Japan Itinerary: Our Two Week, Kid Friendly Japan Guide

This Japan itinerary contains affiliate links which means if you click on one of the affiliate links and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no cost to you. All opinions in this Japan itinerary are my own.

Japan itinerary

Our Route from Osaka to Tokyo

When we travel with our son we take a slightly slower pace than we did before we had kids. If we try to fit in too many activities in the day, it is a surefire way to overwhelm him. So, we usually head out fairly early in the morning (he’s an early riser) right after breakfast and come back to our hotel around lunch time. He’s 4 now so he doesn’t usually need a nap anymore but quiet play time still helps him to recharge his batteries. The in the late afternoon or evening we head out for a while closer to our home base.

For this Japan itinerary we visited Osaka, Koyasan, Nara, Kyoto, Tokyo and Narita. So we didn’t have to double back we flew into Osaka and out of Narita. Our visits to Koyasan, Nara and Narita were just day trips but longer overnight stays would be fantastic for longer itineraries.  Our son enjoys visiting temples and traditional sites, especially if he can have ice cream! He’s also HUGE fan of technology, vehicles and robotics so this Japan itinerary was a balance between the old and the new.

Do You Need a JR PASS for Your Japan Itinerary?

Whenever there is talk about traveling to Japan people of course recommend the JR Pass. The 7, 14 or 21 day JR Pass allows visitor to ride many JR group trains, and buses but there are limitations. It is a good idea to enter your Japan itinerary route into a Japan Rail Pass Calculator like this one (there are others available online as well). We found that for our Japan itinerary we would not save any money getting the JR Pass. We also chose to take the Nozomi Shinkansen between Kyoto and Tokyo and at this time it isn’t covered under the JR Pass.

Days 1 to 3: Osaka Plus a Daytrip to Koyasan

Osaka Castle

The 5 tiered Osaka Castle is the symbol of Osaka and a must visit for anyone coming to the city.

Not only is the castle beautiful but it is surrounded by large grounds and Osaka Castle Park. It is a great place to stretch your legs after a long flight. There are also a fair number of food trucks set up inside the gates as well. You can also find people feeding the pigeons which our son thought was great.

Dotonbori

Best seen at night, Dotonbori is Osaka’s well known downtown area. It is full of great places to shop but most people come to see the brightly colored neon billboards and quirky signs of giant sea creatures which line the canal.

It is also home to quite a few well known restaurants. The lines to get into these restaurants can be incredibly long so it is best to get there early or try your luck at one of the less known places. We ducked into a small ramen restaurant and it was great as well! There are also sometimes free concerts along the canal in the evening. The day we visited we happened to catch Kamen Joshi.

Koyasan – Day Trip from Osaka

The UNESCO world heritage site, Mount Koya is home to more than 100 temples as well as Japan’s largest cemetery Okunoin. More than 200,000 monks have found their final resting place in Okunoin. This incredibly sacred place is also hauntingly beautiful. Green moss covers the grave marker and thousand year old cedar trees tower overhead.

Koyasan is approximately 2 hours from Osaka so it is an easy day trip. In bad weather though, it is best to check that the cable car is still running. We ended up traveling during one of the heaviest snowfalls they had seen in ages and ended up with more excitement than we bargained for!

Other Fantastic Sites in Osaka to Add to a Japan Itinerary

Osaka Aquarium
Universal Studios Japan
Shitennoji Buddhist Temple
Osaka Science Museum

Day 4: Nara Daytrip between Osaka and Kyoto

Nara is close enough to both Osaka and Kyoto to make it a daytrip from either location. We decided to stop over in Nara as we traveled from Osaka to Kyoto. There are places to store your bags in the train stations and at the Nara City Tourist Information Center.

The ancient city is home to some amazing sites such as Todaiji and Yakushiji temples. Nara is best known for the more than 1,200 deer that roam freely in Nara Park. I was a little worried about bringing a very excited 4 year old to see the deer but they were perfectly gentle. Vendors sell crackers that you can feed the deer but expect to get swarmed by a group of deer if you bring out a snack for one.

Days 5 to 8: Kyoto

Kinkaku-ji Golden Temple

As pretty as the Golden Temple is we felt a bit underwhelmed because there were massive crowds. We just happened to arrive exactly when several tour busses pulled up. You enter the gates and everyone must follow the same route shuffling along with the group and leaning over to take photos the best they can. It was just our luck that the sky completely clouded over when we went through. We stopped to grab some ice cream and suddenly the sky was bright blue and the crowds had cleared.


I don’t know if going back in a second time is allowed but I was able to duck back in and get a few more photos.  There isn’t much else to do at the Golden Castle but it is an iconic site so worth the trip. It is best to arrive early or later in the day to avoid the crowds. Or you can try your luck waiting for a break in the tours because as quickly as they come, they are gone just as fast.

Fushimi Inari Taisha

Along with tourists to this popular site, worshipers have been visiting Fushimi Inari-Taisha since around 711.  Inari is the patron of businesses and the god of rice. The shrine is well known for it’s bright orange torii (arches) and fox statues (messengers).

Fushimi Inari-Taisha shrine was so much bigger than I ever expected! We arrived early and made our way to the first set of torii (the red orange arches). Everyone around us was getting frustrated trying to get a great photo. Little did we know that there are pathways all the way up to the top of the mountain with torii galore! We tried to make the two hour hike to the top of the mountain but turned back about 30 minutes from the top. We realized that we were going to have to make it back down with a 4 year old in tow and we were all getting tired. The assent is gradual though and it is easy to explore.

Gion and Geisha (Geiko)

The reason I wanted to go to Kyoto was to try to see a REAL Geisha (or Geiko as they are called in Kyoto). We were successful our second night! You can read more about how we were able to find Geisha in Kyoto here.

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It takes a lot of patience though so we made sure to allot several nights to exploring the Gion which is Kyoto’s famous entertainment district. Even without Geisha, the Gion has many beautiful old buildings and is very atmospheric at night especially in the Shimbashi area.

Kyoto Train Museum

The Kyoto Train Museum is the largest railway museum in Japan with a stock of 53 trains and train cars. It is a 3 story museum with lots of interactive displays and hands on exhibits.


It also has Japan’s largest collection of steam locomotives and for an additional fee you can take a 10 minute ride on one! It is by far the most memorable museum we have visited in Japan.

Other Fantastic Sites in Kyoto to Add to a Japan Itinerary

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
Kiyomizu-dera Buddhist Temple
Nijo Castle
Monkey Park Iwatayama

Mount Fuji

On past trips to Japan we had seen Mount Fuji from a distance on clear days in Tokyo but we wanted to see it more closely. We also had no desire to climb it and how long can you spend looking at Mount Fuji with a 4 year old really? We found the perfect solution! The Nozomi Shinkansen which we had also been wanting to experience goes right past Mount Fuji on the way from Kyoto to Tokyo. You can see Mount Fuji for about half of the trip and the train passes by closely enough that you can get a pretty decent photo.

