"Thank you for organising our holiday (to China).

We had a great time.

All of the guides were on time, very well informed and easy people to be with.

We have seen so many things and eaten in local places where we would never have gone by ourselves.

We wouldn't hesitate to recommend you and if you would like more details of our adventures or a statement of recommendation let us know."

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"Arrived home safe and well and had a wonderful holiday in Nepal and Bhutan"

Michael and Eileen


"Just wanted to thank you for booking our holiday to Koh Lanta.

Everything was perfect and I can thoroughly recommend the Layana Resort and the island of Koh Lanta to any one who wants a laid back, peaceful, non commercialised holiday."

Jane and Andy


"I just wanted to let you know what a great time I had in the Philippines and Borneo.

Everything went without a problem. Great time, great pics, etc.

Thanks for all of your help with this trip"

Peter


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Culture & Cuisine - 12 Days


From the island of Hokkaido in the north where creamy uni (sea urchin) vies with dairy products for attention to the city of Fukuoka in the far south, widely recognised as the spiritual home of tonkatsu ramen, Japan is replete with gastronomic treats.

This 12-day journey explores the the very best of the country's culinary highlights.


Day 1 - Arrive Tokyo


Upon arrival at Tokyo Airport, guests will be met by an EXO representative who will help them board the right train or shuttle bus to the hotel.

The rest of the day is spent at leisure.

Overnight in Tokyo

Distance and journey time:

Narita International Airport (NRT) to Tokyo City (95km): approx. 90mins

Haneda International Airport (HND) to Tokyo City (25km): approx. 50mins


Day 2 - Tokyo (B,L)


Early this morning, the guide will pick up guests from their hotel to take them to Tsukiji Fish Market, which handles more than 2,000 tons of marine produce each day, making it the largest fish market in the world. After exploring the outer markets, guests will stop at one of the nearby local restaurants for a sushi breakfast.

Then head to Hama-Rikyu Teien, the former private garden of an Edo Period lord. After strolling around the garden, guests will be able to take a break in the tea house known as ‘Nakajima No Chaya’ which stands elegantly in the park’s lake. Here, they will have the chance to taste matcha, or Japanese green tea, paired with a Japanese sweet.

Afterwards, it’s time to see Tokyo from a different angle with a boat cruise on the Sumida River. The boat will head towards Asakusa, in Tokyo’s shitamachi or old town. Asakusa is the city’s oldest Geisha district and also the home to the Senso-ji Temple, Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple. The streets around Senso-ji feature many traditional shops that sell Japanese crafts and souvenirs and are a delight to wander through. Asakusa is also famous for its tempura, and guests will stop at one of the area’s local restaurants for a set course lunch.

From Asakusa it’s just a short walk to Kappabashi, also known as the ‘Kitchenware Town’. Here, the streets are lined with dozens of stores selling everything that restaurateurs need, such as dishes, pots, pans, cooking utensils, stoves, tables, chairs, signs, lanterns, and much more. This is also the place that sells the plastic food models that can be seen outside many Japanese restaurants.

The last stop of the day is at Ueno’s Ameyoko-cho, a busy market street underneath the train lines. Formerly the site of a black market after World War II, this bustling area is now filled with shops and stalls selling a wide variety of products such as fresh fish, dried food and spices, and is a great place to try some local snacks.

Overnight in Tokyo

Time:

Start (tour): 08:30

Duration: 8hrs

*including pick-up/drop-off and transfer times


Day 3 - Tokyo (B,L)


This morning, guests will make their way to the cooking studio in Tsukiji Fish Market for a soba-making workshop (comprehensive directions will be provided).

The class will be held by either Akila Inouye, founder and master chef of the Tsukiji Soba Academy, or one of the academy’s graduates.

The class begins with a short demonstration by a sobatician, followed by lessons in how to prepare the wheat mixture, work the dough, and, last but definitely not the least, the precise way of cutting it into 1.6mm thick noodles.

At the end of the lesson, guests will cook their handmade soba and dine with the teacher and the rest of the class in tachi-gui style, which means eating while standing up (the activity ends at the venue).

The rest of the afternoon is then free at leisure. Guests can simply relax at their hotel, head out and discover the busy streets of Shibuya (Tokyo’s iconic “scramble crossing”), visit the fashion mecca of Harajuku or explore another shitamachi in Yanaka.

Optional Tour: Tokyo by Night Tour

Tonight, enjoy a walk around some of Tokyo’s brightest and liveliest districts in the company of a tour leader, who will make sure guests experience the city’s most famous nightlife spots as well more local and hidden neighborhoods.

