Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Time For A Vacation?

Malaysian school holiday is approaching, and coupled with the fact that in December, we Malaysians will be able to have a long weekend due to the fact the Christmas, Awal Muharram and the New Year holiday are close to each other. Taking just 4 days of annual leave can get you a 12-day holiday. Nice.

It is inevitable that friends and colleagues wishing to visit Japan ask me for advice, which is quite funny as I am by no means an expert of Japan or traveling anywhere for that matter.

Even my boss asks for my advice on the hotels she is checking-in despite it being recommended by the investment bankers in Japan.

We can’t give recommendations on where to go or stay since our interests & taste are a bit weirder than most people we know, but we can help in describing the place, show you maps of train networks, lend you brochures, pamphlets or print-outs and tell you how exactly to get from one place to the other if you decide to use the trains while vacationing in Japan or if you want to go look for Ultraman.

Many of my friends and colleagues opted for an organised tour instead of traveling on their own in Japan and this is due to these two reasons:

1. Organised tour is cheaper than traveling on your own.
This to me is quite subjective. An organized tour to Japan can cost from RM3,000 to RM6,000 per person for a week’s worth of vacation.

The plus point is that you are able to cover a lot more places in a relatively short amount of time and have all your expenses taken care earlier on and you won’t need to fork out any more cash unless of you chose to. You also get to see all the mandatory tourist spots at the area you are visiting. And you can pretty much sit back and enjoy whatever sights the tour operators take you to, without the fear of getting lost or overspent.

The cons (for me, at least), for that limited amount of time and the usually hectic pace of an organised tour, I can barely appreciate the place I visited. Organised tours for me seems to consist of endless getting in and out of tour buses and waiting for the rest of the group to congregate at the end of each visit. An itinerary of taking a shinkansen ride for a mere 10 minutes just so that you can brag about having the experience of riding one just doesn’t appeal us.

What I hate most about organized tours is the early start each day. I don’t like having to wake up at 6.00am to get ready for the day’s tour starting at 7.00am. It is my vacation time, for goodness sake!

2. Language barrier.
Friends and colleagues will look at me with incredulity whenever I say that I can barely mutter 3 words in Japanese. OK, maybe more than 3 but I cannot string a sentence in Japanese. Whenever I uttered out some Japanese words, it was for survival reasons and the way I talk was mostly “Me Tarzan, You Jane” style. Hahaha

It can be hard and frustrating not having the ability to understand or speak the language but we got through fine with lots of hand gestures, pointing, blank stares (mostly by me) that passers-by took pity on, or just by muddling through and getting completely lost in the process.

On another note, vacationing in Japan now is far too expensive for our liking. The exchange rate used to be a reasonable RM3 to RM3.2 for 100 yen. Now, the rate is RM3.90 to 100 yen!

What about you? Do you prefer the stress free organised tour or do you like to plan everything yourself?

We have a probable date for our Japan vacation next year, but looking at the economy, maybe we should just couch-surf and travel through our TV instead. Much more cheaper that way! Hahaha


  1. Wow..4 days leave for 12 days off..I didn't check my calender..thanks for the info :) I always look fwd to the year end hols..very Christmasy.

    I agree sometimes travelling with tours can be a letdown. But saves money...for places like Europe which is so expensive going ard on your own (if you don't wish to be backpacker lugging all that heavy load everywhere).

  2. @MBL,
    which is why I love Japan - you can pretty much send everything and anything using the highly efficient and definitely reliable takkyubin service. Save the hassle of lugging around our luggage.

  3. For me independent travel is a must, go where you want see things at your own pace etc.

    When I travelled from Singapore to Bangkok a few years ago it was great, no hassle and lots of great people to meet along the way.

    I'll never forget sitting near the pier in Butterworth waiting for the ferry to Penang, just me a cup of tea and a Frenchman who was doing the same.

    Brilliant watching the sun come up while those on package tours were still in bed!

  4. @Mike,
    I agree. Travelling at one's own pace is definitely better than being harried to follow a fixed schedule.