Days 9 to 13: Tokyo

Odiaba

We love Odaiba! During our visit to Tokyo we visited nearly every day. The Odiaiba area of Tokyo is a man made island which has been developed as a shopping and leisure destination. The Yurikamone elevated train ride across to the island is quite fun itself as there is great views of the harbor and Rainbow Bridge as the train track loops over the water. If you are really lucky, try to get the first seat in the first car for a drivers view!

Once in Odaiba there is plenty to keep you busy for days. Odiaba is perhaps most well known for being the home of the life sized Gundam statue which was taken down on March 5th 2017. A new one will be erected in the fall of 2017 but until then there is still plenty to do and see on the island. At Decks Tokyo Beach you can find a Legoland Discovery Center and Madam Tussauds wax museum. Toyota Mega Web is a Toyota showroom, and museum with attractions including test drives.


Right next door is one of the world’s biggest Ferris Wheels. The National Museum of Emerging Science (Miraikan) where the robot Asimo puts on daily displays is also in Odaiba. The list goes on and on so click here to read more!

Tsukiji Fish Market

The Tsukiji Fish Market really isn’t kid friendly. It’s a busy and active wholesale market and it really isn’t set up for tourists. The famous tuna auctions happen very early in the morning and are limited to 120 people per day who have applied in advance. Danny is a chef though and wanted to at least check it out. After 10 am when the majority of the sales have been finished the public is allowed to enter into the wholesale seafood area. By noon though most vendors have packed up and gone home leaving a very short window of time to visit.


I’m glad we went just to be able to say we have been. The vendors were very nice to us and we were given some free samples as they were cleaning up for the day. The area is wet, messy and there are forklifts and such rushing about so we opted to carry our son on our shoulders. The outdoor market is open to the public any time and is easier to navigate with little ones.

Asakusa District

Nakamise shopping street lines the way through the Asakusa district of Tokyo to Sensoji Temple (Asakusa Kannon Temple). The shopping street is primarily made up of souvenir shops and little snack places. This is where we ended up trying black sesame ice cream! The dark grey color was awesome and the taste OK but it’s not going to end up being on my top 5 list.


At the end of Nakamise shopping street you’ll find Asakusa temple which was built in the 7th century. Kaminarimon (Kaminari Gate) is probably the best known image of this temple with its giant lantern. This is a very popular site so during holidays and weekends it gets incredibly busy. Kannonura Street in Asakusa is also one of the few areas where you may be lucky to spot a Geisha in Tokyo. If luck is not on your side when you visit, Konnonura Street is still a beautiful and historic area.

Tokyo Tower or Tokyo Skytree

There are two towers in Tokyo which you can visit to get a great view of the city. The original bright orange Tokyo Tower is 333 meters high and is the tallest self-supported steel tower in the world with observation decks at 150 meters and 250 meters. The newer (2012) Tokyo Skytree is 634 meters tall and has observation decks at 350 meters and 450 meters.


We chose to visit Tokyo Tower. Though the views at the Skytree are of course more impressive it was the cost that made us decide to visit the original Tokyo Tower instead. To visit the first observation deck at Tokyo Tower it only cost us about $8 USD each, whereas the Skytree was going to cost us about $18 USD each.

JAXA Tsukuba Space Center – Half Day Trip From Tokyo

About a 45 minuet train ride from Tokyo is JAXA Tsukuba Space Center in Tsukuba city. You can join a tour of the KIBO (the Japanese science module for the International Space Station) Flight Control Room and the astronaut training facility. Advanced reservations for English speaking tours are recommended.


There is also a nice Space Dome museum on site. It is small but it has some nice mock-ups of real space equipment.

Other Fantastic Sites in Tokyo to Add to a Japan Itinerary

Tokyo Disneyland
Ghibli Museum
Tokyo Imperial Palace
Sanrio Puroland

Day 14: Narita

Narita Omotesando and Naritasan Temple

A lot of people go to Narita only for the airport. Just by chance we stayed at a hotel one night a bit away from the airport because we had an early flight. Bored and wanting to just get out and walk a bit we were suddenly walking along Narita Omotesando (path leading to a temple).


The narrow one kilometer street is lined with old buildings now housing souvenir shops including traditional foods and handicrafts, and restaurants. It twists and turns until it reaches Naritasan Temple (Narita-san Shinsho-ji ). Built around 940 the temple is and grounds are quite large and very popular. It’s a great place to spend a few hours before your flight!

Check out our other Japan Guide on the best places to find cars, trains, robots and rockets here!

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Japan Guide: Where to Find Cars, Trains, Robots & Rockets!

This Japan guide contains affiliate links which means if you click on one of the affiliate links and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission. All opinions in this Japan guide are my own.japan guide
There’s no denying that Japan is the place to go for technology lovers. Our son is a fan of absolutely everything mechanical so on the latest of our family vacations to Japan we decided to plan our trip as a balance between traditional Japanese culture and machines. In this Japan guide find out where to go on your family vacations in Japan to see cars, trains, rockets and robots!


Cars

Toyota Mega Web

In the Odaiba area of Tokyo just across the Rainbow Bridge you can find Toyota Mega Web in the Pallet Town shopping area. The car “theme park” is divided into the Toyota City Showcase, Ride Studio, History Garage, and Ride One.

Toyota City Showcase and History Garage

Toyota City Showcase is free to visit and has on display around 60 of Toyota’s current model cars. A really nice thing about this area is you can actually get inside many of the cars to check them out, even if you are 4 years old and not planning on buying a car for a couple of years! We could have left our son there all day as he dreamed of being a race car driver.

family vacations

On the second floor is the Toyota Gazoo Racing Garage with serval cars from the Toyota Gazoo racing team on display and a motor sports simulator. The simulator allows visitors to play the Playstation 3 game Gran Turismo 6 for free for about 5 minutes. There is a line but we didn’t have to wait more than a few minutes for our turn when we visited. Even though there is a height requirement of 135cm in order to reach the pedals, we were allowed to play the game with our son on our lap.

If you love classic cars you are going to want to check out the History Garage. The first time we visited Mega Web we completely missed it since it is not in the same area as the City Showcase. There are some really nice cars including a DeLorean which made mommy and daddy happy but this area is less interactive so our son was ready to go back to the showcase area quickly.

Ride Studio and Ride One

Ride Studio allows kids to give driving a try in their own kid sized cars. There are several different tracks and cars that kids can try out depending on their age and height. The price ranges from 200 – 300 yen. We visited a bit after 6pm one evening and they let our son try out one of the cars for free since they were getting ready to close up for the day.

Kids under 12 require a guardian’s signature to drive the cars and the rules were quite strict. Our 4 year old struggled to understand the traffic rules and daddy had to stay right with him the entire time on the course to make sure he followed the traffic lights. But he still enjoyed the chance to drive!

Ride One is the adult version of Ride Studio. Adults with a valid Japanese driver’s license or an international driving permit can test drive a vehicle of their choice around a 1.3 km driving course for 300 yen. There are a large variety of cars to choose from but advanced reservation is encouraged.

