Category Archives: Japan

Travel Apps That Saved Me

Before I get into detailed posts about my trip to China and Japan, I must rave about the travel apps that revolutionized my traveling.

I turned off cellular data on my iPad and iPhone so as not to incur a bagillion dollar bill, but downloaded offline maps for Beijing, Shanghai and Kyoto. At the time, I had no idea how useful these maps would be. Unlike paper maps, these apps use GPS to mark my location and direction even when I’m offline. So, for example, if I get out of the subway and have no idea which direction to go in, I simply check the app. As I wandered around the western parks of Kyoto with no English signs, I pulled out my iPad and made my way to my next destination. Gone are the days of walking 15 minutes north only to realize that I meant to walk south!

Some people say getting lost is part of the fun of traveling, but not me. I hate getting lost. I like the puzzle of figuring out a new city and knowing exactly where I’m going. But wandering around with absolutely no sense of where I am frustrates me, and to be honest, scares the shit out of me.

Since Beijing and Shanghai are large cities, I had plenty of free apps to choose from, and ended up using Ulmon maps. There may be better versions out there, but these worked for me.

Shanghai Map2

The app allows me to save personal locations with colored stars. Also, the free version clearly comes with ads.

Kyoto was a bit harder. Many of the options were in Japanese which was, for obvious reasons, completely useless. After an extensive google search, I stumbled upon MapsWithMe, and downloaded their Japan app. So far (I am still in Kyoto), this map is working amazingly and could not recommend it enough.

Kyoto map

Notice the little blue arrow that tells you my location.

 

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IT’S TIME TO GET EXCITED

It is officially time to get excited. In three weeks and two days, my sister and I will board a plane (two planes, to be exact) for China. We are finalizing plans, and I’m starting to get that thrill in my bones that makes me want to turn the music up to its maximum volume and break out some very uncoordinated dance moves.

Some of the things I am excited about:

(1) Hike the Great Wall: We finally settled on a guide and hike for the Great Wall. As you probably know, the Great Wall of China is huge and you can see it and hike it at many different portions alongs its windy route. We settled on Dandelion Hiking which received very good reviews on TripAdvisor and offers guided hiking trips at half the price than many other companies ($73 compared to $150 and up). So far, they have been very responsive and helpful. They deliberately offer “off-the-beaten-track” trips, which means I won’t have throngs of tourists obstructing my photographs. They recommended the Chen Castle Great Wall hike, which is about five miles and looks amazing.

Chen Castle

(2) The Shanghai Marriage Market: I just discovered this gem. Every Saturday and Sunday, hundreds of Chinese parents gather in the People’s Square, hawking pictures and descriptions of their single children, looking for prospective marriage partners for them. The People’s Square is right across from our hotel, and I am definitely going to this.

marriage market

(3) See the second tallest building in the world: At 2,073 feet, the Shanghai Tower is now the second tallest building in the world, behind the Burj Khalifa which I don’t expect to see anytime soon. Growing up in Chicago, I always took for granted that the Sears Tower (now the Willis Tower) was the tallest building in the world and would always stay that way. Boy has the world changed.

Shanghai tower

(4) Visit a canal town: There are a whole bunch of canal towns a short distance from Shanghai, and we plan to take a day trip to explore one of them. We haven’t chosen which one yet, but it should be fun.

Suzhou

5) Acrobats: We plan on seeing an acrobatic show at Shanghai’s Circus World. Maybe it’s a little touristy and cheesy, but I like touristy and cheesy, especially if it involves gymnastics.

acrobats

(6) Take this picture: There is something quietly beautiful about Arashiyama on the outskirts of Kyoto. I’m hoping the real thing lives up to the pictures.

arashiyama

(7) New hotels: You know you’re travel obsessed when part of the fun of traveling is trying out new hotels. In total, I will sleep in four new hotels from four different chains (Hilton, Club Carlson, IHG, and SPG). Woohoo!

(8) Mockingjay: What!?!? Why am I talking about the Hunger Games? Because I have a tradition of seeing movies I really want to see in foreign countries and the third installment in the Hunger Games series comes out the weekend I leave for China. I’ve already mapped out all the good theaters in Beijing and Shanghai.

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How Much Does It Cost to See China and Japan in Style?

I have finally booked all the pieces of my trip to Asia this fall. I will start off in China with my sister where we will see Beijing and Shanghai. After my sister flies home, I will spend a couple of days in Kyoto, Japan by myself. Here is the route.

Flight Map

Weirdly, the most expensive part of this trip has been my visa application to enter China. I could have applied for the visa myself, but I have limited time and even more limited patience, so I mailed everything to Allied Visa & Passport which was recommended by The Points Guy.

Here is the breakdown of all the costs:

  • Flight: Washington D.C. – Beijing (business class): 75,000 Aeroplan miles + $65.70 in fees.
  • Hotel: Four nights at the Hilton Beijing Wangfujing: 184,560 Hilton points + $99.91. I booked three nights with points and one night with cash plus points.
  • Hotel: Five nights at the Raddison Blu Shanghai New World: 88,000 Club Carlson points + $163.87. (I booked four nights using points and paid in full for one night, which I will split with my sister.)
  • Flight: Shanghai – Osaka, Japan (economy): 7,500 British Airways miles + $91.82 in fees
  • Hotel: One night at Indigo on the Bund: Free. I used my annual IHG free hotel certificate.
  • Hotel: Five nights at the Westin Kyoto: 40,000 SPG points
  • Flight: Osaka – Washington D.C. (business/first class): 80,000 United miles + $61.40 in fees. I will be flying business class to Beijing and then first class to Washington D.C. First class was only an additional 5,000 miles, so I said, why the hell not?
  • Chinese visa application: $140
  • Visa Service: $40 (normally it costs $45 but I should get a $5 discount for referencing The Points Guy) + $41 in FedEx fees.

Total out of pocket costs: $571.82 after my sister and I split the two hotel rooms I had to pay for. Not too bad. Not too bad at all.

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