    I kinda miss sleeping wherever as I am now travelling with a child. A nice comfy bed is a must now! :)

  5. Definitely free and easy for me. We had a bad experience once in the only tour group that we went to - we were asked to go to the front of the bus and introduce ourselves and had to take turns to sing and entertain the rest. It was a nightmare.

    Yes, planning can be a hassle but it's not that difficult with the amount of resources online. Of course, Google Map helps quite a bit as well.

    Given a choice, I would prefer to spend more time in a place than to be hurried around like cattle. :)

  6. For me, if it's the first time I go to that country, I will follow tours. I want to know the famous tourist attractions and also save money. And if I like that country enough for a second or third visit, I will go on my own after that. Yes, Japan is incredibly expensive. I think I'll just stick to either Thailand, Bali or Hong Kong : )

  7. Unfortunately I can no longer use the Japan Railpass, but I used to just get on a train and see where I ended up. Covered quite a lot of Japan in that way.

  8. @CK,
    but planning for a trip is a part of the fun going for a vacation, right? For us, we simply love poring over brochures, maps and scour the internet for info.

    maybe for those countries where transportation are not as easy to get, it is better to go on tours, right?
    Been ages since I last went to HK. :)

    those JR Pass, simply love 'em.

  9. Lagi teruk if they think I'm one of them. It's they don't expect me NOT to know Japanese. No pity!!

    Hmm, i heard that cheap tours tend to bring you to boring places where they coax you into buying their stuff so they can make money off you. Is that true?

    p.s. Haha, maybe your boss will enjoy ultraman as much as you do. Cool what!

  10. @Shaun,
    friends feedback was no fleecing by the Japan's guide. I kena when I was on tour to HK & China. :-(

    If I was alone when we were in Japan (i.e waiting for Zaini/Raimie to come out from toilet, etc) there were always Japanese ladies coming up to me and asked for directions or tourists asking me to take their photos! It was quite funny when those tourists immediately thought that I can't speak a word of English!

  11. I prefer to to be a FIT. :)

    I can manage my own time and itinerary. I don't have to go to places that I don't enjoy.

    I'm used to planning my own itinerary and going alone on trips. :)

  12. Uh, so fleecing is what you call it? Uh huh, i think it happened in China for that person too.

    Sooo, they thought you were Japanese?

  13. I'm all for creating my own agenda and planning my own itinerary. It's like taking a cruise I suppose. I want to say," I'd like to stay here as long as I like." Who knows, you may come across an area that you like a good deal more than others.

  14. @ECL,
    Very adventurous of you.

    I have yet have the guts to travel alone. Can't read maps! Hahaha

    ya la... Sumimasen, Nihongo de wakarimasen is one of my most used sentence in Japan. Hahaha

    that's true.

  15. There are many interesting, beautiful and fun places in Malaysia where I have still not explore yet. I'll try to visit as many as I could.

    Any recommendations?

  16. I like planning on my own. Though tours can be useful if you have time constraints. When I traveled to Hong Kong I did everything on my own and used public transportation and I enjoyed it very much that way.

  17. @ECL,
    how about Miri? Can visit Kok there! :D
    Seriously, the Orang Utan rehabilitation centre in Sipdan or Taman Negara would be on my list. For an ultimate pampering, Pangkor Laut would be my choice.

    I remembered the time I went to HK with a tour group. We visited all the touristy place, but I think it was secheduled just for the sake of being there and taking photos rather than appreciating each different site and its significance. I think we were left to spend more time at a dubios medicine shop instead. :-(

    I agree with you on the public transport. So easy to get around on the island.

  18. Generally, I much prefer to do it all myself.

    When I went to Vietnam and Cambodia last year however, I booked us on an organised tour. I chose that particular company only because it gave us a lot of free time to wander around places on our own and it had very eithical and educational philosphies about travel. It was great for our first time to those countries and was wonderful to have some other people to travel with.

    I hope to go back to Vietnam again one day, and now have more confidence to do it all on my own.

  19. @Melanie,
    Was it a good trip to Vietnam & Cambodia? :)

    I guess, if it were me, I'd rely on organised tour for countries like Vietnam & Cambodia too.


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