Other Japan guide places to check out cars:


Trains

Kyoto Railway Museum

The Kyoto Railway Museum was by far our favorite museum! It is a quite new museum that opened in April 2016 with lots of trains on display and to explore as well as interactive exhibits. It is a bit expensive. Adults pay 1,200 yen, teens 1,000 and kids 500 but it was worth every yen. It is the largest railway museum in Japan and you can easily spend the day there.

The 3 story museum has trains on display both inside and outdoors. There is a rolling stock of 53 trains and train cars including steam, diesel, and electric locomotives, Shinkansen, EMUs, DMUs, coaches and wagons. The outdoor roundhouse displays Japan’s largest collection of steam locomotives and for an additional 300 yen visitors can take a 10 minute ride on a steam train.

Ride the Nozomi Shinkansen

Riding the Nozomi train between Kyoto and Osaka was the perfect accompaniment to our train museum visit. The Nozomi is the fastest train service in Japan on the Takaido/Sanyo Shinkansen lines and reaches up to 300km/hour. For a portion of the trip the tracks pass right by Mount Fuji giving a fantastic view for quite some time!

Other Japan guide places to check out trains:


Rockets

JAXA Tsukuba Space Center

To be honest, I think my impression of this museum was influenced by the fact that it took us so very long to get there. It is only about a 45 minute train ride from Tokyo if you take the express train. Make sure you take the express train! If you don’t you’re looking at a very slow train that stops at every station and takes hours. Want to make a guess as to which train we accidentally took?

So, when we got to the museum we were tried and grumpy. We walked into the Space Dome and wondered “Is this it?” The Space Dome is only one large room but it is free and has some interesting items on display.


Our son enjoyed the full sized mockup of “KIBO” the Japanese science module for the International Space Station and insisted that daddy help him to “float” like the astronauts. Kibo alone kept him occupied for about 30 minutes. There is also a full sized rocket in the museum grounds that you can walk around and a nice little gift shop with some astronaut ice cream which we all love.

If you’re in the area it is a nice little museum but I wouldn’t make the trip there a second time with a younger child. Older children and adults though can take part in a guided tour of the KIBO Flight Control Room and the Astronaut Training Facility.  The 70 minute tour includes seeing real-time operations of KIBO which sounds pretty cool! Advanced reservations for English tours are recommended since it is not always available.

Other Japan guide places to check out space technology:


Robots

ASIMO at Miraikan

We visited the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation(Miraikan) to meet one of the world’s most famous robots, ASIMO.  Four times a day ASIMO puts on an approximately 10 minute presentation. He walks around, waves, runs and kicks a soccer ball among other things. We were quite surprised by how smoothly ASIMO moves and expected much more jerky movements. We really wished that the presentation had been a bit longer or that we had been able to see ASIMO up close. After the presentation ASIMO disappears back behind a door. There are a few other robots and/or androids on display at Miraikan as well which you can get more up close with.  They also have a really good gift shop with ASIMO merchandise and all sorts of robots for every ability it seemed.

Gundam at DiverCity Tokyo

Gundam is not technically a “robot”. Gundam are mobile suits which are vehicles controlled in a cockpit by humans. But since this article does not have a “mobile suit” category and Gundam have “robotic” characteristics, here it is!


In Odaiba at Diver City Tokyo Plaza stands an 18 meter, life sized RX-78-2 Gundam…or at least it did until March 5th 2017. The Gundam statue has now been removed and by the first week of April the Grand Nikko Tokyo Daiba Hotel Gundam theme rooms as well as Gundam Front Tokyo will also be closing. Our family has a lot of great memories visiting the Gundam statue. On our last trip to Tokyo we visited maybe 5 times. I remember the very first time in 2014 that we suddenly saw Gundam come “alive”. We hadn’t known about the performances and were thrilled that Gundam moved and had a light show! We are quite sad to see the RX-78-2 Gundam go.


But fear not! In the fall of 2017 the original Gundam is being replaced with a 24 meter RX-o Unicorn Gundam and The Gundam Base Tokyo will be opening as well. We may need to make another trip to Japan to meet this new Gundam!

Other Japan guide places to check out robots:


Are there any other great places we should add to our Japan guide where you can see cars, trains, robots and rockets? How about some other sites to check out awesome technology in Japan? Tell us what you think about this Japan guide in the comments below!

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Should You Swim With The Whale Sharks in Oslob, Philippines?

oslob whale sharks
It’s not an easy question to answer. In recent years there have been quite a few articles and advocates who have encouraged people not to visit the Oslob whale sharks. In order to have the whale sharks returning to the area daily so that visitors can swim with them, feeders give the sharks fish. This has resulted in the whales having an unnatural amount of contact with humans. The artificial feeding behavior has taught the whales to associate people with food. They will now sometimes approach boats rather than staying away from them which can lead to injuries. Injuries can also occur if tourists in the water accidentally kick a shark. 

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The feeding has also resulted in the sharks having less variety in their diet as they spend more time eating the fish that are given to them rather than plankton and such. Some of the Oslob whale sharks spend up to 6 hours a day feeding instead of foraging naturally. In the future, this could end up causing nutritional problems. Additionally, the migratory patterns of the sharks have also changed. The breeding pool of the sharks or the spread of this vulnerable and declining species may be influenced by this. It is hard to say though as the whale sharks are difficult to study and concrete answers hard to come by. Obviously, the best thing for these Oslob whale sharks is to be freely swimming and living the way nature intended.
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Whale shark very closely approaching one of the feeding boats in Oslob

Having tourists visit the Oslob whale sharks is a relatively new practice. Back in 2011 photos of fishermen interacting with Oslob whale sharks were featured in Mail Online. The article was largely positive with conservationist Shawn Heinrich praising the bond that had formed between the sharks and fishermen in Oslob. In other places in the region the same whale sharks were being slaughtered by fishermen. It seems strange that a conservationist would applaud fishermen touching, riding and playing with the sharks until you consider just how bad the slaughter of the whale shakes in the region is.

In 1997 alone around 20 whale sharks were killed in the Philippines to be traded on the Asian market. Others were also killed or harmed by fishermen trying to protect their catch. Around this same time the 1998 the documentary “Whale Shark Hunters” hosted by William Shatner was created for National Geographic. The documentary aimed to highlight the issues surrounding the hunting of whale sharks in the Philippines and to help find alternative livelihoods for the whale shark hunters. This film lead President Ramos to ban the killing of whale sharks and manta rays in the Philippines. The Philippines became one of the first countries in the world to ban the killing of whale sharks.

The ban was a great first step but not all in the Philippines have welcomed it. The sharks can interfere with the catch of the fishermen who already struggle to make a living. Even as recent as 2015 in response to whale sharks and dolphins eating the fish in the major fishing grounds of Tañon Strait, Nelson Garcia, mayor of Dumanjug town in Cebu stated: “I want to kill those whale sharks…Man should be the first to survive, not the whales, not the fish, because we will be violating the Bible. God said, man have dominion over the ocean, the fishes, the birds, the animals, and subdue it. That is the order of God.” Tañon Strait is a rich fishing ground but is also part of the natural migratory path of large marine animals.

