Sunday, June 30, 2013

Osaka Orientation

We stayed at the Hearton Hotel Nishi Umeda during our stay in Osaka. The room is small as with everything else in Japan. Upon entering you almost get claustrophobic. However the room was super clean and everything worked well - it was sufficient for the three of us to stay and sleep in comfortably. From my research i found out that double bed room is much smaller than the twin bed room we took. We really enjoyed the fm radio stations and the high quality room speaker as it gives us a somewhat happy mood :) we also fell in love with some of the songs. Do bring your own coffee / tea mix as they dont provide them here - what they provide are green tea and a weird kinda soup (i guess?) in a sachet. A mug or a cup would also help as they don't provide coffee / tea cup.

The Hearton Hotel Nishi Umeda is strategically located near the Osaka Station - a gateway to all destinations in and out of Osaka. It is also conveniently located 3  mins walk from the Airport Limo Bus Station (Herbis Osaka) - walking directions from the bus station to the hotel are in the pics section (the last 8 pics-very helpful) in this page. I would strongly recommend using the airport limo to get to the hotel as it is very near as opposed to using the train as you would have to walk quite a distance as well as facing a high risk of getting lost as you try to find your bearings inside the complicated Osaka Station for the first time. However, if you prefer to use the train, the Sakurabashi exit is the nearest exit to the hotel. You would have to walk through a small shopping mall to get to the hotel - i was made to understand that the mall will be closed at midnite and you would have to find your way round to the hotel. I would say that this hotel is the most affordable hotel with close proximity to the Osaka Station and airport limo and we will definitely stay here again if we were to return to Osaka.

Take Platform 5 at the Kansai International Airport to get to Herbis Osaka. Ticket costs 1,500 yen per adult - 1 hour ride.
Ōsaka Station (大阪駅 Ōsaka-eki?) is a major railway station in the Umeda district of Kita-ku, Osaka, Japan, operated by West Japan Railway Company (JR West). It forms the city's main rail terminal in the north. Read about the station lay out here. It will really help you to understand the station which is crucial. We found ourselves really confused even after a few times being inside the building.The Osaka Station is so huge that we can barely cover the station even within our 3 days using the station. We also never got the chance to explore the department stores within the station as its so huge. We only get to explore Yodabashi Camera - an electronic dept store which also sells designer bags (gucci, coach and the likes as well as clothings) by chance. We stumbled upon Yodabashi Camera while looking for HEP Five which we never found that day. For us its better to walk outside the Osaka Station towards the HEP Five as you can actually see where youre going as opposed to walking inside the building and get confused along the way.

Osaka Station at night

Yodabashi Camera Toys Section
Yodabashi Camera Computer / Electronics Section
Hankyu Dept Store

HEP Five. There is a Ferris Wheel on top on the building. There is also an H&M nearby - not inside the building though. Tip: All malls and shops closes at 9 pm on weekdays :(
Water Clock at the Daimaru entrance (if im not mistaken). Talk about precision, amazing!

Anyway, what's most important, try to locate the tourist information center which will be able to help you with planning your journey. The tourist info centre is also where you can buy the Osaka Pass, Kaiyu Ticket and other kinds of passes for your travelling purposes. There are quite a number of passes / tickets to consider when you travel in Japan. Among the few that I have come to know is the JR Pass, Kansai Pass and Osaka Pass. There also other such as the Kaiyu Ticket which is more specific. Which one to get depends on ur travel plans. JR Pass is really worth it if you intend to travel across Japan. For this trip, the place that I wanted to visit is concentrated in Osaka itself. So i bought the Osaka Pass - there 2 kinds of Osaka Pass which is the 1-day pass (2000 yen) and the 2-day pass (2700 yen). This tickets will provide you with unlimited rides on local subway trains and free or discounted entrance fees to various attractions. I would say that these passes are worth it if you intend to visit more than 3 attractions within a day. But for me, I bought it for our convenience of not having to look for the ticket prices. In Japan, you buy your train tickets based on how it costs, and not its destination. So, you would have to know how much it exactly cost to get from point A to point B. I'm not sure if they have something like the T-Money in Korea or Oyster in UK - if they have, it would be good for those who do not intend to go to so many places in a day. So, for a beginner, always always ask at the counter how  much your ticket costs and how to buy it from the machines. 

