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