Whale sharks also still continue to fetch a lot of money in the Asian market. In China a single whale shark at market can bring in $30,000 USD or more, though the fishermen usually get considerably less than that. About 600 whale sharks a year were killed in just one slaughterhouse in Southern China it was found in an investigation between 2010 and 2013. Then in August 2015 the world was shocked by videos of a whale shark in China (WARNING: Graphic!) being butchered at market while still alive. While the sharks are a protected species in Philippines, China and other countries which do not protect the sharks, share many of these fishing waters as well as the migratory paths of the whale sharks with the Philippines.
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Getting the fishermen and local people to see more value in having the whale sharks alive then dead has been key to protecting them. It is easy to say “It is important for our environment to protect the whale sharks!” but when it interferes with your lively hood and ability to provide for your family the choice is not so easy. Groups have instead been working to educate locals and to set up profitable eco-tourism projects in popular whale shark areas.

Donsol Bay and Oslob Whale Sharks

Both Donsol Bay in the Bicol Region of Luzon and Oslob, Cebu are well known for whale sharks. They have both created tourism industries for their small towns around them. As a result the fishermen who once killed them in these areas now protect the whale sharks as tourist dollars bring in more money for them and the entire community.

The major difference between the two sites though is that the whale sharks are not fed in Donsol Bay. This way there is no unnatural feeding, no increased contact with boats, and migratory patterns are not affected. But it also means that there is no guarantee that you will see a whale shark when you go out in your boat even during the peak viewing season. In the past couple of years reports from tourists started to come out that the whale sharks of Donsol Bay were gone. People were sighting one or no sharks for extended periods of time. This continued for a few years and tourism in the area dropped considerably. Though it seems that the whale sharks have been returning to the area, it is hard to lure people back.

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By feeding the Oslob whale sharks, Oslob is able to guarantee a sighting of a whale shark to its visitors. Seeing a whale shark in a completely natural environment is much more thrilling but when you’ve traveled from far and wide and paid for the experience, patience is hard to come by. As mentioned before though, there are all sorts of problems with this unnatural feeding behavior. The sheer number of visitors to Oslob has also created issues.  In 2014 over 110,000 tourists came to Oslob primarily to see the sharks. Conservation groups have stepped in and regulations have been applied. Tourists are only taken out to the sharks from 6 am – noon each day. Time in the water or boat is limited to 30 minutes. If you plan on going in the water you need to be free from sunscreen to help keep pollutants out of the water etc. Anyone who touches a shark will receive a fine or even jail time.

This does not seem to be enough and suggestions of limiting the number of tourists or stopping the feeding practice have been made repeatedly. They are hard things to put in place though when a guaranteed whale shark sighting means tourists and tourists mean more money for the entire community which doesn’t have many other employment options. The Large Marine Vertebraes Project Philippines (LAMAVE)  is a great organization to check out if you would like to know more. They are working in the Philippines to research and educate, while striving to find a balance between marine conservation, and local community development.

Our Experience
We visited Dumaguete City in Negros Oriental which is just a short boat ride from Oslob so we decided to go and check out the whale shark situation ourselves. We fully prepared to leave if it looked like the whales were being harmed in any way. We stayed in a guesthouse just outside of the town away from the sharks and wished we hadn’t. In there weren’t many restaurants and our guesthouse didn’t offer meals beyond breakfast. Nearly all of the businesses catering to travelers seemed to be around the whale shark viewing area.

s0343844Before we visited the sharks we spoke with some of the boatmen, restaurant owners and other locals. They told us the stories of how in the past many fishermen in the area (or even themselves!) would attack or kill the sharks to keep them away from their catch. Now though they loved the sharks and wanted to keep them healthy and safe. Following the rules and restrictions that had been recommended by outside organizations meant to them that tourist dollars would keep coming into the area. If there are no sharks or the area gets a bad reputation the tourists will go and so will their jobs.

The people we spoke to at the feeding site took their jobs and the safety of the sharks very seriously. It seemed like a well-respected job in the community that many were competing for. Around 300 people work at the feeding site not to mention all the other jobs in the community created to care for tourists. Some mentioned though that they felt that some of the money generated from the whale sharks which was supposed to go into developing the town was being used by other areas in the region instead. I really don’t know about the financial allocations though.

dscf3571-2We decided to go out in a boat to see the sharks based on the positive stories we had been told. We traveled in August and arrived around 7:30 am. There were not many people and so the three of us were sent out in our own boat with 2 staff after the safety briefing. One staff member would keep our boat in place while the other took photos for us (for an additional fee). If you are a strong swimmer you can get into the water to view the sharks underwater though most people stayed in the boats. If traveling with a small child it is best to bring your own lifejacket since they may not have the correct size for little ones. 

s0173699We did not see anyone touch or harass the sharks. The whale sharks did at times though get very close to the boats of the feeders. They may have touched the sides of them. If feeding the sharks is truly necessary (I don’t think it is) it would seem that some sort of alternative could be arranged so that the feeders had no contact with them at all!

We had an incredible experience and feel really lucky to have been able to interact with these beautiful and peaceful sharks. We left with more questions than when we first arrived though. There seems to be no straight cut answer as to how to best protect the sharks. Though Donsol Bay seems to be the clear choice for responsible eco-tourism, I don’t think I would say that you shouldn’t go to see the Oslob whale sharks. The community genuinely appears to want to find a solution that is both beneficial to the sharks but also supports their livelihood. The whales may also have arguably been more at risk when these same boatmen sought to kill them just a few years ago. Rather, supporting groups which actively work to find a balance, and reporting mistreatment or violations when spotted so that practices can be improved may be the way to go. It is clear though, that more can and needs to be done to help protect these gentle giants.

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Hue Vietnam Travel Guide: Tombs, Towers and Tanks

hue vietnam travel guide

Things To Do In Hue Vietnam

Once the national capital from 1802-1945, Hue Vietnam is home to the ancient Imperial City (Citadel) and the tombs of several emperors. The ancient sites around Hue Vietnam are spectacularly beautiful and it was well worth the visit. Learn more in this Hue Vietnam travel guide!

Hue Imperial City (The Citadel)

Emperors of Vietnam once lived in this walled fortress and palace. Much of the structure was damaged or destroyed by battles with the French in 1947 and American forces in 1969 with only 20 out of 148 structures surviving but it still remains an impressive complex with ongoing restoration.

Hours: 8am – 6pm

hue imperial city citadel
hue imperial city citadel

Hue Vietnam Provincial Museum (War Museum)

This small museum doesn’t appear to even get a mention in the guidebooks but if you are visiting the Imperial City next door and are interested in military exhibits it may be worth a quick visit. The museum is in bad repair. The grass hasn’t been cut in ages and there are large holes in the pavement leading down to the drains below. Staff scurried to turn on fans and lights when we walked in like they weren’t expecting visitors. Inside the museum some photos, small weapons and other wartime paraphernalia can be found.

The only reason we visited (twice!) is that out in front of the museum there is a collection of tanks, a helicopter, a plane and other military vehicles from the Vietnam War.  Each vehicle has a plaque with the name of the vehicle as well as the year and place it was captured from. Our son was THRILLED to see a helicopter so close for the first time and excitedly ran back and forth between each vehicle.