Tourist Information Centre (1st Floor). Quite near to Lucua
Osaka Pass + Coupons

The subway we used a lot in this station is the Umeda Station (midosuji line) which will bring you to a number of famous tourist attractions. From Umeda, its just a couple of stations away from Shinsaibashi Suji - major shopping district. Always make sure which exit you are supposed to exit from as there are many exits at each station. We got lost trying to find our way towards Dotombori and end up walking off tangent towards another direction inside the underground mall. And yes, the underground mall.... Osaka is famous for its underground malls - so get a map or else..... We did not dare go to that place at the risk of getting lost.. 

Taking the subway during peak-hours
 So, I hope this entry can be of help to those wanting to get some rough idea about how to get around Osaka.. Good Luck!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Surviving Tsuyu - Osaka

Our destination that I mentioned about in my previous post to replace our China trip was Osaka. We were grateful that everything went smoothly except for the quite bumpy flight to Japan. Upon finalising the travelling arrangements, I was not aware that it is now Tsuyu (rainy season) in Japan. I was really really worried prior to the departure cos what i read from the internet about the rainy season was not good at all. One thing which got me confused was that Tsuyu, which lasts for 1 month starting in June coincides with the summer season which is supposed to be hot and muggy. But in fact, during my short stay of 5 days in Osaka, that was not the case at all. Well, at least in June - it was nothing that fellow Malaysians can't overcome - we've had worse :) During the past few days, clouds were hovering above the sky, making it pretty comfortable to walk outside (but bad for photos). However, i do understand that summer temp will peak in July / August, so.. Going to Japan during Tsuyu is a big gamble, really. But we were really really lucky that it only rained a little during the 3 solid days we were in Osaka which enables us to walk outdoors. It was raining quite heavily on the morning that we were to depart from Osaka. 

One thing that I've learnt was that, the weather forecasts are not reliable at all. Different sources will give you different forecasts. So don't really depend on the as u pretty much will not know what will happen. So I would say, just seize the day! armed with an umbrella, of course :) Those disposable plastic raincoat are also good to have as the wind could blow ur umbrella upwards - happened to me, hahaha.. Just one thing to caution, from what I've read, after the rainy season comes the typhoon, so just be aware of it whenever u make any travel arrangements to Japan in August or September. You might want to google for more info just to prepare urselves ahead.

To me, Osaka is an underestimated travel destination. Most ppl just regard Osaka as one of the pit stop in between Kyoto and Kobe. Of course Kyoto is much more exciting but I do think that Osaka do have a lot of things to offer. Our five days stay (with only 3 full days) to explore is too short for us to make the trip to Kyoto or Kobe. We've only managed to cover one destination out of Osaka this time - which is Nara, a 50 minutes train ride from Osaka Station. I need more time to rearrange my entries and also pics.. So till then, I'm posting some pics of our adventures in Osaka...

Kaiyukan Aquarium
Shinsaibashi Suji - Major shopping area

Dotombori River Cruise
Osaka's famous Glico Man

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Travel Tool

Before anything, this is not a paid post and im not affiliated with Agoda whatsoever. This is based on my own opinion. I just wanted to share about the travel tools that i love to use. I have been a loyal Agoda customer since 2011. My first booking was for our trip to Singapore. Since then, Agoda is my first  choice to book for my accommodation. Ive tried using other websites, but i find Agoda's user interface suits me more. Its simple and its very eay to find things that i need such as accommodation pics (with an acceptable size) and user comments.
It also helps that they segregate the comments according to categories as i would be interested in the 'family with young children' category.

Apart from that, the prices are very competitive. You just have to know when to make your booking. I find it that prices are higher when its the holiday / school holiday season. When its the low season, u can get cheap rooms, which is practically a steal. Agoda also has insider offers for members which makes u feel 'special' in a way.

I also love its refund policy as it's quite efficient by my standard. I made my first cancellation not so long ago. Before that i was quite nervous as to will i really get my money bank. However, the payment was refunded within 2 weeks after cancellation made online (very convenient!). What's important that you have to carefully look at the booking terms before u proceed to book ur accomodation. If you're not sure, book a room with a refund policy. Most of the time, the cheapest room available comes with the no refund policy. Just double check that before you confirm your booking.

One more tip is to remember to contact ur hotel to confirm your reservation at least before you travel and you can save urself any problems of no booking info at the hotel. Not that it has ever happend to me before, but better safe than sorry, no?

Well, i hope this entry will become of help to anyone with a doubt on using Agoda, just do it already...! :)