After meeting the tour leader at their hotel, guests will first head to Ebisu, where modern, western-style nightlife meets Japanese tradition. Bright neon lights will show the way to the most fashionable restaurants and bars, while more traditional lanterns will identify the many izakayas (Japanese-style pubs).

The tour leader will also take guests to Ebisu Yokocho, one of the most traditional areas of Ebisu, where lively narrow streets are filled with traditional Japanese taverns selling finger food, traditional appetizers, Japanese beer and other traditional drinks.

Here, guests can choose a bar and have a drink while the tour leader explains the history and the characteristics of the area (first drink included – other orders on own expense).

Later, a 20-minute walk (or three-minute train ride) will take guests from Ebisu to Shibuya, one of the hearts of Tokyo’s nightlife scene.

This area is home to the world-famous Shibuya crossing, considered the world’s busiest intersection with more than a thousand people crossing every time the traffic lights change. This is one of the most famous sights in Japan and definitely one of the best spots to take a souvenir photo.

In the middle of Shibuya’s bright lights and vibrant atmosphere lies Hachiko, the well-known statue of the dog that used to visit Shibuya station every day to wait for his owner. This is also a convenient meeting point that many locals use when they get together for a night out in Shibuya.

Next, a quick train ride will take guests to Shinjuku, which is home to the world’s busiest railway station and a very popular entertainment and shopping district. From the station, head to the Shinjuku NS Building, where dinner awaits at a Japanese izakaya located on the 29th floor. This high vantage point provides amazing views of Tokyo while guests have dinner (included).

After dinner, if time permits the tour leader can take guests to Shinjuku’s Golden Gai, a network of small alleys and narrow passageways famous for its unique atmosphere and tiny bars. From here, guests can either continue exploring Tokyo’s nightlife on their own or ask the tour leader to take them back to the station.

Note: The itinerary is flexible and can be changed to suit the interests of individual clients.

Time:

Start (guided tour): 18:00

Duration: 5hrs

Overnight in Tokyo

Time:

Start (activity): 10:30 or 11:30

Duration: 3.5-4hrs


Day 4 - Tokyo - Takayama (B,D)


Today is a self-guided day.

Today guests will take a journey to Takayama, a small town nestled high in the Hida Alpine region of Gifu Prefecture. The first leg of the trip will be via the world-famous shinkansen (bullet train), which can reach speeds of 260kph. The second part of the journey will be via the express train ‘Hida Wide View’ - one of the most scenic train journeys in Japan.

Suggested Self-Guided Itinerary:

We recommend strolling through Takayama’s shitamachi (old town), where the streets are lined with sake breweries, old merchants’ homes and local stores. Visit one of the breweries and taste the local drop, try one of the famous restaurant that sells Hida beef sushi, or stop by a café for some afternoon tea.

While in Takayama, guests will be staying in a ryokan, a traditional Japanese-style accommodation furnished with zaisu (no-leg chairs), a low table, shoji (sliding doors), and tatami flooring.

This evening, dinner will be a traditional kaiseki ryori (multi-course) meal that features local produce including fresh vegetables, seafood and Hida beef, which rivals Kobe beef in terms of taste and quality.

A soak in the onsen (hot spring) before bed is recommended, as it will help guests relax after a long day of traveling and sightseeing.

Distance and journey time:

JR Tokyo Station to JR Takayama Station (481km): approx. 4hrs


Day 5 - Takayama (B,D)


Today is a self-guided day.

Suggested Self-Guide Itinerary:

Some of the most visited places in Takayama are the morning markets. After breakfast, we recommend guests head to the Miyagawa Morning Market where locals sell their handmade crafts and local produce (depending on the season, the markets open as early as 6:00 a.m.). This is also the perfect place to purchase some souvenirs such as chopsticks, Ichii Itto-bori (wood carvings) and the iconic Sarubobo.

Just a short walk from the morning market is Takayama Jinya, also known as the Historical Government House - the only surviving government office building from the Edo period. Now it serves as a museum, featuring some well-preserved meeting and conference rooms, a collection of century-old artifacts and office supplies, and a 400-year-old rice storage room.

Afterwards, head to the Takayama Festival Floats Museum to see the colorful floats that parade through the town during the famous Takayama Festivals in spring and autumn.

Optional Tour (1): Food & Culture Walk

*This can be an alternative to the self-guided tour in Takayama.

Guests can explore some of the food shops in Takayama with a knowledgeable guide, learning about the town’s colorful history and familiarizing their taste buds with some of the local delicacies. The walking tour includes visits to a tofu seller, a rakugan (traditional Japanese candy) shop, and even a sake brewery (some stores may close on certain days). Food and sake tastings are also included.