Hours:  8:00-11:00 am, 2:00pm – 5:00pm (closed Sundays)

Hue provincial war museum

Hue provincial war museum

Thien Mu Pagoda

Built in 1601, Thien Mu Pagoda is the tallest religious building in Vietnam. This seven story tower is part of the temple complex on Ha Khe Hill just outside of Hue overlooking the Perfume River.

thien mu pagoda

Not only beautiful, the pagoda has strong historical, political and religious significance in the region. In 1963 the Buddhist Crisis in Vietnam saw the Catholic government cracking down on the Buddhists majority (70-90%) in the country and Buddhism. The crisis began when 9 unarmed Buddhist were shot by the army in Hue. Thein Mu Pagoda became a major organizing point for the movement.  In protest of this crackdown and the government’s refusal to meet calls for religious equality, Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc drove to Saigon on June 10th, 1963. There in front of onlookers, reporters and supporters he conducted self-immolation by setting himself on fire.

]Self-immolation of Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức. Photo by Malcom Browne 1963

Self-immolation of Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức. Photo by Malcom Browne 1963

In the background of this world famous image by Malcom Browne the car he drove can be seen. It is presently on display at Thien Mu Pagoda.

Tombs in Hue Vietnam

There are 7 imperial tombs just outside of Hue but the most commonly visited are the Tombs of Emperor Minh Mang, Emperor Tu Duc and Emperor Khai Dinh. We did not have a chance to go to Emperor Tu Duc’s tomb but made it to the other two. When visiting the popular tombs it is best to get there early in the morning before the tour groups arrive or later in the afternoon when they have gone. It can get crowded! We visited Khai Dinh tomb before 9am because there are a lot of steps and we wanted to avoid climbing them in the heat. By 9:30 the tomb was packed with tourists arriving in tour buses. We then went to Minh Mang tomb and even around 10:30 the tour groups were just starting to arrive. Any driver you hire should be able to advise you on what times to go to beat the crowds.  The tour groups seem to have very set roots.

Khai Dinh Tomb

Khai Dinh Tomb took 11 years to build and was completed in 1931. Before his death he visited France resulting in the tomb being a combination of both Western and Eastern styles. Khai Dinh’s tomb is the last of the large imperial tombs in Vietnam.  The dragon sculptures along the sides of this temple were the largest dragons in Vietnam though the Dragon Bridge in Da Nang likely now holds this distinction.

khai dinh tomb hue vietnam

khai dinh tomb hue vietnam

Minh Mang Tomb

The construction of this tomb began in September 1840 but by January 1841, Emperor Minh Mang had passed away. The tomb was fully completed by 1843 under the watchful eye of Emperor Thieu Tri.  The burial grounds include landscaped lakes, and canals as well as beautiful architecture.

minh mang tomb hue vietnam

minh mang tomb hue vietnam

Is Hue Kid Friendly?

hue vietnam

We went to Hue when our son was 3.5 years old. In Da Nang, Hoi An and Hanoi we saw a lot of kids his age and some even younger but in Hue he seemed to be one of the youngest. There aren’t a lot of activities aimed at children in Hue and there are no beach resorts so it’s less appealing to parents traveling with really little ones. It seemed to be more popular with families that had kids 8 years old and up.

That being said, Hue is not unfriendly to kids! Many of the sites are free for younger kids. The Imperial City and Tombs offer a lot of space for kids to stretch their legs and to explore and as a vehicle lover our son really enjoyed the small war museum. We would go out early in the morning and then spend our afternoons in our hotel’s pool or playing indoors in our room. There’s a lot of walking so a good baby carrier that allows you to carry little ones on your back like the Manduca baby carrier can be a life saver if your infant to preschooler is too tired to walk. But short early morning trips, ice cream and swimming pools made Hue a great place to visit with a little one.  If I were to go back through it would definitely be in the winter months! It was 38 degrees the entire time we were there in July!

Getting In And Out

Private Car

We traveled to Hue by car from Hoi An through Da NangHoi An to Hue it is about a 3 hour drive and Da Nang to Hue around 2. The driver can take the route either along Hai Van Pass or through Hai Van Tunnel. At a length of 6.28 km, Hai Van Tunnel is the longest tunnel in Southeast Asia and it can save you between 30 minutes to an hour on your trip between Da Nang and Hue. Hai Van Pass though is much more scenic winding up the mountain and along the coast.  Most drivers and tour buses choose to dive the route along the coast and stop at the top for a break and to enjoy the views. There are shops and restaurants at the top as well.

Cost for a private car:

Around $60-$75 USD

Plane

There are direct flights to Hue Vietnam from Ho Chi Minh City, Dalat and Hanoi. The flights from Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi arrive daily but Dalat only has flights every other day. We decided to drive into Hue and then flew to Hanoi.

It is also possible to book a local bus, train or a tour bus between the two cities. Tour buses seem to be most popular with group tours that are only going to Hue for the day but your hotel should be able to help you make arrangements.

Getting Around

Walking

We were in Hue in July and it was HOT. Even in the evening it was hot so we didn’t walk around too much. They do though have a nice park and walkway area along the perfume river. In the evening little shops and restaurants open up and it’s a lovely place to take a stroll.

walkway along river hue vietnam

bridge across perfume river hue vietnam

Taxi

Taxis in Hue are cheap and your hotel can easily arrange for them to pick you up. When visiting the sites it is quite common to arrange a set price and have the taxi driver wait for you while you visit. This means that many of the taxis you see waiting may not be available.  A couple of times we did not make these arrangements and were unable to find another available taxi despite being in the city. We did not run into any large problems with taxis in Hue but twice we were brought to the wrong end of a site even though our hotel had arranged the pickup.

Private car

We arranged a private car to visit the tombs outside of the city and to take us to the airport. I wish we had used them our entire time in Hue! They were absolutely fantastic and reasonably priced. There are several companies in the area but here are two we had contact with.

We used this company both times. We were picked up on time (actually the driver was early) in a fantastically clean SUV. Our son was thrilled since he had never driven in a large SUV like this before. All 3 seatbelts in the back were working. Our driver was safe, friendly and knowledgeable.  We decided to use the same company when we went to the airport and had the same experience the second time as well.

Website: http://www.stopandgo-hue.com/
Email: stopandgocafetours@gmail.com

We did not use this company but I was very impressed with their customer service. Their reviews on TripAdvisor are also high. We needed to make a last minute reservation and they were very quick to respond. They also have baby car seats available for small children. Unfortunately I was not able to connect to the internet at our hotel in the evening and when I finally got through to them they were fully booked for the time we wanted to visit the tombs. They offered us a discount if we would go later in the day or offered to take us the next day instead. We were short on time though and wanted a very early start to beat the heat so we went with a different company.

Website: http://www.tourfromhue.com/
Email: tourfromhue@gmail.com

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Hampyeong’s Herptile Eco Park

hampyeong herptile eco park

Hampyeong which is about an hour away from Gwangju, Jeollanamdo, is well known across Korea for its annual Butterfly Festival. Few people, even locally it appears, know about Hampyeong Herptile Eco Park (함평파충류생태공원 ). It’s hard to miss though once you arrive into the area of the Eco Park as the building is shaped like a giant albino Burmese python (they have a live one inside!).

