking on Halong Bay: See
5. Haiphong City: Get a ferry from Halong City to Haiphong City, and find accommodation there. I found Haiphong to host the nicest people you could meet.
6. Return Hanoi: Return for flight back to point of origin.
Andrew Sheldon

Why holiday in Asia?

You will not normally here this question asked - but I have observed that people tend to display a preference for either holidaying in Asia, or sticking to western countries. Its true that they are very different experiences, and I would offer the following explanation for why people differentiate. I also observe that people tend to change preferences over time.
I think people look to Asia for:
1. Exotic values - Some people are seeking something unfamiliar, where they can take the opportunity to learn a new culture, study a language. Other western countries might be different, but they are far more familiar than Asian countries.
2. Cheap holiday - most Asian countries are sihnificantly poorer than Europe, North America or Oceania so they have a a preference for cheap Asian destinations.
3. Adventure - There is a perception that Asia is the 'wild west' and thus that they can have an adventure, and do things that they would not otherwise do in their own country. Whether its hiking a volcanic peak or temple, or playing around with bar girls.

Travellers motivations for going to other western countries tend to be the opposite:
1. Familiarity - There is a tendency to frown upon the value of Asian values and seek the safety, comfort and familiarity of western countries. Asia is hard work. You are struggling to avoid food poisoning, find foods you are comfortable with. Personal hygiene away from the major cities can deteriorate markedly. I recall the scrappy toilet I was forced to use in a cafe in New Dehli, India.
2. Work - Anyone looking for work in western countries wil have a far easier time in western countries. Apart from teaching English, finance or proramming, there are few job opportunities in Asia. That is surprising because they are strongly in need of western critical thinking skills. Thats not to imply they are only developed in the west, but essentially thats true for cultural reasons, though personal context varies.

Philippines tourism coming of age

Commentators have long commented on the potential for the Philippines tourism industry - identifying it as one of the 4 pillar industries apart from mining, agriculture, call centres & other outsourced business services. First tourism has had to overcome a number of problems:
1. Terrorism - For the last 35 years the Philippines has had a number of civil conflicts going on, whether its the Muslim Successionists of Mindanao in the south, Communists in the mountains - the NPA or bombs being detonated in airports and shopping malls. These incidents are bound to keep tourists away, even though lesser incidents of robbery and shootings might be overlooked.
2. Infrastructure - The Philippines still lacks an adequate level of infrastructure. The consequence is that tourists confront alot of pollution, traffic congestion, poor access to sites of interest and poor connections.
3. Service Culture - There is a poor standard of service culture in the Philippines, and it extends from the management of the country's biggest companies down to the lowest staff. Filipinos are under-trained and basically display little acumen for work. They have a sense of entitlement and place social relationships above work contractual undertakings.
4. Disclosure: I remenber when I first came to the Philippines. I could find only one brochure on the country, and said very little. The only sites seemed to be some very average beaches and churches, Nothing much has changed in this respect. I dont get the sense that the Philippines is creating a culture of distinction. This is not for government, but they can support improvements in education and training.
But this last year I am starting to see that the Philippines government is starting to pick up its spending on tourism, and they are increasing regional capital works programs to boost regional tourist jobs and develop new tourist based businesses, whether its deep ocean fishing, whitewater rafting, cultural centres promoting local artists or exports. It is encouraging, but there is still alot of work to be done. Perhaps the most important change is shifting the minds of Filipinos, to improve their attitude to work. They are really diluted into thinking their country is ok.

