MON­KEY AROUND

Sunday Herald Sun - Escape - - ASK THE EXPERT DOC HOLIDAY - KIM CULYER

We have five days to travel from Osaka to Tokyo. Would you do this by train and where would you stop off, if any­where?

DOC

Train travel is by far the best way to get around Ja­pan. It caters to the masses and does it ef­fi­ciently. It may ap­pear quite daunt­ing on your first at­tempt but, with a lit­tle plan­ning, you will have the sys­tem un­der con­trol in no time.

The main com­pany is JR Rail and most sta­tions have signs and de­par­ture boards al­ter­nat­ing be­tween English and Ja­panese. Ja­pan pi­o­neered the high-speed Shinkansen or bul­let train and th­ese ser­vices link the large cities while lo­cal and sub­way sys­tems op­er­ate within the cities and towns.

There are plenty of scenic vil­lages to stop off en route and your itin­er­ary could look some­thing like this:

Osaka to Nagoya on the Shinkansen, then lo­cal train to Nakat­sug­awa and 30-minute bus ride to Magome, stay overnight. Magome is a de­light­ful ex­am­ple of the Edo pe­riod. This post town formed part of the ma­jor route be­tween Tokyo and Ky­oto. The re­stored build­ings, stone path­ways, plants and mu­se­ums pro­vide a lovely overnight stop. Next, make your way by train to Tsumago and overnight there be­fore head­ing through Narai to stop at Mat­sumoto. All are well-pre­served post towns and uniquely have no ac­cess to ve­hi­cles. You’ll also be hard pressed to see a tele­vi­sion an­tenna or an elec­tric­ity wire as they are kept well hid­den.

While in Mat­sumoto, check out the Daio Wasabi farm, the Mat­sumoto Cas­tle and Jigoku­dani Mon­key Park. The cas­tle dates back to 1592 and pro­vides great views of the sur­round­ing area and an au­then­tic ex­pe­ri­ence due to its wooden in­te­rior and stone struc­tures. If you are lucky enough to be there around April, the cas­tle is a pop­u­lar spot to view the cherry blos­soms.

You will know the mon­key park from the pop­u­lar pho­tos show­ing the mon­keys bathing in hot springs sur­rounded by snow. The park is open all year round but the bathing mon­keys are more typ­i­cal dur­ing win­ter (De­cem­ber to March).

To get to the mon­key park take the train to Yu­danaka, about two hours away then grab a taxi to the en­trance. (Note, it’s a 30-minute walk from the en­trance to the hot springs.)

From Mat­sumoto it’s on to Tokyo. A handy ser­vice is the Takkyu­bin lug­gage trans­fer. Here, you can have your large bags trans­ferred straight to Narita Air­port and travel with small and eas­ily man­aged overnight bags.

Your ho­tel concierge in Osaka can or­gan­ise this for you or, if you would pre­fer to look at join­ing a group tour of this area, see Ex­pe­ri­ence Ja­pan (ex­pe­ri­ence­japan.com.au).

US ROAD EN­TRY

Later this year, my wife and I will be fly­ing into Toronto to join a road tour end­ing in New York. I am get­ting con­flict­ing ad­vice on the doc­u­men­ta­tion re­quired when en­ter­ing the US by road. I have sought ad­vice from the US Em­bassy in Can­berra but have not re­ceived a re­ply. Can you help?

DOC

Aus­tralia par­tic­i­pates in the Visa Waiver Pro­gram (VWP) of­fered by the United States. This al­lows Aus­tralian cit­i­zens to ap­ply elec­tron­i­cally for a visa waiver when ar­riv­ing in the US via air or sea.

The VWP is also in place for those Aus­tralian trav­ellers ar­riv­ing by road, but it is not done elec­tron­i­cally be­fore your ar­rival. In­stead, you will be re­quired to com­plete a I-94W form at the bor­der cross­ing. This will then al­low you a visit to the US for up to 90 days. The green form will be sta­pled into your pass­port af­ter you are pho­tographed and fin­ger­printed, but it must be sur­ren­dered at the end of your trip to avoid any fu­ture prob­lems en­ter­ing the coun­try.

COM­MU­NITY SUP­PORT

We have taken our fam­ily on many won­der­ful hol­i­days but feel our chil­dren do not ap­pre­ci­ate what our world is re­ally made of. We would like to take our next fam­ily hol­i­day to sup­port a com­mu­nity in need. Our youngest child is 10 years old.

DOC

You could look at Bor­neo Eco Tours (bor­neoe­co­tours.com). This com­pany is owned by one of South-East Asia’s award-win­ning eco-tourism lead­ers and pro­vides many eco-friendly tours through Bor­neo in­clud­ing com­mu­nity-based trips.

Specif­i­cally de­signed to pro­vide em­ploy­ment and im­proved liv­ing con­di­tions for the com­mu­ni­ties vis­ited, it also helps lo­cals build a sus­tain­able fu­ture.

There are sev­eral short itin­er­ar­ies on of­fer, in­clud­ing a four-night trek through the high­lands of Sabah to ex­pe­ri­ence the ev­ery­day life of ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties.

You could team this with a home stay, where over the two days your kids would en­joy the lo­cal cul­ture. Their days would be full of ac­tiv­i­ties such as rice pound­ing, blow­pipe mak­ing, tra­di­tional fish­ing, vil­lage walks and join­ing the lo­cal games.

In ad­di­tion, your fam­ily can also try some ad­ven­ture and jump on a quad bike or a buf­falo, ride the river in a tube and try out var­i­ous tra­di­tional cos­tumes.

TROP­I­CAL TEMPTATIONS

We are a group of four women now cel­e­brat­ing our 60th year and have been friends since we were 17. Each year, we go some­where to­gether. This year it’s Port Dou­glas. What can we do there other than the rain­for­est or boat and reef trips?

DOC’S TIP OF THE WEEK

DOC

How lovely that you are able to catch up like this each year. A Port Dou­glas al­ter­na­tive is to hire a car and ex­plore some of the lo­cal beaches along the Cap­tain Cook High­way in­clud­ing Palm Cove and El­lis Beach.

Use the car another day to visit the moun­tain town­ship of Ku­randa.

Stop in Cairns and take the scenic rail­way to the top, then the ca­ble car for the re­turn.

Head to Flagstaff Hill for spec­tac­u­lar views over Four Mile Beach and the Coral Sea. Pop into the Wildlife Habi­tat for break­fast with the birds or lunch with the lori­keets.

Visit the Sun­day mar­kets and the Reef Ma­rina sun­set mar­ket, also the 1879 Court House Mu­seum, which in­cludes the ex­hi­bi­tion of Ellen Thomp­son, the only woman ever hanged in Queens­land.

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