Time:

Start (guided tour): 09:30

Duration: 2.5hrs

Optional Tour (2): Afternoon Trip to Shirakawago

Around noon, catch the bus to Shirakawago, the region in Toyama Prefecture famous for its UNESCO World Heritage-listed gassho-zukuri farmhouses. Gassho-zukuri means "constructed like hands in prayer," as the farmhouses' steep thatched roofs resemble the praying hands of Buddhist monks. The architectural style developed over many generations and some of the houses are more than 250 years-old. The roofs, which were constructed without any nails, are intricately designed to withstand the large amounts of heavy snow in winter and the large attics were used to cultivate silkworms.

Stroll around Shirakawago and visit a couple of farmhouses, such as the Wada House, which previously belonged to the Wada Family, one of the richest families and village leaders in Ogimachi. Their status in the community was represented by the size of their house, which is still is the largest gassho-zukuri farmhouse in the village today. What’s interesting about this house is that no nails were used in its construction, and only ropes hold everything together. Inside guests will find a number of antiques such as silkworm installations, looms, and irori, the traditional sunken hearth used for heating and cooking.

Return to Takayama for another night in the ryokan.

Note: Roundtrip bus tickets from Takayama to Shirakawago must be booked in advance (supplementary charges apply).

Distance and journey time:

Takayama bus terminal to Shirakawago bus stop (47km): approx. 50mins

Overnight in Takayama


Day 6 - Takayama - Kyoto (B)


Today is a self-guided day.

Take one last soak in the onsen before starting the journey to Japan’s cultural capital, Kyoto. Kyoto is home to around 2,000 shrines and temples, including 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites.

The rest of the day is at leisure.

Overnight in Kyoto

Distance and journey time:

JR Takayama Station to JR Kyoto Station (314km): approx. 3hrs


Day 7 - Kyoto (B,L)


Today guests will explore the former imperial capital with a knowledgeable local guide, utilizing Kyoto’s comprehensive bus system to visit some of the city’s World Heritage sites.

The day starts with a visit to Nijo Castle. This ornamental castle was built by the founder of the Edo Shogunate as his Kyoto residence and is surrounded by stunning gardens. The main building was completed in 1603 and is famous for its Momoyama architecture, decorated sliding doors, and ‘chirping nightingale floors’.

Continue on to Ryoan-ji Temple, the site of Japan's most famous rock garden. This temple originally served as an aristocrat's villa during the Heian period, and was converted into a Zen Buddhist temple in 1450.

After lunch, visit Kinkaku-ji Temple, or the ‘Golden Pavilion’, which was originally built as a retirement villa for the shogun. After his death, it became a Buddhist temple at his request and is now one of Kyoto’s most famous temples.

Next on the list is Kyomizu-dera, or the ‘Pure Water Temple’. From the 13-meter-high veranda which juts out from the main hall, guests can enjoy amazing views of the whole of Kyoto whilst pondering the fact that both the main hall and the veranda were built without the use of nails.

Before the tour ends, stroll through the atmospheric Higashiyama district, where busy lanes are lined with quaint shops selling souvenirs such as Kyomizu-yaki pottery, sweets and pickles.

Note: Kiyomizu Temple is currently undergoing partial renovations.

Overnight in Kyoto

Time:

Start (guided tour): 09:00

Duration: 8hrs

*including pick-up/drop-off and transfer times


Day 8 - Kyoto (B,D)


The morning is free at leisure.

In the afternoon, guests will engage in a cultural culinary experience after visiting one of Kyoto’s most famous markets.

After meeting the local guide at the designated meeting spot in Nishiki Market, guests will embark on a tour that will delight the senses.

Firstly, a guided tour of the mile-long Nishiki passes some interesting food stalls and allows guests to learn about the local Japanese produce. The guide will help guests buy the ingredients that will be needed in the cooking class, which comes next. The guide will then lead the way down some backstreets to a former sake brewery, where guests will have the chance to sample the local brew before heading to the cooking class. (Note: In case the brewery is closed, the admission ticket to the brewery is offered so that clients can visit on other days during their stay in Kyoto).

The cooking class will take place in a machiya, a well-restored wooden house that is typical of Kyoto. This afternoon, guests will learn how to make rolled sushi, miso soup and salad, with seasonal fruit for dessert. After the class, guests will be able to sit down and share the meal with their teacher.

The activity finishes at the venue, with the rest of the evening free at leisure.

Overnight in Kyoto

Time:

Start (activity): 14:30

Duration: 3.5hrs


Day 9 - Kyoto - Koya-san (B,D)


Home to more than 100 temples, Koyasan has been the center of Shingon Buddhism, an important Buddhist sect, for over 1,200 years. Koyasan, and its vicinity, is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site.