Cheaper travel in Asia

Have you noticed that the cost of travel in the Asian region is getting cheaper. The ASEAN group of countries have committed to liberalising air travel by Dec-08. This might partly explain the plethora of new discount airlines in the region. This will no doubt create opportunities for tourist services. Some years ago I remember reading how alot of Asian resorts were struggling to make money. Successful people thought it was a good social networking strategy to have their own resorts, but few made money. The problem was:
1. There was too many
2. Foreigners were staying away because of terrorist threat
3. Alot of them are just not any good
4. Too many of them resembled prisons more than paradises, with high walls to keep the peasants out and the guests in. But its hard to keep the peasants out because they can approach guests from the sea, offering all types of things from souvenirs to boat rides.
5. Alot of them were too expensive.
The Philippines was particularly bad in this respect. The beaches in the Philippines are not particularly good, no one can be bothered cleaning them. Its not just Filipinos, alot of the rubbish comes from China. You need only exam what washes up on the beaches. Thats not to say there are not nice places in Asia. The problem is that there is little 'big project' money yet to develop these places.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Holiday activities

Some people are happy just to wind down by going for a holiday to relax. I personally can't relate to this. I can't just go to a resort and lie in the sun or sleep. That is not my idea of a holiday. I always want to be active. If I am at a resort, then I want to go canoeing. If I am in a deck chair by the pool I want to read a book.

The activities I like to do when I go away are:
1. Mountain biking
2. Whitewater canoeing
3. Horse riding - not in a paddock - but trails that get you up into the mountains
4. Hiking - particularly in the mountains or along the coastline
5. Snow skiing

But there are competitive activities I enjoy such as:
1. Table tennis
2. Billiards/8-ball
3. Soccer

Having reached almost 40yo I find that I have no particular interest in going out and drinking in bars anymore. Wasted alot of time doing that. On the rare occasion that you would meet interesting people, they would just want to 'relax' and be superficial. In seems to be a defining difference between me and other people, that they want to loose focus and do nothing, whereas I tend to 'switch focus'. Thats not to say that I am so serious or competitive, but I dont feel threatened by these activities, but I sense that these people are.

There seems to be too few activities out there for intellectuals. I want to differentiate true intellectuals from those who are very selective in the topics they cover. I think an intellectual is open to all issues, and does not just 'read' material, he studies it, dissects it, breaks it down to form new principles or takes new perspectives. This is what intellectuals do. But I am sure there alot of pseudo-intellectuals out there who dont do this. These artists or business people are generally more interested in 'social networking' than in discovering any truth. These people just want to get somewhere - fine - but without any respect for truth. Instead their way of getting somewhere is through other people - favours, support or beneficiaries. There seem few that respect things in themselves - for the utility they provide. Its more about the social climb. Maybe that notion would be attractive if I would meet people that challenge. Well I do....but they seem too inclined to run away.

So I'm left reading books. If you want to find people at their best - read their books.
Andrew Sheldon

Planned vs Unplanned holidays?

We all face the question of whether we should plan a holiday or just see where the breeze takes you.

Maybe we should also differentiate planning from preparing a holiday. I think every holiday requires preparation. But there is a difference between putting petrol in the car, and checking the oil, and from working out where you are going to be at 12 noon tomorrow, and deciding where you are going to eat and stay. I think there is a difference between making a hotel booking and printing out a list of possible places you can stay at. Such planning means nothing if you dont have some constraints:
1. Some idea of what you want to do
2. Some idea of where you are going to go

So what are the benefits of a planned holiday?
1. You have everything organised
2. You dont waste time
3. You have certain expectancies - but these might threaten you. eg. That pre-paid flight you missed, or your favour hotel, which was under renovation, or that special beach, which was decimated by a recent storm.
4. Plans are by necessity a simplification of life. Trying to follow them can only simplify your life experience.

So what are the benefits of a prepared holiday?
1. You are more flexible
2. You have no expectations
3. You are less likely to be disappointed
4. You are more likely to be surprised

There is no question you need to prepare. You need to sleep somewhere, so if you dont anticipate 'no vacancies' you will disrupt rather than enrich your holiday experience. But these issues need not bind you if you plan your holiday accordingly. eg. Taking a campervan allows you to stay almost anywhere. But thats not to say you should. Its just so you have the choice.