I have not been able to confirm this, but I believe the Herptile Park opened only a few years ago in 2013. The facilities are new, well maintained and clean. The temperature is closely monitored and so on a hot summer day it was lovely and cool inside! There is a collection of more than 600 local and foreign snakes, frogs, toads, turtles, tortoise, and lizards primarily housed on 2 floors of the main building. Inside the main building there is also a theater area but there was no information about shows when we went. There is a separate building outside for some anaconda as well and a nice petting zoo and park area in the back as well.

hampyeong herptile eco park

I am not a big fan of zoos but the animals in these habitats seemed to be well cared for and the workers professional. We arrived at Hampyeong Herptile Eco Park at 9:30am on a holiday Monday and were the only visitors there at the time. They were still setting up for the day and it happened to be feeding time for the pythons. Upon seeing our 3 year old son heading their way the workers discretely put away the bucket of dead mice until he had moved past. Had he been older I’m sure he might have been really interested but I appreciated that they were sensitive to his age.

hampyeong herptile eco park

hampyeong herptile eco park

In the downstairs area there is a small climbing wall, and play and activity area for children. There are also some animals for them to interact with:  couple of birds out on a tree, a horned lizard, some iguanas and a tub of frogs. The frogs were upsetting. I’m sure they were very stressed with the kids reaching in. There was also an area where children can use nets to catch goldfish in two tanks and then rerelease them. Poor fish! Several times a day the Burmese python is also brought out for people to take photos with and interact with. It’s a lovely snake and the handler is good but a lot of people coming to see the snake were acting like idiots, screaming and yelling. The caretakers really need to inforce more calm behavior so as not to stress the snake out! But other than those things, everything and everyone at the place seemed to be working towards making sure the animals were well cared for.

hampyeong herptile eco park

In the back of the building is a small petting zoo with sheep, goats, chickens, and rabbits. It was the cleanest petting zoo I have ever seen! It’s free to enter and for 1,000 won you can buy food to feed the animals. The rabbits seem to have figured out that parents tend to give the food to the children and so one rabbit in particular kept chasing after our son. He was completely thrilled about this rabbit who wanted to run races with him. On your mark, get set bunny. Go!

hampyeong herptile eco park

hampyeong herptile eco park


Hours

0:900 to 18:00 (Regular)

09:00 to 17:00 (November to February)

Closed

Every Monday, New Year Day, Seollal and Chuseok

* If a public holiday is on a Monday the park will be open but the next day (Tuesday) it will be closed


Price (Discounts for groups)  
Adults 3,000
Children 1,000
Kindergarten 1,000
Under Korean Age 4 Free

Website: http://ecopark.or.kr/hp_snake/ (Korean)

Address: 전라남도 함평군 신광면 가덕리 306-1번지


Bus Schedule

* This schedule is subject to change. Call the Hampyeong Bus Terminal at 061) 322-0660 to confirm.

Hampyeong Bus Terminal → Herptile Park Herptile Park →Hampyeong Bus Terminal
6:50 7:35
7:50 8:35
9:05 9:30
10:20 10:45
11:10 11:50
11:30 12:30
12:00 13:35
12:55 14:45
14:05 15:35
14:30 17:05
16:20 18:05
17:25 19:40
19:00  

 

Dolmeori Beach in Hampyeong South Korea

Only about an hour drive away from Gwangju, Dolmeori Beach in Hampyeong is one of the closest beaches to the city. We usually make it out to the beach a couple of times a year but like many beaches along Korea’s west coast extremes in the difference between high and low tide can make it difficult to catch a good day for swimming. When the tide goes out at Dolmeori beach it goes waaaaaaaaay out! You were left having to consult tide times and charts if you wanted to dip your toes in the ocean.

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I think I can maybe see the ocean out there somewhere…

Earlier this spring we went to the beach for a picnic and found that the beach was gone! There were heavy construction vehicles digging up the beach and a giant hole was in its place.  To the left side of the lookout tower is a rocky beach with a little sand and it was great for our picnic but we were left wondering what had happened to the main beach! This month we were told that they had built two pools and we headed out this past weekend to check it out.

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They have built 3 new pools along the beach area and they are free to use. There is a very small splash pool less than half a foot deep. When we went there was no water in it. Beside it they have built a larger children’s pool that is about a foot to two feet deep. There is a shade covering for parents watching close by. This pool is chlorinated fresh water. 20160807_092845

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In the past Dolmeori beach did have a bit of an enclosure that helped to keep some of the water close to the beach when the tides were going in and out but it only made a small difference. When we visited on Sunday the tide was completely out but this new ocean pool was still full of water! It is enclosed only on 3 sides with the 4th side being the actual beach. They have also made the far end of the pool quite deep so more experiences swimmers can go for a proper swim.
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The water isn’t clear. It’s a bit murky with kicked up sand but despite this, I’ve been told that the water at Dolmeori may actually be cleaner than some of the beaches in the area with more clear water. I’m not sure at this point how they are filling the pool but even when the tide was out we could feel cold water temperature changes in some areas so the water was moving and not just sitting still there in the tank.

20160807_095527It is possible to go camping at the beach and there is a small area with trees with limited space as well as additional spaces along the sand. To rent an elevated platform area for the day or night it is 20,000 won – 30,000 won. Small tents are currently free but you are required to purchase a garbage bag for 3,000 won from them which they will dispose of when you leave. Larger tents may be required to pay a fee but they didn’t tell us the exact price. I would guess it possibly depends on just how big your monster tent is!

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How to Get There: There is a bus at the Hampyeong Bus Terminal that heads to Dolmeori beach. It runs from 06:40-19:30 every 80 minuets. It takes about 20 min to get to the beach from the terminal.

Address: 616-10, Dolmeori-gil, Hampyeong-eup, Hampyeong-gun, Jeollanam-do 
전라남도 함평군 함평읍 주포로 614 (함평읍)

Phone Number: +82-61-322-0011

Hoi An, Vietnam: Spending Some Time Around the Old Town

In 1999, the old town of Hoi An was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The narrow streets are lined with buildings from centuries ago and in the evening lanterns light their way. Hoi An is more than just this historic town though! Beautiful white sand beaches line the coast, fantastic restaurants can be found and it is about an hour away from the temple complex My Son. Found around 40 minutes south of Da Nang International Airport, Hoi An makes it an easy day trip or a logical second destination from Da Nang on your trip to Vietnam.

Accommodation

We booked our room at the fantastic Essence Hoi An Hotel & Spa. Just on the outskirts of town we were given a huge room with a fantastic floor to ceiling window overlooking the rice fields. Our son loved spending time just sitting in the window and watching the world go by. We witnessed some of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen there and even saw some rare iridescent clouds one evening!

Though being outside of the main part of town may seem inconvenient it actually worked out really well for us! Essence Hoi An Hotel & Spa provide free bicycles for their guests to use and they do have seats for children. The busy main road can feel intimidating especially with kids in tow but right in front of the hotel is a small street that follows the path of the river. You can take this small road all the way right into the old town avoiding nearly all of the traffic!20160711_192259_HDR
Plan your trip to Hoi An with TripAdvisor! 

