Japan is a country that is full of wonder. Bursting with culture and totally enchanting in its own unique way. For this reason, you’ll want to dive straight in when you arrive, instead of constantly worrying about money. Yes, traveling in Japan on a budget is totally do-able.
It’s true that Japan isn’t a particularly popular backpacking destination compared to other places in Asia. This is because it ain’t cheap. However, with a bit of planning it’s possible to explore this magical country affordably and still have an absolute blast.
We love to wander. To wake up each morning and say “hey what should we do today?”. We love being without a plan and letting the wind take us. However, it didn’t take long for us to realise that attempting to travel like this in Japan would be a rookie move if we wanted to stay on a budget. We needed to make plans in advance. This blog outlines some of the main reasons why.
There’s a reason why Japan isn’t usually included in backpacking trips. It can be bloody expensive.
We’d both always wanted to visit “The Land Of The Rising Sun” and the incredibly cheap flights on offer from Delhi to Tokyo made it totally irresistible.
To be honest, we booked the flights without having done much research. We booked a £140 flight to Tokyo and then said “why not?” to the £35 onward flights to South Korea 18 days later.
It was when we started to look into accommodation that we realised we really needed to get organised because although our trip was 3 weeks away, there was very little on offer that was affordable to us. We actually started to think that booking flights may have been a mistake. We wondered if heading to Japan would end up cutting our entire trip really short because of how much of our overall budget we’d end up eating into. We really weren’t sure if we could make it work without spending a fortune.
But we did.
In the end it came down to some serious research and a good understanding of how all the different elements of the trip were connected.
Here are some of the reasons we feel planning your trip to Japan in advance is so important.
Having no plans ever is quite strange, but is often the case when you’re traveling long term. There had pretty much been one date in our calendar since we left the UK and that was the date that Tom’s parents would be arriving in Goa, where we would meet them for some r’n’r and family time by the sea at the end of their 3 week adventure around India. We did however decide on two things pretty early on. The first was that 5 days with the fam was not enough and the second was that there needed to some element of surprise to our time together. This combined with the fact that we LOVE MUMBAI meant we decided to fly into India early and meet Chrissie and Nig 5 days earlier than they were expecting, at the airport in Bombay.
We were both so excited and were seriously counting down the days until we got to see Tom’s parents Aside from the fact that we missed them and were excited to catch up and have massive hugs, we really couldn’t wait to experience India with them. They had been sending us regular whatsapps with wonderful photos of places they had been, all the while we were pretending to still be in Malaysia.
We took a bus from Kuala Lumpur to Penang and because sometimes really great stuff just happens, we arrived just in time for George Town’s annual art festival.
George Town is, at the best of times a hugely vibrant and quirky city so to be there during George Town festival was nothing short of amazing.
We had a couple of spare weeks between when we were due to leave Cambodia and when we were due to arrive back in India to meet Tom’s parents. We decided to spend them in Malaysia since it was the cheapest place to get to and because why not.
The city of Kuala Lumpur conjured up images of high rises, shopping malls and bustling city life. These things all turned out to exist in abundance, but what was so fascinating was that in and amongst them was an array of culture, colour and soul. Beautiful old Buddhist temples sat opposite luxury shopping villages and businessmen enjoyed lunch at tiny local eateries. We didn’t have nearly long enough to explore all that Kuala Lumpur had to offer but in the four days we did spend there, we saw, ate and experienced so much more than we had anticipated.
We stayed in a great little air b’n’b with a charming guy called Zobran, who had moved to Malaysia from Bangladesh to study and work. He gave us an interesting and heartbreaking insight into village life in Bangladesh. Having grown up in a village which had only had electricity for the past 10 years and he described as being incredibly unsafe, he was happy to be living in Kuala Lumpur.
It’s thought that there are only around 80 Irrawaddy dolphins left in the Mekong river. Tragically this is believed to be largely due to unmanned gill nets. While the use of these nets was prohibited by Cambodia’s government, this is not the case in Laos where the population has decreased to only 3 dolphins. Back in 2012, 5 fishermen from Kratie town representing their communities, public expressed their commitment to protecting the dolphins and in a ceremony celebrating the importance of the creatures as a national treasure of Cambodia. Locals believe the dolphins to be sacred and have vowed to treat their living environment with care. The Irrawaddy dolphins also provide an important source of income through dolphin watching tourism.
We were apprehensive about visiting such a delicate ecosystem but after lots of online research concluded that the best way to conserve these animals was to give money to the local boat drivers who had promised to look after them. Without visitors coming to see the dolphins, there would be less incentive to defend them.
Kratie really is quite out of the way and you have to really want to see the dolphins to make the effort to get there. We are those guys, so we took an uncomfortable 8 hour bus journey from Phnom Penh to spend some time out on the water with absolutely no guarantee we’d see a single dolphin.
We stayed at River Dolphin Hotel and this was pretty much the only place we saw any other tourists. One night, while eating dinner, we even had the pleasure of seeing one of them throw up on the floor. We were then lucky enough to be able to look at it for a good quarter of a hour before anyone thought it a good idea to clean it up. That said, it was a nice place to stay and our room was surprisingly cute, with several thoughtful and homely touches. The hotel manager was incredibly deadpan (we think) and we liked her a lot.
It’s not often that we have to be in a certain place at a certain time. When we need to catch a flight, Tom insures we’re there about 8 hours early. If we need to catch a bus, there’s usually another one we could get if we were to miss it. There was however only one boat heading to Lonely Beach on the island of Koh Rong on the day we were headed out there and so it was kind of important we made it on time. We’d stayed overnight in the anything but charming city of Sihanoukville so we could catch a boat from the port which was about 20 minutes away. We arranged for a rickshaw to pick us up from Dao of Life, a wonderful vegan restaurant and one of Sihanoukville’s redeeming features. (Note: we really did not spend enough time in Sihanoukville to properly review it but first impressions were that it was an extremely touristic built-up purpose-built city lacking the soul of everywhere else we had the pleasure of visiting in the country.) After a hefty stack of pancakes we jumped into a van/rickshaw hybrid and headed out to catch our boat.
Kampot was beautiful. Kampot IS beautiful. You know when you go somewhere and you just get that feeling of contentment? That feeling that this is exactly where you’re meant to be and that you have everything to be thankful for? Well, Kampot was that place for us.
Phnom Penh was a tough one. It hurt our hearts. Clawed away at our faith in humanity. This is a place that makes no secret of its brutal past. Instead, it puts it all out on display as a reminder to the rest of the world of just how dangerous it can be when power to falls into the wrong hands and as a way to honour the millions of people who died under the regime of the Khmer Rouge.
Battembang hadn’t been on our radar until pretty much the day before we went there. It’s kind of on the way to Phnom Penh and having heard a few good things about it, we decided to tear ourselves away from Caryl and Paul’s place in Siem Reap and head towards Battembang via a very beautiful 3ish hour bus ride.