The journey to Koyasan is one of the highlights of the visit. Guests will take several local trains, with the final ascent being on a cable car, which offers one of the most scenic journeys in Japan as it winds its way up into the mountains.

The guide will meet guests at Koyasan Station and take them to a couple of popular sites, providing an insight into Japanese Buddhism.

The first stop will be at Kongobu-ji Temple, the head temple of Shingon Buddhism and home to Japan’s largest rock garden. If guests are lucky, they might see a small group of worshippers led by a monk, chanting scripts in front of the temple.

Then it’s on to Okuno-in, Japan’s largest cemetery that holds the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi. The classic approach starts from Ichinohashi Bridge and stretches up to 2km, filled with more than 200,000 tombstones that belong to feudal lords, prominent monks, and even well-known Japanese companies. At the end of the cemetery guests will find the Gokusho Offering Hall, Torodo Hall of Lanterns, and Kobo Daishi’s Mausoleum.

After the tour, the guide will escort guests back to their accommodation.

The accommodation for tonight is a shukubo, or Japanese temple lodge, and the dinner will be shojin ryori, a traditional Buddhist cuisine.

Overnight at Koyasan.

Distance and journey time:

JR Kyoto Station to Koyasan Station (112km): approx. 3hrs 52mins

Time:

Start (guided tour): upon arrival at Koyasan Station (around 11:30)

Duration: 4hrs

*including pick-up/drop-off and transfer times


Day 10 - Koyasan - Osaka (B)


Today is a self-guided day.

To have a complete experience of Koyasan, we recommend joining the morning prayer, which usually starts at 6:00 a.m. This not only offers the chance to witness the monks pray, but also to see the inside of the worship room (only in Japanese and taking photos inside the prayer room is discouraged). Afterwards, guests will have a traditional shojin ryori breakfast.

The rest of the morning is free for guests to further explore Koyasan before departing for the journey to Osaka, Japan’s “Kitchen Capital”. Osaka’s flamboyance, fun-loving people and amazing food make up for what it lacks in tourist attractions.

Overnight in Osaka.

Distance and journey time:

Koyasan Station to Nankai Namba Station (in Osaka) (65km): approx. 118mins


Day 11 - Osaka (B,D)


The morning is free at leisure.

This afternoon, the guide will take guests on a half-day tour to explore some of Osaka’s most popular street food spots.

First, head to the Doguyasuji shopping arcade, a unique market that sells anything related to the food industry, including the plastic food models that are often found outside Japanese restaurants.

After seeing so much plastic food, guests will probably be feeling hungry! So the next stop will be in Dotonbori, a restaurant mecca which serves as Osaka’s entertainment district and former “pleasure district.” Here, a wide array of food stalls and restaurants are available and guests can choose to order either takoyaki (octopus balls) or okonomiyaki (a Japanese pancake with cabbage, pork, ginger, nori, and a special sauce).

While in Dotonbori, guests may wish to pose in front of Kani Doraku, the huge crab with moving legs, or stand on Ebisubashi, which offers photo opportunities with the running Glico man as the backdrop. After taking some photos, the tour continues to Hozenji Yokocho, an area of narrow alleyways filled with more than 60 traditional restaurants and izakaya (traditional Japanese pubs). At the end of one of these alleys lies the Hozenji Temple, where worshippers splash water on the statue of the deity instead of tossing coins.

Next, guests will take the train to Shinsekai, a small old town in Tennoji area that based on the design of New York and Paris. Despite the post WWII economic impact, Shinsekai still remains one of the favorite places in Osaka for food lovers.

But before sampling some of the local delicacies, guests will first go to Tsutenkaku, a replica of the Eiffel Tower and one of Osaka’s most iconic landmarks. The tower is famous for its seasonal lights, which even forecast the next day’s weather through color coding! On the fifth floor guests will find not only an observatory but also a replica of the statue of Billiken, the god of happiness.

Now it’s finally time to discover the delicious flavors of Shinsekai! For dinner, we recommend kushikatsu, a skewer of meat and vegetables dipped in batter, rolled in breadcrumbs and then deep fried. The guide can offer alternative suggestions and will be happy to show guests to the restaurant of their choice.

Time:

Start (guided tour): 16:00

Duration: 4hrs

*time includes pick-up/drop-off and transfer time


Day 12 - Departure from Osaka (B)


The rest of the day is at leisure until the time comes for guests to transfer via train or airport shuttle bus to Kansai International Airport.

Distance and journey time:

JR Namba Station to Kansai Airport (50km): approx. 49mins

JR Shin-Osaka Station to Kansai Airport (61km): approx. 48mins

Namba (OCAT) bus terminal to Kansai Airport: approx. 50mins


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