As well as bicycles to use free of charge Essence Hoi An Hotel & Spa also offers a shuttle service several times a day to the old quarter and the beach. If you aren’t feeling up to going to the beach they have a lovely pool on site! They can also arrange transportation and tours outside of town for a competitive price.  

The hotel has a great restaurant and will even prepare special meals to order at breakfast for people with special dietary needs. If you’re looking for something a little different a bike ride to the main restaurant area in the old quarter is less than 10 minutes away. We found ourselves getting dinner at the Indian restaurant Ganesh a couple of evenings while in Hoi An. Ganesh makes some of the best Indian food we’ve had anywhere, including India! It’s no wonder they were packed the first time we were there but luckily they offer take out as well. There are a fair number of child friendly items on their large menu as well.DSC_4868Best of all were the staff at the hotel! They went out of their way to talk to us, make sure we were ok and were exceptionally friendly. Everyone made an effort to learn our son’s name and to interact with him as well as with my husband and I. He felt right at home and needed to make sure to say goodbye to everyone before we left. Essence Hoi An Hotel & Spa is family friendly while retaining a feeling of class and professionalism. We highly recommend them!

Beaches

The two main beaches in Hoi An are Cua Dai beach which is closer to the old quarter and An Bang beach a little further north. Though many resorts can still be found at Cua Dai beach, much of this beach was washed away by erosion in 2014. Climate change, bad weather, hydropower dams, and sand mining have all been listed as contributing factors and sandbags lie in place of the beach in an attempt to prevent the erosion from continuing further. Due to the loss of Cua Dai beach, many tourists now choose to stay at beach resorts in Da Nang instead and those staying locally have now moved to An Bang beach. Though An Bang beach has been affected by erosion too, it is not to the extent that Cua Dai beach has and efforts are being made to help protect it. An Bang Beach remains a beautiful white sand beach.DSC_4810We visited An Bang Beach a couple of times during our stay in Hoi An. The chairs were free to use when we visited which we a good thing as it was exceptionally hot those days and there is little shade on the beach otherwise. Unlike Da Nang where there was no one trying to sell us souvenirs on the beach, An Bang Beach did have vendors and some were quite aggressive, one man so much so that he brought me to tears. Only when I was crying did he finally leave me alone. In all my travels, I have never run into a vender on the beach as unpleasant as he was. The others were persistent but not aggressive.DSC_4884There are a lot of restaurants around An Bang Beach and even some small convenience style stores which sell imported goods. I spotted Lays chips and Cheerios here and nowhere else on our travels in Vietnam. Our hotel’s shuttle dropped us off at the beach road near An Bang Beach Village Restaurant. The restaurant will take your order and bring your meal right out to your beach chair. That was a lifesaver when a certain 3 year old didn’t want to stop playing in the sand even though it was lunch time! We particularly liked their scallops and their fish wrapped in a banana leaf.

Old Town

In the evening, the place to be in Hoi An is the Old Town. The streets are closed to cars and motorcycles and as the sun sets the lanterns are lit. A ticket is required to visit the old town but despite the government’s efforts to make it clearer, there is a lot of confusion still. Previously a ticket was only required to visit sites within the old town and not to just walk around but it seems that now you need a ticket to wander the streets.  Each ticket costs 80,000 VND for locals and 120,000 VND for foreign tourists. The proceeds from the ticket sales go back into helping to maintain the town. We arrived fairly early one evening around the same time as a large tour group and so we were asked to purchase a ticket. The other days we arrived later in the evening or through other gates and were not asked to purchase a ticket nor did we have our ticket checked. We were told that the ticket is valid for 5 days and so we kept it on us each time we went just in case but I have also heard that it is valid for 10 days.

A night market is also set up each evening where you can buy souvenirs or one of the town’s famous lanterns for yourself! Don’t worry about how you are going to bring it home. They collapse down for easy packing! DSC_4816Some of the vendors will quote ridiculously high prices requiring a lot of haggling. One shirt I bought was originally quoted as being $30 but I got it for around $7 in the end. Checking out other shops to compare what they are asking for helps give you a good idea of what the going price is. Other items we didn’t bother to barter as it seemed like a reasonable price to us, though I’m sure locals pay less. Something we’ve never run into in our travels elsewhere but happened several times in Vietnam is that a vendor would quote a ridiculously high price and refuse to negotiate. In that case it is best to just walk away and forget about it…sometimes though it pays to go back.DSC_4768After being dragged around by mommy and daddy in the heat to the market our son REALLY wanted a cheaply made green backhoe toy, the kind you see at the dollar store back home. The woman wanted $7 for it and absolutely refused to budge on the price. We went off and wouldn’t you know, she was the only vendor with a green backhoe! Lots of yellow and orange ones but no green. Daddy went back to try again and the woman absolutely refused to budge on the price…until her elderly mother came by and told her to smarten up! He ended up getting it for about $2.50 which is still more than it’s worth I’m sure but our little boy was thrilled.DSC_4782

DSC_4784My Son Temple Complex

Built around the 4th century AD until around the 14th century AD, the My Son Hindu temple complex is a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site just outside of Hoi An. Over 70 temples and tombs make up the site but it was badly damaged by carpet bombing during the war. Restoration and maintenance of remaining buildings continues to this day.DSC_4798Day bus tours from Hoi An cost around $5-$7, not including admission to the site. It takes about an hour to get to My Son from Hoi An and tours spend about an hour and a half at the site. Private cars can also be arranged but we decided to use the more economical option of a group tour. In our case a small mini bus picked us up from our hotel and brought us to the site. There was a guide included in that price but because we were traveling with a small child we told the guide that we would visit the site at our own pace separately. This was perfectly fine. It took us about half an hour to walk the complex, explore a bit and to sit under a tree to have a small snack. The tour group spent about an hour and a half.DSC_4799The site is well maintained and easy to walk around. There is also a lot of wild life around My Son. I have never seen so many large butterflies in my life! They were absolutely everywhere! We also saw a really cool lizard. It is not wheelchair or stroller accessible in some parts though. We did see a couple with a stroller but they had to carry it over some rough sections and up some stairs to get closer to the temple. If you can bare the heat, a baby carrier is probably a better option. DSC_4804As interesting as My Son is though, if you have visited any of the larger temple complexes in Asia like Angkor Wat in Cambodia or the Bagan temples in Myanmar you will likely feel underwhelmed. In the summer it is also exceptionally hot. Unless you are a really big fan of temples, I would skip it in the summer if you are traveling with small children. In cooler weather though it’s a great place to explore for an hour or so.

Also Nearby
Da Nang is only 40 minutes from the ancient city of Hoi An. Click here to read about what we did in Da Nang!

