JAPAN for First Timers: An Adjustable Guide

Are you planning on going to Japan for the first time?
Being all excited?
Wondering what to expect?
Having a million questions?
Well, I recently came back from my first big Japan-adventure and let me tell you: It was just overwhelming; in a good way!

Geisha with phone in Kyoto
Beautifully dressed up for Japan.

As I had the chance to travel for three weeks, I know that not everybody has the opportunity to leave for so long. Therefore, based on my itinerary, I put together a travel guide that can be individually adjusted to your personal trip – for one, two, or three weeks in the Land of the Rising Sun.

日本へようこそ – Nihon e yōkoso – Welcome to Japan!

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TOKYO – introduction to 10 extraordinary neighborhoods

Tokyo – my first encounter with Japanese everyday life and culture – left a good impression and prepared me for more to come.

Students at Tokyo in Japan
A warm and fun welcome to Tokyo by these sweet ambassadors.

Tokyo – the first cut is the deepest, but this one didn’t hurt at all – so let me introduce you to 10 extraordinary neighborhoods.

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KAWAGUCHI-KO – taking a shot at Mount Fuji

I’ve heard that there are people travelling periodically to the region west of Tokyo just to take a good shot of Mount Fuji.

Mount Fuji seen from Kawaguchiko in Japan
This is the picture I wanted to shoot. I didn’t. The person credited below did. (Photo: Kpravin2, Mount Fuji Japan with Snow, Lakes and Surrounding Mountains, CC BY-SA 4.0)

This majestic, perfectly shaped volcano – that erupted lastly in 1707 – seems to be hiding behind clouds most of the time so that it can be a challenge – or a hobby – hunting the best view. Or at least a glimpse.

No, I won’t spend my leisure time travelling periodically to the region west of Tokyo. However, after my trip to Hakone had been Fuji-wise a wash-out – literally, I decided to take another shot – and this time hopefully not only at, but also of the mountain.

 

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NAGOYA – enjoy the ordinary

Tourist attraction wise, Nagoya has by far less to offer than Tokyo or let alone Kyoto.

bye:myself at Nagoya Castle in Japan
Shogun for a day.

I would say that brands like Mitsubishi, Toyota, and even Shinkansen – all settled in Nagoya – sound more familiar than the city’s own name.

I guess that’s the reason why most foreign visitors just skip Japan’s fourth-largest city located on the Pacific coast in favor of the more glamorous metropolis.

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CAMBODIA – a complete travel guide

“…now you can go where people are one
Now you can go where they get things done
What you need my son:
Is a holiday in Cambodia
Where people dress in black
A holiday in Cambodia
Where you’ll kiss ass or crack…”

This is an excerpt from the song “Holiday in Cambodia” by the US band “The Dead Kennedys”. Being a punk band, the lyrics are meant to grate on you in their very cynical way; and as a matter of fact, Cambodia has always been a synonym for murder and destruction and by no means a holiday destination; apart from Angkor, Asia’s most important sanctuary, that has been a World Heritage Cultural site since 1992.

Two monks admiring the model of Angkor Wat at the Preah Vihear Preah Keo Morakot at Phnom Penh
Also, monks were prosecuted during the Khmer Rouge regime.

Only when my friend Philippe told me about his plans of travelling to Cambodia, I took into consideration that it might be an interesting destination and a country worth exploring. I decided following his example.

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PHNOM PENH – Cambodia’s provincial capital

Phnom Penh hasn’t much to impress – hence it surprises by being probably world’s most provincial city with more than two millions inhabitants.

Phnom Penh
One of the main streets of Phnom Penh – still having a certain provincial flair.

It’s rare to travel a country and not missing much by avoiding its capital. Actually there are tourists who do not make it to Phnom Penh: They go from Bangkok to Siem Reap and from there straight to Sihanoukville from where they cross the border to Vietnam via Kampot and Kep; and that’s it.

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Guide to SIHANOUKVILLE

Sihanoukville has no great reputation as a beach destination – particularly with European tourists and travellers.

Beach at Sihanoukville in the Sunset, Cambodia

The beach at Sihanoukville is great for a couple of relaxing days.

But I find that already this picture shows that Sihanoukville absolutely has its nice corners and can be the perfect gateway to various great locations.

 

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KOH RONG & KOH RONG SAMLOEM

While Sihanoukville has a rather bad reputation as a beach destination, travellers are raving about Koh Rong and mainly the much smaller Koh Rong Samloem, two islands off the coast of Sihanoukville.

Koh Rong

Truth of the matter is that it’s irrelevant which island you’re on, the right beach is key: While the area around Koah Touch – Koh Rong’s main jetty – and Saracen Beach on Koh Rong Samloem are terrible dumpsters, Sok San Beach on Koh Rong’s west side and Lazy Beach on Koh Rong Samloem are dreamy and Edenic.

 

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Guide to KEP

Kep is located about 20 km / 12.5 miles from the Vietnamese border and maybe that’s the reason why it isn’t as popular as it could be.

Kep Crab Statue
There is even a crab greeting the visitors in Kep.

Because Kep has much more to offer than many people think – especially those who just come here for the next leg of their journey.

I spent one day here and that was only because I didn’t have more time. Kep is absolutely worth a visit of three to four days, especially if you also go to the secluded Rabbit island.

 

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KAMPOT and THANSUR BOKOR

Actually Kampot was my favorite place in Cambodia. But that’s because it is exactly how I like cities when I travel: used to some tourism so that people don’t stare at me like the circus came to town. And not overrun by travellers so that people are oblivious or even annoyed.

Kampot in Cambodia

Kampot’s elegant promenade.

It’s the perfect mix, and one day was far too short.

But since I had only three weeks for Cambodia, I had to choose and divide my time square and fair.

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