Vietnam travel guide - 13th edition, 13th Edition Aug 2016 by Lonely Planet

Vietnam travel guide – 13th edition, 13th Edition Aug 2016 by Lonely Planet

Colour maps and images throughout Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots Essential info at your fingertips – hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices Honest reviews for all budgets – eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss Cultural insights give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience – history, people & culture, food & drink, arts & architecture, environment Free, convenient pull-out Ho Chi Minh City & Hanoi map (included in print version), plus over 86 maps. By Iain Stewart , Benedict Walker , Nick Ray , Anna Kaminski, Jessica Lee , Brett Atkinson . 13th Edition Aug 2016. . 520 pages, 192 pp colour, 93 maps.


Da Nang, Vietnam: Now is the Best Time to Visit!

DaNang Vietnam Vacation

Early morning in Da Nang

Da Nang, the fifth largest city in Vietnam is an up and coming tourist destination. Clean, white sand beaches line its coast and many Vietnamese will tell you it is the friendliest city in the country. With more international flights flying directly to the city over the past few years it is more accessible than ever but it still retains a lot of its original charm. The city is not as busy as Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi and many of the major international fast food restaurants are still absent but high quality hotels at a good price can be found all around the city. The 2017 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings will be held in Da Nang and the city is preparing to meet the demands of this event. Construction of new buildings can be seen all along the coastline and many of the big name hotels are moving in. This also means that they are working hard to crack down on corruption and scams. It’s a great time to take your DaNang Vietnam Vacation!

At the Airport – Flights, Visas and Taxis

Da Nang is home to the third busiest airport in Vietnam after Hanoi and Ho Chi Min. While it is of course possible to fly domestically to Da Nang from other cities in Vietnam, there are currently direct flights from Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Cambodia, Macau, Japan, Korea, Thailand, and China. Korea offers nonstop flights from 3 different cities and China offers nonstop flights from 13 different cities. Not surprisingly, there are a lot of tourists in the city from these two countries!

As Canadians my son and I both required visas to visit Vietnam. You can click here to find out if you also require a visa to visit Vietnam. Visas can either be obtained directly at a Vietnamese Embassy or through a visa on arrival service. A visa on arrival service can only be used when traveling to Vietnam by air. Since we live 4 hours from the Vietnamese Embassy in Korea we decided to use the visa on arrival service through Vietnam-Visa.comI was really impressed with this company! We paid $36.50 (USD) total to submit the application for the two of us and got the approval letter returned to us the same day! They were very professional and clear about what we needed to do when we got to Vietnam.

When you arrive in Da Nang you need to line up to get your visa stamped at a window on the left just before you exit to collect your baggage. They collect your application paperwork, photos, passport and $25 (USD) for the visa (this was the price for Canadians).  It is important to have the exact amount as they may not be able to make change. Less than 10 minutes later everything was finished. When we arrived we came on a flight from Incheon, Seoul. Since South Koreans do not need a visa to visit Vietnam for 15 days, there were only around 6 people in line applying for a visas on arrival with us.

Being Filipino, Danny did not need a visa to enter Vietnam. People from the Philippines can stay in Vietnam visa free for 21 days. Relatively few Filipinos do travel to Vietnam for travel though so there was some confusion when we arrived about whether or not he needed a visa. A senior immigration official quickly cleared it up for the younger officials though!

Before arriving we were warned about there being scams at the airport with taxis. We had a late flight and didn’t want to be worrying about that kind of thing so we arranged for an airport transfer. Since it was around 2am we ended up paying about $15 (USD). Their rates were much cheaper and around $5 during the regular hours. In hindsight I don’t think the airport transfer was necessary. The airport has the fixed taxi fare to different tourist destinations clearly displayed on signs at the taxi waiting area. There were also attendants helping tourists and explainin the rates to them even at 2am.

The Beach

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A certain 3 year old REALLY wanted to go to the beach so that is the first place we headed when we woke up. We visited both My Khe Beach and Bac My An Beach during our stay. The distinction between the beaches though is nearly negligible as the white sand coastline continues even past Hoi An! This beautiful stretch of white sand was what the Americans referred to as “China Beach” during the war. More locals can be found at My Khe Beach in the mornings doing their exercises and such and Bac My An Beach has more of a tourist crowd. There are areas along the beach where you can also tryout a jet ski, parasailing or take a banana boat ride.

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Something that we loved about the beaches in Da Nang was that there are sign boards up and down the beach with prices clearly marked! No matter where we went along the beach the price of a coconut or chair was exactly the same and there was no haggling. There were people selling sand toys near the entrance but not once did anyone pressure us to buy anything.

There ARE jellyfish in the water. Some hotels will insist that there aren’t because they are afraid that it will drive tourists away. Every day we went swimming in Da Nang and Hoi An we saw jellyfish. They are fairly large, slow moving and near the surface though so they are easy to avoid.  They are also in the deeper water. These are not the kind of jellyfish that can kill you or cause a severe sting. If you touch them you may feel some itching for a short time.

20160705_13121220160705_131154Our son was THRILLED to see jellyfish and so each time we went swimming, we actively went to find them. If you aren’t looking for them like we were you may not even come across them. We did feel some itching occasionally but it was so mild that we were never sure if it was from the jellyfish or just the salt water. Our son never complained about it. We had one day where suddenly around 11am a group of maybe as many as 20 jellyfish came into more shallow water. The locals told us that it was unusual and we didn’t see it happen again in the time we were there. Even then though we just slowly got out of the water and came back later.   

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Han River

Running through Da Nang is the Han River. There are a fair number of people around the river during the day but it really comes to life at night. Along the river are beautifully kept walkways. Children ride rented bicycles and self-balancing electric scooters, couples can be seen on dates and groups of men fish along the shore. Boat tours of the river can be arranged and there are a lot of good restaurants overlooking the river and on the streets behind. Our favorite feature of the river though was its fantastic lit up bridges. Both the Song Han Swing Bridge and the Dragon River Bridge are lit up with multicolored lights each night. The Dragon Bridge was by far our favorite! Unfortunately we visited (several times) during the week. On the weekend the dragon breaths fire followed by clouds of water vapor.
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Marble Mountain

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About 9km from the city center of Da Nang are the Marble Mountains. This group of 5 marble and limestone mountains have numerous caves, tunnels and temples tucked within them that are great to explore! During the war the Marble Mountains were a Viet Cong base and bullet holes can be found in some of the rocks. It is also said that in the large Huyen Khong Cave the Viet Cong had a hospital.  On the way to the mountains from Da Nang you can also still see the aircraft hangers from the US base which was there. Before, during and after the war though the Buddhist monks remained in the mountains.

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The site does have an elevator for those who would like to avoid climbing up some of Thuy Mountain to the sites but it is not wheelchair accessible. There are steps and if you wish to explore the caves and tunnels it can get quite steep. If traveling with children older ones should be able to climb most places easily but with younger children it would be much easier to navigate the tunnels with a baby carrier than a stroller. We brought our Manduca back out in areas to explore this site even though it was hot! There are plenty of places to sit in some shade though and vendors selling drinks with only a small markup.

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Also Nearby

Da Nang is also a great place to start off from if you plan to explore other cities of interest in the area! 

Da Nang is about 2 hours from the ancient capital city Hue and about 40 minutes to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hoi An .